Creating a Bee-Friendly Lawn Part 2: Plants for Pollinators

In Part 1 of this series, we covered why pollinators are important and the effects we can expect from their loss of habitat. As we mentioned before, a perfectly manicured lawn may look lovely, but it creates a food desert for pollinators.

 Luckily, there are ways to compromise, so you can still have a beautiful yard that’s also filled with pollinator-friendly turf alternatives. We’ll cover that here.

Get Started with a Grass/Flower Mix

Researchers from the University of Minnesota recommend creating a “flowering lawn,” which includes a mixture of flowering plants and turf grass, rather than a manicured lawn. In addition to being pollinator-friendly turf alternatives, flowering lawns are typically stronger and more resilient to issues like compacted soil, drought, flooding, or low sun or nutrients. Because they can grow where grasses typically wouldn’t, they also cover more ground, which reduces soil erosion and nutrient runoff.

Many plants can be used in flowering lawns, so you’ll want to be sure to find the right mix of grasses and flowers.

In Minnesota, we recommend overseeding your lawn grass with fescue, which has long roots and a slow growth period, both of which make it very easy to maintain. It also has thinner blades than the standard Kentucky bluegrass. And that thinness allows more sunshine through to the ground, allowing your bee-friendly flowers the opportunity to germinate.

You can keep your existing grass by continually overseeding it so that pollinator-friendly plants will grow right alongside your current lawn.

Choose Your Flowers

Once you have your grass chosen, it’s time to figure out which flowers to plant. Native Minnesotan flowers like ground plum, lanceleaf coreopsis, or calico aster tend to grow quickly, but they can be hard to find at nurseries, and they have low germination rates since they’re not domesticated.

Non-native flowers can be perfect for lawns, too, particularly if they’re non-invasive. Some flowers, like dandelions, are immediately seen as a nuisance or a weed, and they may not be good simply for that reason.

Two recommended options are (1) Dutch white clover (in the pea family, and originally from Europe), which is great for bees, thrives in lawns, and is less expensive than the next option; and (2) creeping thyme (in the mint family, and also from Europe), which grows a little more slowly than the clover. The thyme also has an herbal smell, similar to the thyme used in cooking. Both are extremely pollinator-friendly.

At Organic Lawns by Lunseth, we use the following formula: fescues + creeping thyme + dutch white clover + self-heal.

Ready to Get Started?

We’ll cover how to plan for your new lawn and what to expect as you transition in Part 3 of this series. If you have any questions or want to create a pollinator-friendly lawn today, reach out to us today.

We are here and happy to help!

Creating a Bee-Friendly Lawn Part 1: Protecting Our Pollinators

Bee populations continue to be threatened, as more humans take over natural habitats. In fact, honeybee populations have been declining around 30% each year. Creating a “bee lawn”—one that’s good for pollinators—can help bees and other pollinators survive.

This post is one in a series of three articles on bee-friendly lawns that we plan to share with you, and we hope you will pass on to others. In our first article, we’ll answer these important questions to help introduce the discussion:

  • Why do we care about protecting pollinators?
  • What types of bees are we saving?
  • What is happening to bee habitats?

Why Do We Care About Protecting Pollinators?

It’s not uncommon for most people to be afraid of bees. After all, they can sting you and some people are allergic to them. So: why should we  save the bees?

Without bees and other pollinators, we would lose fruit, have fewer vegetables and even lesser plants. Gardeners and farmers alike need pollinators to travel between plants to pollinate them, so they can reproduce and grow fruit. Plus, native habitats need pollinators for shrubs and brush that animals forage in. Simply put, bees are part of our ecosystem and an important indirect part of our food supply.

Even more simply stated: bees are wildlife, just like birds and other animals, and they deserve protection.

What Types of Bees Are We Saving?

Minnesota is home to over 450 native bee species (3,600 in the US), as well as other pollinators like butterflies, moths, beetles, and flies. Even small plantings in your garden can help support populations of all these pollinators.

Minnesota’s state bee, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee, is on the world’s endangered list and is the focus of Lawns to Legumes, a program that supports homeowners creating bee-friendly lawns. However, honeybees are the most important bee for crops because they can be moved into and out of orchards easily, and they’ve been estimated to pollinate 30% to 90% of some crops, with native species doing the rest.

What Is Happening to Bee Habitats?

The biggest factor threatening bees is a loss of natural bee habitats, or more specifically, loss of flowers. Nectar and pollen from flowers provide needed carbohydrates and protein. Not getting these nutrients can weaken bees who are unable to withstand exposure to other threats like disease, other pests (like mites), and pesticides.

