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MASTER GARDENER: Ways to modify our lawn care practices

Minnesotans are proud of our natural resources. We want to protect our water, land and all the wildlife they support. To ensure the future of these natural treasures, we need to re-examine and modify our lawn care practices.

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Minnesotans are proud of our natural resources. We want to protect our water, land and all the wildlife they support. To ensure the future of these natural treasures, we need to re-examine and modify our lawn care practices.

To encourage that process of change, the city of Bemidji participated in the "No Mow May" project this spring. That multi-city project promoted a voluntary moratorium on early season lawn mowing.

This initiative helped the community to become more aware of pollinator food sources and habitats. The animals that do most of the pollination are insects like bees, butterflies, and wasps.

By foregoing or delaying mowing their lawns, participants helped their lawns. They boosted the populations and varieties of insect pollinators in our area. Without the work of tiny creatures like bees, our food crop supply would dwindle to starvation levels.

Not mowing in May permits our lawns to use their available energy to develop vigorous and abundant root systems better able to retain and use natural rainfall in the summer months.

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In addition, leaving a lawn unmowed in May provides vital food sources to bees emerging from hibernation. Even those pesky dandelions that pop up so early provide pollinators the nutrition they need until summer blooms emerge on a different schedule.

Careful mowing as the season progresses can also be beneficial. One recommendation to help pollinators is to mow every other week, instead of every week. Keeping grass at 3 inches in height keeps out weeds and protects grass roots by keeping the soil cooler.

Getting your lawn to that height in a healthy manner means never cutting more than one-third of the leaf tissues. Consider leaving your grass clippings on the lawn to provide your lawn with nutrition. Other ideas for keeping lawns healthy can be found at extension.umn.edu/lawns-and-landscapes/lawn-care.

But to really reduce your mowing, watering and chemical use, consider devoting part or all of your lawn to a pollinator-friendly garden of flowers and plants native to Minnesota.

While this may seem like a daunting task, you could start slowly and change a different part of the lawn every year. Eventually, this would provide pollinators, other insects, birds and animals access to nutrition and a friendly habitat.

The University of Minnesota Extension provides examples of native trees, shrubs and plants for pollinators. The Audubon Society suggests that you don’t have to remove your non-native flowers, as they provide pollinators nutrition. They recommend to first think of purchasing native plants that require less water, maintenance and fertilizer.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 2005, the continental U.S. had about 40 million acres of lawn, making urban, suburban and rural lawns the largest irrigated crop.

Trying a new approach to lawn care you will conserve water, reduce invasive plants from becoming established, eliminate excessive use of chemicals, help pollinators and contribute to a healthy environment for wildlife.

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These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, extension.umn.edu, or by visiting our Facebook page at facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916 and leave your name, number and question.

Related Topics: GARDENING
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