As the weather starts to warm, we know that the return of spring also means the return of lawn-care season, with the opening act typically being an onslaught of dandelions in your yard. Maybe you’re excited to get back into outdoor chores, or maybe you dread the inevitable “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome that you will suffer as you try to match your lawn to the beautifully carpeted lawns of your neighbors. Well, have I got a fix for you today! I promise your dandelion problem – not to mention every other problem you have with creeping Charlie, clover and other lawn invaders – will be completely solved.
The answer is simply this: Stick a “Bee-Safe Yard” sign in your yard and let the “weeds” grow. [applause and cheers welcome]
The idea behind the bee-safe yard movement is to avoid pesticide use and strive to provide bee-friendly plants and habitats, both of which protect and sustain populations of bees and other pollinators. Not to mention the devastating effects chemical fertilizers and pesticides have on the rest of the ecology. There certainly are other environmentally friendly, bee-safe, methods of keeping a weed-free lawn – and I would not discourage you from using those methods. However, consider this – dandelions are one of the earliest available sources of nectar for bees in the spring (other common weeds, such as chickweed and clover are also early providers). By letting those dandelions have their blooming season, you are providing a food source for bees who are on the hunt for food after a long winter hibernation. Having an adequate food supply – which is difficult in urban and suburban areas because of our large “crops” of concrete and mowed grass – is what helps hives survive and thrive in the early spring.
If you’re an average consumer, chances are you use one of the extremely popular “weed ‘n’ feed” products on your lawn, or have in the past. These products combine fertilizer with pesticides for convenient application and supposedly effective lawn care. (Pesticides, by the way, are a class of chemicals that include fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, and rodenticides). Well, guess what? Those combo products don’t even work. They damage your lawn and the beneficial organisms in the soil, causing more problems and creating an ongoing need for re-application. If you’d like to read up on it, start with Canada’s 2010 legislation banning all combination “weed ‘n’ feed” products across the country. Not only are these products counterproductive in caring for your lawn, they are some of the most potent and toxic substances you can buy legally in this country! From eartheasy.com:
Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds.
I may be a bit of a rebel at heart, but also, isn’t there part of you that protests, who in the world decided what a “weed” is anyway! I mean, we BUY dandelion leaves at the grocery store as part of “spring mix” salads! (Yes, you can eat all sorts of weeds in your yard!) I have a reasonable suspicion that it was someone who had a financial interest in the matter. I was chatting with two neighbors the other day, and this exact thought came up. One was lamenting the carpet of creeping Charlie that covers his backyard. The other neighbor, a retired horticulturist who keeps a variety of berries, fruit trees, vegetables and honey bees to boot, responded with, “What’s wrong with that? Creeping Charlie is one of the best ground covers there is – it’s hardy, spreads fast, and is nice and thick. People just dislike it because somebody (who wanted to make money) called it a weed!” My neighbor with the creeping Charlie infestation paused, considered, and then said, “Well, it’s true – it’s absolutely beautiful when it flowers!” We chuckled at the concept, and I thought how thankful I am to live in a corner of the neighborhood where the neighbors happily balance pride in ownership with mindful practice.
So, if you needed someone to validate the weeds in your yard, I’m here to tell you – go for it! Let them grow! Be like my daughter the summer she was three – she saw the first dandelion bloom and ran to it, exclaiming, “What a beautiful flower! My new favorite color is yellow because it’s so bright!”