Bees are exposed to pesticides when residue sticks to the petals or when chemicals are put into the soil and end up in the nectar and pollen. Some can be relatively safe; others can impair the bee to the point that they can’t find their hive or provide food. Others can outright kill them. And because bees fly from landscape to landscape (sometimes up to a mile), they may be exposed to multiple chemicals, putting them at even greater risk.

What Can We Do?

A perfectly manicured lawn may look lovely, but it creates a food desert for bees. Luckily, there are ways to compromise, so you can still have a beautiful yard that’s good for bees, too. We’ll cover that in our second article coming soon!

If you’re ready to save the bees and create a bee-friendly lawn, Organic Lawns by Lunseth can help. Contact us to learn more! Remember, it’s important that we all do our part. Our future depends on it!

Two dogs laying on a beautiful lawn.

How to Kill Crabgrass Without Chemicals

Want to get rid of crabgrass? Chemical weed killer can create problems for your lawn, but organic solutions like corn gluten can prevent crabgrass without harmful toxins. Here’s how to get rid of crabgrass naturally.

How to Get Rid of Crabgrass

Crabgrass is an annual plant that dies off each year, but once you have it, it takes a long time to get rid of it. Each crabgrass plant produces up to 150,000 seeds, and those seeds can stay in your yard for up to three years. As such, it’s much easier to prevent crabgrass than to get rid of it.

How to Kill Crabgrass Naturally

If you’re reading this post, it’s likely you’re already dealing with crabgrass, which means prevention is no longer an option. Though a simple solution may be to kill crabgrass with chemicals, we advise against this for several reasons:

  1. Chemicals leave residue, which can be harmful for pets or children.
  2. Topical treatments can run off into water.
  3. The more you use chemicals, the more you need to use chemicals.

More specifically, many chemical weed killers actually won’t kill crabgrass, and those that kill crabgrass seeds may actually kill your lawn, as well. Why? Because crabgrass is a grass, just like the rest of your lawn. If you do use chemicals, you have to be extremely careful when choosing treatment.

Instead, we believe the best solution is a natural approach. Here’s how to get rid of crabgrass without chemicals.

How to Stop the Plant

Once the plant emerges, you may be tempted to just mow your lawn short and hope that kills the plants, but that’s an ineffective strategy, due to how low the crabgrass grows.

Start by pulling out any plants you see and throwing them away, but don’t use them as mulch or in your compost pile, because they’ll find ways to grow there, too. Do this early in the season, before they can produce seeds.

How To Stop the Seeds

Once the plants are producing seeds, you want to prevent those hundreds of thousands of seeds from germinating.

Using corn meal for crabgrass control is a natural way to stop the seeds from growing, but you must ensure you’re applying it in appropriate amounts—approximately 0.9 lbs. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. and no more than three times a year. Instead of leaving residual chemicals that can run off into your water supply, corn gluten breaks down quickly, and the nitrogen then turns into a natural fertilizer for the rest of your lawn.

How to Prevent Crabgrass

Instead of treating the crabgrass, treat your lawn as a whole. Good lawn practices are key to preventing the crabgrass from returning. Dense grass will shade the ground, preventing crabgrass seeds from germinating, and deeply watered lawns will kill off shallow-rooted weeds.

Crabgrass grows well in adverse conditions, so the best way to prevent it is to have a dense, healthy lawn without any bare patches. At Organic Lawns by Lunseth, we specialize in creating naturally healthy lawns that are strong enough to fend off crabgrass or other weeds.

Contact us today to get started!

Lawn Watering 101

Having issues with your lawn? Does it feel like you’re stepping on a sponge surface or is it hard as a rock? Are you noticing more weeds, fungi, or disease symptoms in your yard?

You might be overwatering your lawn. In this article, we’ll cover frequently asked questions about the when, how, and why of lawn watering, so you can take action and get your lawn back to looking its best!

How Often Should I Water My Lawn?

Rather than asking, “How often should I water my lawn?,” it’s best to ask, “How much water does my lawn need?” Try not to focus on a strict lawn watering schedule—every other day watering restrictions does not mean you should water that often. Instead, look at your soil and how much rainfall you get each week. Next, adjust your lawn watering accordingly.

Lawns typically need at least 1 inch of water per week. In Minnesota, we often get that amount from rainfall, which is why it’s not unusual for homeowners to overwater their lawns. But this can actually cause problems instead of preventing them. You should only water once a week—twice at most—and only if it hasn’t rained—generally during the hot summer months. 

Anticipating rain events is helpful. If we aren’t expecting rain for a week in August, watering deeply and infrequently before the dry spell is wise.

How Long Should I Water My Lawn?

