Prairie Rivers Wins Grant to Help Pollinators and Farmers

Prairie Rivers Wins Grant to Help Pollinators and Farmers

Prairie Rivers of Iowa has been protecting Iowa’s natural resources for over 20 years. We recently received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support our work! The grant is awarded through the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinators Conservation Fund. Prairie Rivers of Iowa is one of 18 organizations to receive this grant, including The Nature Conservancy, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and the Pollinator Partnership.

Helping with Habitat
Prairie Rivers’ project, titled Pollinator Patchwork: Enrolling Private Working Lands into Monarch Butterfly Habitat, focuses on providing technical assistance to farmers and landowners motivated to help pollinators while receiving on-farm benefits as well. Our project, in particular, focuses on women landowners and farm operators, a group that has been historically left out of conversations and under-recruited for beneficial programs for decades. This group is also an un-tapped source for converting low-quality cropland out of production and into beneficial pollinator habitat. To address this issue, Prairie Rivers is creating general and women-specific field days, webinars, and effective outreach materials while partnering with area experts to accomplish these tasks! Our partners include Story County Conservation, Dr. Jean Eells of E Resources Group, area farmer Jim Richardson, Boone and Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the Story County Water Quality Monitoring Planning Team.

Dr. Jean Eels during a Women Caring for the Land event in 2019.

Dr. Jean Eells is excited to partner with Prairie Rivers of Iowa for this project. Eells received her PhD in Agricultural Education and is highly experienced in effectively creating field days and outreach materials for women:

“This funding will allow us to hold events for landowners that will answer their questions and let them see directly how monarch and pollinator habitats can be created on their acres. I’m especially excited to hold meetings for women landowners where they can get their questions answered in a very friendly forum, whether they are very experienced or just beginning to make space for monarch butterflies.”

Jim Richardson, as a grain farmer and president of the Hamilton County Conservation Board, holds unique insight into farmer attitudes:

“As a farmer, I always like to participate in programs that are a “win-win,” relates Richardson, “I consider Prairie Rivers’ new project to be a “win-win-win.” It’s a win for the landowner who will get maximum revenue off of low-productive ground. It’s a win for the tenant, who will not have to put expensive inputs into marginal land. Lastly, it’s a huge win for our monarchs and all of our pollinators, who will find food sources where they have never been able to before.”

PRI Pollinator Conservation Specialist Jessica Butters

“UPDATE 2023-03-31: Prairie Rivers of Iowa is currently hiring for a pollinator conservation specialist to manage the project. Jessica Butters, outgoing pollinator conservation specialist and lead grantwriter had this to say about the potential of the project.

“It is exciting to start pollinator-focused projects in rural areas.  Prairie Rivers has started many successful pollinator projects in urban areas. Given that over 85% of Iowa is agricultural land, pollinator conservation on farmland is an enormous piece of the puzzle in supporting monarch butterflies and pollinators. Creating pollinator habitat in agricultural areas will allow us to connect pieces of pollinator habitat together, allowing monarch butterflies and other pollinators to move throughout the state.”

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Hello and Happy 2023,

Prairie Rivers of Iowa has had a busy and productive 2023 in Iowa, working on a variety of important initiatives related to creating a healthier natural environment and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Iowa.   As we end this year, we have touched kids, families, landowners, historic homeowners and business owners, communities, natural resource professionals, like-minded not-for-profits and oversaw a national prairie conference in Iowa.

Here’s a summary of some of the key accomplishments and initiatives this year:

EDUCATIONAL VIDEO SERIES – We created a weekly video series for YouTube and Instagram The Clean Water Act: 50 Years, 50 Facts. We produced 45 short videos filmed at dozens of locations (including knee deep in a marsh) and featuring 5 music parodies.  The educational videos covered various aspects of water conservation, law and policy.

Water Testing Ioway Creek Near Stratford in Hamitlon County

MONTHLY STREAM MONITORINGConducted monthly monitoring of at least 15 streams, providing updates in the Prairie Rivers monthly newsletter.  Additionally, coordinated volunteer “snapshots” with neighboring counties and supported school groups interested in water monitoring. Additionally, we published a 65-page report analyzing water quality data, including a novel way of looking at the data.

