By Melissa Rae Sanger
Last spring, I decided to let native wildflowers take over a small area of my lawn. I was giddy with excitement and hopeful that my little garden would be a haven for insects and other wildlife in a neighborhood where manicured lawns and landscape pavers are the norm.
I even painted a sign that said, “Pardon the weeds. We’re feeding the bees.”
One day, a neighbor approached me about my beloved bee garden. He said he would file a complaint with the city if I didn’t remove the flowers. Worried I’d get in trouble, I went out and mowed everything, tears streaming down my face.
I’ve since learned that I was within my rights — and that although growing wildflowers may have annoyed one human neighbor, it was a lifeline to a multitude of wildlife neighbors who lived and fed in the foliage. This spring, I’m going to replant the flowers, and I encourage everyone else who can spare even a sliver of lawn to grow wildflowers, too.
Pollinators, including bees, birds, bats, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles and lizards, are nature’s life force. Their fate is inseparable from our own. They affect 35% of the world’s crop production through pollination, the quintessential synergy that enables the transfer of pollen so that plants can reproduce. They deserve a healthy, vibrant habitat in which to flourish for their own sake, and in doing so, they help us, too.
But these precious pollinators are struggling. Many factors are to blame, and one of the most pervasive problems is habitat loss. Although tidy, over-fertilized lawns appeal to some, it’s time to reconsider the barren, lifeless lawnscaping we’ve come to accept as standard.
Removing “unwanted” plants, such as dandelions and clover, also removes vital sources of shelter and food for insects and other animals. So what might look like a healthy lawn is devoid of the biodiversity that’s necessary for the survival of wildlife. Plus, grass isn’t really “green” if it’s drenched in lawn chemicals and fertilizers and guzzling gallons of water all summer.
Growing wildflowers and other pollinator-friendly plants like basil, rosemary or sunflowers is better for the environment and will attract local and migratory butterflies, birds and bees. The secret is to provide a variety of native flowering plant species to create habitat, food and shelter for all.
If you do choose to keep some grass, consider participating in “no mow May,” which fosters habitat by allowing grass to grow for the entire month of May. Less frequent mowing also saves water by helping grass become more drought-resistant and decreases emissions from gas-powered equipment.
Should you find yourself with uninvited “guests” in your garden or home, there are many ways to deter them without harm. For example, you can fill your garden with plants such as bee balm and lavender, which act as natural rabbit repellents. Placing cinnamon sticks, coffee grinds, chili pepper, paprika, cloves or dried peppermint leaves will help send ants packing.
A growing number of cities and states are recognizing the need to protect wildlife with legislation that promotes pollinator-friendly landscaping. But bees and other wildlife can’t wait — they need our help now, wherever we live. What we choose to do with our home’s outdoor space has an enormous impact on animals who depend on it for life.
If my neighbor complains again this summer, I’ll share the facts instead of reacting in fear. Who knows — maybe one day he, too, will see the beauty in bees and butterflies floating above a sea of purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans and decide to transform his own yard.