Adding flowering plants to your property is an easy way to support our pollinator insects. You’ve likely heard the buzz (pun intended) about Minnesota legislature-funded “bee-friendly lawn” funding. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) is in charge of distributing the state funding for what they’ve now named the Lawns to Legumes program focused on planting residential lawns with native vegetation to help pollinators.

We at the Extension office received several questions about the funding this summer after the topic got attention in the media. Many Minnesotans are eager to helping our insect populations by creating more habitat for them.

Current plans are to begin implementation of the Lawns to Legumes projects in the spring and summer of 2020. Individual cost-share applications should be available sometime this November, and will be housed on BWSR’s Lawns to Legumes webpage. You can also check their webpage for updates and more information on the program and for resources establishing pollinator habitat.

Funding will be targeted in priority areas for benefiting the Rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) and other at-risk species. The Rusty patched bumble bee was listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 2017 and officially became the state bee of Minnesota earlier this year. Their population has declined by 87% in the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Rusty patched bumble bees have relatively small ranges, feeding on flowers within about half a mile of their colony. Because they have small ranges, it is especially important that we provide more flowering plants, to connect their patches of habitat.

The priority areas include regions where Rusty patched bumble bee has been found, and includes parts of Rice and Steele counties, along with several counties in the metro area and a few others across the state. Even though the priority areas will be given precedence, any residential property is eligible — rural homes and apartment complexes included.

Incorporating habitat can be quite easy; it doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. The Lawns to Legumes program encourages homeowners to add any amount of flowers to their lawns, the important factor is that there is a mix of flowers, preferably native flowers. There are four main types of projects they recommend for the Lawns to Legumes cost share funding. Homeowners can plant flowering shrubs or trees, pockets of habitat (which are more or less gardens), or they can choose to remove their lawn of turfgrass and replace it with a pollinator lawn or pollinator meadow. A pollinator lawn typically consists of low-growing flowers such as Dutch white clover as well as native grasses. A pollinator meadow involves planting flowers and grasses which are typically found in prairies or meadow, which works best in larger lots.

There are workshops being held across the state to help homeowners learn how to establish pollinator habitat and how to apply for the cost share funding. The events are listed at: http://www.blue-thumb.org/events/.

Claire LaCanne is the agricultural extension educator for Rice and Steele counties. Reach her at lacanne@umn.edu, or at 507-332-6165 (Rice County) or 507-444-7691 (Steele County).

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