Since the goal is to give your lawn 1 inch of water in one or two bursts, you need to water more each time. Again, how long that is will depend on the quality of your soil (is it more clay or sand?) and whether or not you’ve had rainfall already.

You want to water long enough to allow the water to penetrate six inches into the soil. This is the depth of a healthy grass root system. It also trains your roots to chase the water down and become stronger, healthier and more drought resistant.

If you have an irrigation system, it’s good practice to run it from the “off” position. Run the system manually, as needed, for extended periods of time. Deeply and infrequently is the best way to water your lawn.

 There are a few ways to test how long you should water your lawn:

  • Screwdriver Test: Puncture the ground with a screwdriver that’s at least six inches long. Did it go in easily the entire way? If not, the ground is too dry.
  • Shovel Test: This involves digging out six inches of dirt and checking to see if the soil is moist.
  • Tuna Can Test: Put out an empty tuna can, which is about an inch tall, and make sure it fills up each week between the rain and your watering. This is a quick trick to ensure you’re hitting the 1” mark, but we’d still recommend checking the soil itself periodically to know that the water actually penetrated. A tuna can will help determine how long your irrigation system takes to reach 1″.

As mentioned, it’s good practice to water deeply and infrequently, but you should not water to the point where water is running off of your property. In that case, you might need to water a little less.

When Is the Best Time to Water My Lawn?

Watering your lawn in the morning, generally before 10 a.m. is highly recommended.

This provides two important benefits:

  1. The cooler air means less evaporation right away, giving the water time to penetrate the soil.
  2. The water cools the grass throughout the day, so there’s less stress on the grass during the hottest hours of the day.

Watering at night, particularly past 6 p.m., can actually work against you. Wet grass overnight is a breeding ground for fungus, weeds, insects, and other lawn issues.

Need Help with Your Lawn Care?

If you’re experiencing lawn issues, then changing your watering habits might help solve the problem. A soil test can also help by determining your soil composition, nutritional imbalances and pH level.

At Organic Lawns by Lunseth, we offer water conservation services, including grass species, rain sensors and other irrigation technologies to help promote drought tolerance, improve lawns, and benefit your landscape and surrounding communities.

To learn more about our services, including core aeration, which when performed in the fall or early spring helps oxygen, nutrients and water penetrate deeper into the soil, contact us today!

Replenishing Your Soil’s Nutrients Organically

To achieve a beautiful lawn, you need to start at the source: the soil. Soil feeds your lawn, so when it’s healthy, there will always be nutrients for your plants to draw from. But if it is unhealthy, your grass will become stressed and starved, leaving it vulnerable to weeds and disease.

Learn how to improve soil to provide enough plant nutrition for a beautiful, thick lawn.

Know Your Soil Nutrients

There are 16 important nutrients for plants, nine of which are “macro” (i.e., needed in big amounts) while the rest are “micro” (only small amounts needed).

Three of the macronutrients come from water and air: hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. The rest of the macronutrients and all of the micronutrients still need to enter the plants through the root system—that is, from the soil.

So, how does the soil get these nutrients? As part of the nutrient cycle, organic materials like manure or dead plants get broken down into the soil as nutrients by microbes and microorganisms. Those nutrients feed new plants, and the cycle continues.

Determine What Your Soil Is Missing

It’s hard to know exactly what your soil needs without first identifying what it already has. For example, Minnesota has high pH soils, so if you add high-pH fertilizers, you could potentially inhibit growth, which is the opposite of your goal!

To avoid this outcome, get a soil test done to determine if there are any imbalances or problems in your soil.

Reasons to Use an Organic Fertilizer

Once you know what your soil needs, it’s time to choose a soil fertilization method and pick a fertilizer that has the nutrients you need.

Synthetic fertilizers are often “quick-fix” options. These feed the plants immediately, making you think your lawn is fixed, when in reality, it has just made the surface look good. It hasn’t addressed the root problem, and the soil isn’t any better than it was, so it will consistently need more applications of synthetic fertilizers.

Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, promote healthy soil so that in the future you can spend less money and time on fertilizer, water, and weed control. Organic fertilizers deliver nutrients in addition to increasing microbial activity, which improves soil organic matter and overall health. Organic fertilizer can be applied year-round, but fall and spring are especially great times to give soil nutrients a boost.

This breaking-down process takes time, so be patient. Switching to an organic treatment, particularly after using synthetic fertilizers, can feel like it’s not working when you don’t see results right away. Working to fix these deeper issues takes time, but it’s well worth the investment.

Ready to Get Started?

The secret to a great lawn is the soil underneath. Replenish your soil’s nutrients and feed your lawn with an organic grass treatment from Organic Lawns by LUNSETH!