SECURED A NATIONAL FOUNDATION GRANT – This grant assists us in building a network for interpreting water quality monitoring data.  Seven partners joined Prairie Rivers to focus at sharing best practices, looking for tools to monitor E. coli in our streams, providing a monthly opportunity to express their concerns and planning for an Iowa Water Summit in 2024.

Ioway Creek Cleanup

TWO TRASH CLEANUPS — (1) May 2023 — Cleaned Ioway Creek by canoe, S. Grand to S. 16th St (Ames), 40 participants.  The trash collected weighed 3,020 pounds and included 20 tires and three rims. Partners included: Story County Conservation, Skunk River Paddlers, the City of Ames, Outdoor Alliance of Story County.  (2) August 14, 2023 – Cleaned a tributary of Ioway Creek in Stuart Smith Park (Ames), on foot, nine volunteers, 350 pounds of trash removed.  Partners included Iowa Rivers Revival, Green Iowa AmeriCorps and the City of Ames.

POLLINATOR CONSERVATION Launched a 10-year plan involving over 40 persons serving on a committee to support pollinator conservation.  This plan is aimed at conserving pollinators and their habitats, which are crucial for the environment.  You can see the plan at www.prrcd.org.

Monarch Magic Family Fun Event on September 9th, 2023

MONARCH MAGIC Held the first Monarch tagging event in September, where over 300 kids, their families, and others learned about pollinators and tagged 146 Monarchs.  We had 10 sponsors and partners at Ada Hayden Heritage Park and plan to do it again in 2024.

HISTORIC RESOURCE PRESERVATIONReceived a grant from Iowa Cultural Affairs and successfully surveyed 319 historic listings on the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway.  In 2024, we will present the findings to elected officials and other interested persons in the 43 communities along the Byway to inform and develop a plan for the restoration and preservation of these important Iowa heritage properties.

BYWAY COORDINATOR AND PROJECTS – Hired a new Byway Coordinator, Jeanie Hau, who is actively working to support our Byway projects.  Prairie Rivers signed a new contract with the Iowa DOT to support work on the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway extending our efforts to preserve Iowa’s heritage.  This Byway begins on Highway 30, Montour turnoff, and travels through the Amana Colonies for a total of 77 miles.

TRAVELING EXHIBITThe Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway traveling exhibit called The Promise Road:  How the Lincoln Highway Changed America has been displayed at various locations, allowing visitors to learn about the rich history of this historic road.  It’s available for display in museums, libraries, and other community spaces.  So far the exhibit has traveled to Jefferson, Grand Junction, State Center, Nevada, Linn County Historical Society: The History Center, Cedar Rapids History Museum, Nevada Library, Marion Public Library, Carroll Public Library, Harrison County Welcome Center, and currently at the Council Bluffs Public Library.

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Traveling Exhibit

We cannot do this work without your support!

Today, we are asking you as a supporter to make an end-of-year gift of $50.00 to Prairie Rivers of Iowa.  Your support shows us to keep up the good work!   You can make a gift here online or by going to our donation page for additional options. We know that as good stewards of the land, you see how important this work is today.

It is so important for a not-for-profit to receive gifts from individuals. Hearing from you encourages and supports our very difficult work in support of the natural and cultural resources in Iowa.
Thank you!

Board of Directors
Reed Riskedahl, President
Mark Rasmussen, Treasurer
Doug Cooper, Secretary
Erv Klaas
Bob Ausberger
Chuck Stewart
Rick Dietz
Jim Richardson
Christopher Barber

Staff
Mike Kellner, Marketing and Public Relations
Dan Haug, Water Quality Specialist
Jessica Butters, Pollinator Conservation Specialist
Jeanie Hau, Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway & Iowa Valley Scenic Byway Coordinator
Carman Rosburg, Office Manager
Daniel Huber, Technology
Shellie Orngard, Historic Properties Consultant

One-Time Donate to Prairie Rivers of Iowa
How a Pollinator Plan can Enrich Life in Ames

How a Pollinator Plan can Enrich Life in Ames

Luna Moth

Prairie Rivers of Iowa, Ames Public Works, and the Pollinator Task Force with Mayor Haila proclaiming Pollinator Week and the Ames Pollinator-Friendly Community Plan.

