Cornell expert on how to protect and support pollinators in your backyard
May 8, 2023
As flowers and trees continue to bloom and grass grows long, people may be wondering how best to support the pollinators in their backyards.
Tamson Yeh, pest management and turf specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension Suffolk County, provides lawn mowing best practices and ideas of more permanent measures to support pollinators rather than temporary ones like pausing mowing for the month of May.
If you have to mow…
“You should wait until it is warm enough in the day, above about 65 F, for the insects to get out of the way. They cannot regulate their body temperatures internally, so they depend on the warmth from the sun to get moving if the mower is coming. Same thing for evening mowing, do not wait until it has cooled down so much that it impacts the pollinators’ ability to get out of the way. Also, only mow one section at a time per day so the escaping pollinators have time to recoup and have a place to hide before having to move again.”
Food for the early risers
“Leave dandelions or other early flowering weeds like hairy bittercress or purple deadnettle for the pollinators. The last two will die early anyway because they are annuals/biennials, and you can snip the dandelion heads after they have finished flowering but before they make seed.”
Reduce or remove turf and replace with a permanent oasis for pollinators
“If you have a strip of turf along or between a sidewalk and a road, remove turf and plant easy care, low maintenance, drought tolerant native perennials that do not need fertilization.
“Next, target turf areas next to sidewalks and pathways for removal and replacement with warm season native grasses – pollinators love them for shelter and food.
“Finally, reduce turf reduction in shade. Replace with drought tolerant native ground covers –preferably ones that flower early and late – that require little or no fertilization. Be sure to plant early flowering and late flowering bulbs as well. These all provide needed food for pollinators at the margins of the season when there is less forage.”