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Planting and maintaining a bee lawn

Quick facts

  • Bee lawns have flowers mixed in with turfgrasses such as fine fescues and Kentucky bluegrass.
  • The flowers of a bee lawn provide food (nectar and pollen) for pollinators.
  • Bee lawns are environmentally friendly because they are managed using low-input methods that generally use less fertilizer and pesticides.
  • Bee lawns can still be used recreationally by your household like a regular lawn.
  • A bee lawn can attract over 50 species of native bees.
A turfgrass and white clover lawn with a bumble bee on a clover flower.
A bumble bee foraging on white clover

Are you interested in doing more to help our native pollinators? You can make your lawn do double duty! A bee lawn can not only provide a recreational space for you, your family and your pets, it can also provide much-needed food resources for bees and other beneficial pollinators.

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

A mixture of pink and purple flowers in a lawn.
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.

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How to plant a bee lawn

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Establishing a bee lawn

Once you have a good idea of which plants you want in your bee lawn, the next step is to decide when to establish it and which establishment method to use. Based on the experiences of UMN researchers, the best times to establish are spring or late fall, and the methods are either overseeding or renovation.

Installing and Maintaining a Bee Lawn provides a good overview of this process.

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Maintaining a bee lawn

Now that your bee lawn is planted and growing, you will need to care for it moving forward. If you have already been maintaining a lawn, it really isn’t much different. Potentially your bee lawn will become less work, but with more insect wildlife enjoyment.

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Observing your bee lawn pollinators

Did you know that Minnesota has over 400 species of bees? UMN research found 56 bee species on just white clover. And that’s only one type of pollinator! Other important pollinators include butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and wasps. 

You may wonder about attracting all these bees to your yard — will having a bee lawn mean greater chances of getting stung? Most native bees are docile and unlikely to sting. Some stinging insects such as non-native yellowjacket wasps can be aggressive though! Learn more about wasps and whether they pose a hazard in your yard and should be removed. Most wasps are beneficial so try to let them be when possible. 

We encourage you to learn more about the native pollinators that visit your bee lawn. If you look more closely there is a whole new world happening at your feet! 

Visit the University of Minnesota Bee Lab website for more information on honey bees, native bees and how you can become more involved in helping bees and other pollinators.

Blue-winged butterfly feeding on a clover flower in a lawn.
Eastern tailed blue butterfly on clover
Yellowish-brown winged butterfly feeding on a clover in a lawn.
Skipper butterfly on a clover
Bee with a green head and body on a clover.
Green sweat bee on clover

Helping pollinators - the next steps

A yellow and orange bumble bee in a patch of purple tubular flowers.
The endangered rusty patched bumble bee on obedient plant, a native species

Bee lawns are a great addition to urban and suburban landscapes, but they aren’t as valuable to pollinators as plantings with a full complement of native perennials, trees and shrubs. You can think of bee lawns as a nice enhancement to your other garden plants for pollinators.

To learn more about other plantings for pollinators:

Interested in helping researchers who study pollinators? There are many community science projects that you can be involved with. You can even collect bee data from your own backyard! 

Authors: Kristine Moncada, turfgrass scientist, CFANS; Maggie Reiter, Extension turfgrass educator;  James Wolfin, sustainable landcare manager, Metro Blooms

The authors would like to acknowledge the bee lawn research of graduate students Ian Lane, James Wolfin, and Hannah Ramer, along with the Bee Lab, Turfgrass Science and Forest Resources groups. Funding for this work was provided by the Minnesota Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

Reviewed in 2021

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