An epic struggle.
The struggle for the perfect lawn is real. Trust me, as someone who has worked in the turf industry for nearly 15 years, I know and have lived that struggle in both my personal and work life. I have been a licensed pesticide applicator for nearly 20 years. As a beekeeper, the struggle is even more real. If you haven't heard a conversation about pollinators that didn't eventually side wind into a conversation about pesticides, you're not listening. I know that what I'm about to write is going to open up a can of worms but I believe it's important to understand this problem from all angles and develop reasonable, compromising solutions. While, yes, it would be the best scenario from an environmental standpoint to eliminate the use of lawn pesticides, I am not asking you to let your yard turn into a complete cow pasture. By employing the guidelines below in your quest for the perfect turf, you will greatly minimize your impact on pollinators.
1. Know what you're what you're treating, what you're using and how it must be applied. What is the target of your application? What is the chemical mode of action? What are application restrictions? READ THE LABEL. If you are not doing these things you have no business applying treatments to your lawn. Ask your lawn care provider if they can provide these details as well. It is illegal to apply a chemical outside of the label instructions.
2. Do not apply chemical to flowering plants. Bees visit flowering plants. This is a very simple concept. Apply in the evening or at night when bees are not active, or before the plants begin flowering. If you cannot identify a plant that is not flowering (especially a dandelion!), look it up - and see #1. We live in a world of instant information. Google it.
3. Employ a complete turf management plan. Spraying your yard is not a turf management plan. Mow your lawn at a higher setting to reduce the light getting through to the soil, and minimize the opportunity for weed germination. Sharpen your mower blades so that you're not damaging the grass blades and opening up the turf to disease, allowing weeds to out-compete the turf. There are great FREE resources on turf management through the local university extension websites.
4. Think. Is it windy? Don't apply. Are there pollinators actively visiting the plants? Don't apply. The insect doesn't have to come into direct contact with what you think you have sprayed to be exposed. Again, see #1.
5. Plant pollinator safe zones. Do a little research on plants for your zone and plant safe spaces for your pollinators to gather nectar and pollen, especially early in the season when the dandelions are blooming. Crabapples, fruit trees, and maples are all pollinator favorites.
6. Tell a friend. Or two. The beautiful thing about the internet is that you can get tons of information at the snap of a finger. The pitfall is that much of this information is complete garbage. Do your research, go to trusted, scientific sources like the university extension services, and help others fact check their sources too.
A great source of spring nectar.
Love them or hate them, dandelions are an incredibly important source of spring nectar and pollen for honey bees and many other native pollinators. While there is much debate (as there is with most everything these days) about the nutritional value of dandelions to honeybees and other pollinators, bees are visiting these prolific lawn-wreckers frequently. Just as you know that pizza rolls and a soda are not a nutritionally rich dinner, that doesn't stop you from consuming them and so it goes for the bees.