June is National Pollinator Month!

We are *buzzing* with exciting news! Mayor John Haila recently proclaimed National Pollinator Week in Ames, starting on Monday, June 19. Additionally, Haila announced a plan to make Ames a more pollinator-friendly city! To our knowledge, Ames is the first city in the United States to create its own 10-year plan, tailor-made for Ames residents and Iowa-native pollinators. Prairie Rivers of Iowa partnered with the City of Ames Public Works Department to organize a Pollinator Task Force, comprised of Ames residents, who came together to write the City of Ames Pollinator-Friendly Community Plan. Prairie Rivers and the City of Ames are now calling on even more residents to get involved in implementing this 10-year plan. You may be asking: ‘Why proclaim a national pollinator week, and why should we have a plan concerning pollinators for Ames?’. Because supporting pollinators is supporting the Ames community!

Do you like apple pie topped with ice cream? Thank pollinators!

Supporting Pollinators = Supporting Our Food

A pollinator is any animal (insect, bird, mammal) that moves pollen between flowers (the Ames Pollinator Plan focuses on supporting native bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects). The pollen exchange facilitated by pollinators allows plants to be fertilized and consequently grow fruits and seed. The fruits and seed produced with the help of pollinators is infinitely important! About one-third of our global food supply depends upon pollinators. If you like almonds, apples, tomatoes, or even steak and butter, you have pollinators to thank. Wait, steak and butter? Yes indeed. Pollinators are very important in producing seed for growing alfalfa, a hay crop fed to beef and dairy cattle. Without hay in livestock rations, it would be harder to access all things cattle, from ice cream to beef tacos. Lastly, almost 90% of flowering plants depend on pollinators! If you like seeing wildflowers on hikes or along roadsides, then you should want to keep pollinators around. Imagine if we lost nearly all of our flowering species? Our landscapes would be quite boring and colorless, and our plates would look more empty.

Supporting Pollinators = Supporting Ames’ Natural Resources

Yes, pollinators are very important for food crops at the national and global scale. But what are some benefits that we will be able to see locally, here in Ames? We’ll list two: 1) our water quality and 2) our soil health could be improved by planting pollinator habitat. One of the best ways to support pollinators is by planting native vegetation, or plants that have evolved and are originally from Iowa. Pollinators eat the nectar and pollen of these plants, and some also create nests in their stems. Many native plants are perennial, and because of this have expansive, thick root systems. Planting a patch of native plants is similar to casting a thick, wide net underground. This net of roots holds soil in place on slopes, soaks up extra water during heavy rain, and absorbs excess chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides as water moves through. These actions provided through native vegetation will lower erosion, mitigate flooding, and keep our local waterways cleaner if planted in the right areas.

Pollinator habitat also supports water quality!

Luna Moth

Planting for pollinators is also planting for people.

Additionally, because these plants are well-adapted to Iowa, they need fewer inputs such as pesticides and thrive without fertilizer. This creates a low-input, sustainable planting system. Lastly, creating a good pollinator habitat will create a good human habitat (see graphic on page 4 of link). Bear with me here. Being surrouned by greenery and wildlife such as butterflies reduces stress and stimulates curiosity and creativity. Strategically planting more diverse vegetation and flowering plants may increase the observations of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife, which could have a positive impact on the mental health of Ames residents. This plan will support the pollinator community to address food insecurity, ecological health, offset the impacts of climate change, and will serve as an example for other cities around the world. Supporting pollinators truly supports the Ames community and beyond!

So What’s in this Plan?

The vision of the Pollinator Plan is for the City of Ames “to become a leader in developing and sustaining pollinator habitat that will enrich the quality of life for the human and biological communities of Ames“. Besides creating habitat that benefits pollinators and people, this plan also contains four pathways to bring this vision to life: 1) public education about pollinators and other important wildlife in Ames, 2) policy enhancements to support habitat implementation in the city, 3) research current and future conditions for pollinators and residents, and 4) the creation/strengthening of partnerships to use all resources to the fullest potential. Through education, policy, research, and partnerships, our plan will leverage the excitement and interest in pollinators to reach a beautiful vision of Ames: a more engaging, sustainable, beautiful, and healthy place that will not only serve pollinators, but the people and visitors of Ames.

