Spring has finally handed Old Man Winter his coat and hat and sent him on his way. Life in our yards reemerges as the grass turns green, robins return, and bees begin buzzing. But one sign of spring isn’t always welcome: the humble dandelion.
However I dare to say: Let’s celebrate the little sun-like flower heads!
What? The scourge of green landscapes everywhere?
Yes! These bits of yellow dotting our lawns are a most welcome site to pollinators (and children) who endured the barren, winter months. Dandelions offer hungry bees their first source of nectar each spring, sustaining our pollinators until the abundance of the season blooms in full. And have you ever met a small child more joyous than one picking dandelion flowers, making dandelion chains, or blowing their white fluffy seeds?
European settlers intentionally brought dandelions to America for its nutrient-dense leaves (which are also a gentle diuretic), its liver-cleansing root, and its flowers that can be made into wine. It seems the plant is quite comfortable here, employing its long tap root to break up compacted soils everywhere. It’s fitting that this European native plant supports the European honeybee so perfectly.
Across the country — and the world — people are concerned about the continual and dramatic decline of bees, monarch butterflies, and other pollinators. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a nation-wide loss of 42 percent of managed honeybee colonies in 2015 (some states lost more than 60 percent). Native pollinator numbers are harder to track, but a recent article in BioScience states that half of the 46 or 47 species of bumblebees in the United States are in some level of decline. The Xerces Society estimates 80 percent fewer monarch butterflies in North America than the average population over the past 21 years.
The good news: Anyone with a yard can contribute to helping these important species. The first step is to offer food in the form of nectar and pollen. Embrace pollen and nectar-rich flowers like dandelions, clover, goldenrod and aster that appear in your yard. The next step is to not poison your visitors once they do accept your invitation; in other words, avoid all lawn and garden pesticides. This will create a healthy place for children and pets to play as well. Don’t worry; gardens and lawns can still be beautiful. Visit the Ecology Center’s table and three pesticide-free gardens at the 2016 Grosse Pointe Garden Center Garden Tour!
Here are some additional ways to get started:
- Go neonic-free. Ask garden centers if their flowering plants are free of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides, which are particularly lethal to bees and other beneficial insects. In 2014, 51 percent of garden plants tested positive for one or more neonic.
- Home Depot is now labeling plants treated with neonics. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot have agreed to stop selling neonics by 2019. Ask Ace Hardware and True Value to do the same.
- The U.S. government temporarily halted the registration of any new neonic products.
- The state of Maryland recently banned the sale of neonics in stores.
- Treat grubs naturally with beneficial nematodes or milky spore, not Merit® or other products that contain neonicotinoids. Refer to Pest Patrol: Grubs for more tips on grub control. Wondering if your garden product contains neonics? Check this list of brand name products containing neonicotinoids.
- Avoid weed and feed products. Believe it or not, they are pesticides. Most contain 2,4-D, a dangerous herbicide linked to cancer in humans and canine lymphoma. Learn how to maintain a lawn without pesticides.
- Gardening for Bees and Children In 2015 Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, was declared a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In November 2015, glyphosate plus another additive in some Roundup formulations were found to have even greater potential health risks. Products are coming off store shelves in Germany and France.
- Plant native perennials, shrubs, and trees to attract pollinators, as well as beneficial pest-eating insects and birds. Visit The Native Plant Nursery of Michigan, this list of bee-friendly wildflowers and flowers, or this list five spring plants that could save monarch butterflies. Remember: Using pesticides will poison all the bugs (including the beneficial ones) and the birds that eat them.
- Learn more about successful gardening without pesticides with the Ecology Center’s spring checklist for a healthy yard.
– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at email@example.com or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg.