How to Manage a Bee Lawn

Wildflower Lawns

Kernow Ecology. Invertebrate Survey and Conservation. http://www.kernowecology.co.uk/beelawns.html

It is possible to create great short grass areas for bees suitable for you to sit or lie. The Pea family (Fabacea) in particular are very important bumblebee forage and both Birdsfoot trefoil and Red clover can create very attractive low maintenance lawn areas in a garden.

The best management for such an area is mowing and removing the clippings throughout Sept to March keeping as a short lawn. Whilst between April to Sept cutting a bit higher and leaving for a few weeks to flower and set seed either areas within the lawn or particular plants. You can time the cuts depending on the species you wish to flower and set seed. This obviously does work better if you can come to terms with a less formal lawn. In my experience the lawn in summer can be kept slightly taller than a normal lawn, which allows the plants to flower, and for you to lie on top of the flowers without damaging them.

Another way is to have a spring meadow/lawn leave it uncut between late March and June then cut as a short lawn outside these times. This works particularly well in Devon and Cornwall it also results in a lawn probably more acceptable for an obsessive gardener.

plants for bee lawns

Planting and Maintaining a Bee Lawn 

University of Minnesota Extension. https://extension.umn.edu/landscape-design/planting-and-maintaining-bee-lawn

While turfgrasses can provide some environmental benefits, they don’t provide much food for pollinators.

One way to provide resources for pollinators while keeping the function of a lawn is to incorporate other plants such as dutch white clover, self-heal and creeping thyme. These plants have the right type of flowers for bees.

Once established, bee lawns take a similar (or even less) amount of work to maintain as a traditional lawn, making them an accessible addition to almost any home landscape.

Plants for a Bee Lawn

 

creeping thyme
Creeping thyme and self-heal

There are lots of plants that bees like, but few are adapted to lawn conditions. Not many plants besides turfgrass can tolerate being mowed short and stepped on. Here are the traits needed for bee lawn flowers:

  • Low-growing and adapted to being mowed.
  • Flower at low heights.
  • Tolerant of foot traffic.
  • Provide good food (nectar and pollen) for pollinators.
  • Moderately competitive, meaning they can hold their own with the turfgrasses without taking over.
  • Have a perennial life cycle (they live for more than one year) so they are maintained in the landscape with the perennial turf.

Turfgrasses for bee lawns also need certain characteristics that make them compatible with the flowers.

Ground nesting bees: Are they a threat to your lawn?

https://newgarden.com/notes/ground-nesting-bees

anthophora_nest_a_occidentalis.jpg
Anthophora sp., a ground nesting bee (Bugguide.net)

Ground nesting or miner bees are solitary bees that create underground galleries, with queens living individually and raising their own young. The entrances to the nests are small piles or patches of bare soil. They do not form hives, but several females may nest in the same area. Ground bee queens do not defend their nesting areas and are very docile and unlikely to sting, posing little or no threat to people. The males often patrol an area inhabited by females seeking mates. While the males can be very active and seem aggressive, they lack a sting and are also harmless. Like other bees, they are active foragers of nectar and pollen from flowers, making them beneficial pollinators.

Their nest entrances are small mounds of soil a few inches across. While they may briefly detract from the aesthetics of a well-tended lawn, they do absolutely no harm to the grass or soil - even improving it as their nests function as aeration holes, improving the penetration of water and nutrients. Eventually, as the nests are abandoned after the spring nesting season, the soil washes back into place with rain, disappearing completely.   

If you feel you must get rid of ground bees even for the brief time they live in your lawn, there is no need to use pesticides of any kind. Ground bees prefer dry soil to nest in, and simply watering the area that they have chosen will cause them to move to another area. If you find ground nesting bees return to your lawn in large numbers year after year, run a sprinkler on the area before they show up; ground nesting bees prefer dry soil to wet soil and will look elsewhere to make their nests.

yellowjacket
These are NOT docile ground nesting bees, they are yellow-jackets and are bad tempered and aggressive. Do not confuse them with docile ground nesting bees or you will have a very bad day.

Make sure that you are evicting ground bees and not yellow-jackets. Yellow-jackets reaction to a water eviction will not be “non-aggressive” by any means. A yellow jacket nest will look like a busy airport with many insects entering and leaving in a constant stream, and entrances can be well over an inch wide. Only one ground bee will be seen leaving and entering a hole only about ¼” wide.