Ian Lane

Ian Lane is a master’s degree student. Together with Professors Marla Spivak and Eric Watkins he has been exploring the different plants and methods that will lead to a bee friendly lawn seed mix. By expanding foraging opportunities for bees in new landscapes, such as urban and commercial lawns, Ian hopes to improve colony health and productivity for bee keepers in areas with high proportions of mowed land. After completing his master’s degree, Lane hopes to continue investigating solutions for honey bees through research and outreach.

Enhancing Honey Bee Foraging Resources in Managed Turf Environments

By Ian Lane

With the growth of the urban farming movement and the increase in media coverage of pollinator decline, it is not surprising that urban beekeeping is on the rise across the United States. Cities such as New York, Minneapolis, and San Francisco are easing restrictions on beekeeping and there are similar movements underway in Los Angeles and other cities.

As urban centers continue to grow, along with their associated suburbs, natural areas that provide the flowering resources bees require for good nutrition and honey production are being eliminated from the landscape. Green areas, residential gardens, and weedy lots within urban landscapes provide flowering resources for managed and native bees, but the quality and quantity of these habitats can be marginal. Residential and park gardens may be planted with ornamental flower varieties that have little value as nectar and pollen resources. Most notably, the main feature of urban landscapes is the vast lawn monoculture, comprised of turf grasses, grown and tended on the majority of open ground and with up to 50 million acres nationally.

Grass lawns have value as a durable and comfortable surface for human activity, but they are maintained at an ecological and economic cost. Typical lawns require high amounts of fertilizer and water for continued growth, as well as pesticide applications to manage insect and weed competitors. These inputs if improperly applied can contribute to water pollution and can have collateral damage to beneficial insects. The financial and time cost of weekly mowing adds to the mounting burden on homeowners. These costs may be reasonable if the turf is used for physical activities and sports, but seem exceptionally high if homeowners maintain these areas solely to comply with community rules and neighborhood pressure to maintain an aesthetically pleasing yard.

In response to the increasing need for honey bee forage in urban areas and the intensive nature of typical turf lawns, I propose the idea of the “bee lawn.” The goal of the bee lawn project is to determine if monocultures of highly managed cool season turf grasses can be modified to incorporate high quality and low input resources for bees. The uniqueness of the lawn aspect of the project, as opposed to other garden and prairie plantings that attract bees, is that lawn areas are mowed to maintain a manicured aesthetic desired by many people for home yards, parks and roadsides.

To achieve the goal I plan to evaluate a number of flowering plants, grass species, and management techniques that together will allow a typical lawn to support low to high blooms at different times of the year and with less management and fewer inputs. It will also be important to consider if the changes we make will be socially acceptable to owners. To that end I will also need to consider how mowing height and plant selection could affect adoption of the bee lawn.

The plant selection will be one of the most important and complex aspects of the project. The flowering plants will need to follow strict criteria and will need to: 1) be a proven resource for nectar and/or pollen; 2) produce enough blooms under management to attract foragers; 3) have the ability to compete effectively with weeds and turf grass; and 4) be socially acceptable to owners.

Research Goals for 2013: Preliminary Data

Already underway in the summer of 2013 are two preliminary projects that will help inform the larger trials that will be planted this fall of 2013. The goal of the first trial is to determine which grass species and flower seeding-rates will result in an acceptable plant species balance, with Kura clover (Trifolium ambiguum) serving as a model flowering plant. Kura clover is ideal as a model as it is slow to establish (like many native plants) but is an effective competitor once established. This preliminary trial was set up in a randomized block design containing four different turf grass species: Kentucky bluegrass, hard fescue, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass. These grasses were mixed with Kura clover at various seeding rates. In these plots I have been monitoring the number of clover plants that establish, as well as the percentage of ground they cover. As the clover matures and begins to flower, I am adjusting the mowing strategies to achieve a balance of flowers and a desired aesthetic by monitoring the number of flowers that are produced between mowing sessions with varying amounts of time between each session. With this data I will determine the ideal grass species to use with flowering plants in Minnesota, as well as a standard seeding rate.

The second preliminary trial also used a randomized block design to establish a stand of five different species of flowering native plants known to be highly attractive to bee pollinators, both honey bees and wild bees. These native plants are not normally seen in highly managed lawn areas, but based on the recommendations of researchers and horticulturalist, we tested to see if they might be able to bloom within lawns and withstand mowing. These plants include Monarda punctata (dotted bee-balm), Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover), Astragalus Canadensis (Canadian milkvetch), Coreopsis lanceolata (Lance leaf coreopsis), and Mentha arvensis (Field Mint). I have been subjecting these stands to differing levels of mowing and monitoring the plants response and blooming times to determine if they are good candidates for incorporation into 2014 trials.

Main Project Research Goals

In the fall of 2013, based on preliminary data collected from the two trials during this summer, I will establish two experiments for investigation next spring and summer, 2014. For the first experiment I will be dormant seeding fine fescue over a large area, and then seeding in 3 ft. by 3 ft. plots with flowering plants for evaluation. These plants will include the nonnative species white clover (Trifolium repens), and creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) and the native plants self-heal (Prunella vulgaris spp. Lanceolata), violet wood sorrel (oxalis violacea), spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis), pasque flower (Anemone patens), and ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus). These plants were selected based on their low growth habit, quality of resource for honey bees, and acceptability to homeowners. My goal will be to asses if the chosen plants can establish and bloom under a mowing heights of 3″, with a varying frequency of mowing. I will evaluate my success by analyzing plot community composition, flowering density, and bee visitation through timed plant observations.

The second experiment will take three plants known to establish in lawns: white clover (Trifolium repens), self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), and creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) and interplant them into an area blanket seeded with fine fescue. These mixed planting will be expanded to 15 ft by 15 ft and mowed to 3″ with varying frequencies of mowing. The goal of this separate experiment will be to measure the plant and bee visitation in a larger more diverse planting.

With the data taken in the summer of 2014, we can begin to create more diverse seed mix for evaluation in the summer of 2015. This mix will contain the native and nonnative plants able to withstand mowing pressures, competition, and still produce blooms and receive bee visitation

Project Outreach Goals

With the social aspects of lawns and bees playing such an important role in this project, I also plan to incorporate a number of outreach projects. These projects will include field days that will allow people to view and ask questions about the bee lawn research. These events will be advertised through the University of Minnesota Turf and Bee research lab web sites and resources.

In addition I will also create a web site focusing on the research for this project that will inform visitors of the different aspect of the project as well as why it’s important. This site will be a great way to disseminate other information as well, such as how different home weeds and flowers could play a role in helping honey bees, and offer links and advice to other ways of helping pollinators in urban settings.

Scroll to Top