Summer is just around the corner and as another “No Mow May” comes to an end, it’s been fascinating to watch flurry of well-meaning social media memes and posts promoting the idea that dandelions are good for bees.
Well, they’re not — or at least, they’re not helpful for native bees. Native bees, including endangered species like the rusty-patched bumble bee, evolved to feed off native flowering plants, and dandelions aren’t native to North America.
For native bees, dandelions are not the first source of food of in the springtime: lots of native flowers bloom in springtime before and around the same time as dandelions, including bloodroot, many violets, and Virginia bluebells; plus, native elm, willow, maple, poplar, redbud and serviceberry provide an early source of pollen along with fruit trees like cherry, apple and pear.
That said, it is important to let the grass grow longer in the spring, and to leave last year’s garden “litter” on the ground to avoid harming the many species that overwinter in plant stalks, leaves and mulch piles.
But you’re not a bad person if you don’t like the look of dandelions taking over your lawn. Just don’t go reaching for the chemical weed killer: the simplest natural way to control dandelions is to cut off the flowers before they go to seed, and pull the plants out when the soil is moist and soft, removing as much of the tap root out as possible. It takes a bit of time and effort but it can be done.
Meanwhile, if you want to help all kinds of bees and other pollinators including insects and birds, plant more native plants in your garden. For a great source of pollinator information including native plant lists and soil types — and free posters — check out conservationist and author Heather Holm’s website.