Tuesday, June 18, 2019

EnviroStewardship: The Buds and the Bees

Almost in time for Fathers' Day, here's my dad's column for the monthly newsletter at his church.

To bees and other pollinators, a well-manicured, well-fertilized, weed-free, frequently mowed lawn is a desert … a food desert, with nothing to eat or survive on. It may look nice to us, but not to these pollinators. Remember that most butterflies are pollinators and are worth the price of any extra efforts.

The local paper recently printed an article on “bee lawns” that suggested blending low growing perennials with slow-growing grasses such as the fescue Festuca brevipila. Good luck in finding that to replace your Kentucky bluegrass!

The perennials they suggested to mix into your lawn included: white clover, dandelions (beware the neighbors), creeping thyme, daisies and lamium. Finding plants under three inches at the garden store may be a problem.

In a way, I have been doing this for years with a front lawn full of the native Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica). These are shade tolerant, early bloomers so that by not fertilizing I can put off mowing until after they have gone to seed. They are there for the early pollinators in the first of May, and I would recommend them for any other environmental stewards that have the patience and the shade.

But I even more heartily recommend reducing and defining the limits of your lawn with areas of native, flowering ground covers that may be available to the pollinators all spring, summer and fall, depending on the perennials that you plant. They don’t have to be restricted to under three inches or mowing tolerant such as dandelions, as is the case in bee lawns.

The two most common ground covers for these purposes are pachysandra and periwinkle. They are not native to our area, although they grow very well in our area. Also, they flower for only a short time in the spring. During that time, they are very popular with the bees.

I recently came across a list of 11 pollinator-friendly ground covers, several of which (the shade tolerant ones) I have in my yard and can recommend them: Big Leaf Aster (Aster macrophyllus), Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum), Goat’s Beard (Aruncus vulgaris), Obedient plant (Physostegia virgiana), Purple Poppy Mallow (Calliirhoe involluorata), Canadian Wild Ginger (Acarum canadense), Wild Strawberry, Rose Coreopsis, Vanilla Sweet Grass and Wild Geranium (Geraniium maculatum). For more details  and descriptions, check the June electronic newsletter of Wisconsin Pollinators.

This essay has wound up with more details than the reader might want and it is not readily apparent how this relates to the church and its people. When I was a voting member at the Churchwide Assembly in Orlando, Florida, we passed a resolution calling on all of the congregations of the ELCA to protect all living species. Doing what we can to protect the bees and other pollinators from starving due to our choices and practices is not only good environmental stewardship, but responds favorably to that resolution.

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