You can read the plan in its entirety on the City of Ames’ Bird and Pollinator Friendly Community webpage!

Do you live in the Ames area? Are you excited to be a part of this vision for Ames? If so, click the blue button to fill out our volunteer form! You can also contact Jessica Butters at jbutters@prrcd.org or call 515-232-0048 to let us know you are interested in volunteering!

Trees for the Bees: How to Support Wildlife this Arbor Day!

Trees for the Bees: How to Support Wildlife this Arbor Day!

A native bee visiting a redbud tree.

These warmer days make it hard to sit still; we all want to get a jump on our yard and garden plans! Maybe you’re thinking of adding some small pockets of pollinator habitat. Or perhaps you’ve finally decided to add a tree or two for shade. While there’s a dizzying number of guides for “pollinator flowers”, there’s less advice on how homeowners can utilize trees and shrubs to support wildlife.

Planting a tree can be an investment not only of money but of time as well. When thinking about the long-term goals for your property, it’s important to think about the legacy you want to leave behind, as the tree may outlive you. Planting the right trees can not only increase your property’s appeal; it can also provide habitat for songbirds and pollinators for decades to come! So which trees are attractive to pollinators, are native to Iowa, and look great in our yards? We’ve put together a list to answer some of these questions, just in time for Arbor Day, which falls on April 28 this year!

But first: why trees?

Native trees and shrubs provide excellent wildlife habitat in several ways. Many provide an early flower source for pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and they are also great habitat for birds! Trees provide nesting and hiding areas for birds, and can attract insects that birds need to feed their chicks (more on that later). Planting native trees will especially invite butterflies and moths to visit your yard and lay their eggs, which hatch into caterpillars. These caterpillars then snack on tree and shrub leaves (they won’t do any real damage) until they spin their chrysalises or get plucked by a bird. Caterpillars and other insects are fundamental to the food web: they are the juicy, protein-filled link between plants and larger animals. If you want to see beautiful butterflies and songbirds, you should plant native trees that support native insects!

A blue jay with an acorn.

Native trees are central to an exciting, diverse yard!

The nonnative ginko tree (the one with fan-shaped leaves) supports about 4 species of caterpillars. In contrast, native oak trees alone can support 534 species of caterpillars (according to Dr. Doug Tallamy*). Consider the fact that black-capped chickadees need at least 300 caterpillars a day to feed their chicks – that’s about 5,000 caterpillars needed in a few weeks while the chicks grow! And this is just one example. Imagine if you had three chickadee families in your yard, or five other species of birds visiting your feeders. Suddenly, native trees just seem practical, and planting nonnative trees, such as a ginko, seems, as Tallamy put it, “equivalent to erecting a statue” in terms of its usefulness.

A young chickadee and parent.

Unhelpful trees:

Let’s address the elephant in the room: some trees and shrubs commonly planted in yards are pretty damaging; they easily spread from our yards and choke out native plants that wildlife depend upon, and cost cities and counties thousands of dollars to remove from natural areas and building foundations (some of these trees’ roots can actually compromise the integrity of buildings). Some trees and shrubs to stay away from include: Bradford or Callery pear trees (Pyrus calleryana; also their flowers smell bad), Norway maples (Acer platanoides), buckthorn (Frangula species), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), and Amur and Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii and L. morrowii, respectfully).

 

 

Lastly, do your best to avoid planting cultivars and hybrids that promise better color, bigger flowers, etc. Most native trees (especially maples) produce spectacular fall color anyway, and the hybrids you see in the nurseries will likely be sterile, and won’t produce flowers that attract pollinators or birds (if they produce any at all). It is also important to note that nonnative shrubs, trees, and hybrids may tout that they produce berries, and therefore support wildlife. Birds in particular may feed on berries only certain times of the year, and that time may not coincide with berry production on hybrid plants. Additionally, these nonnative plants will not come close to supporting the number of caterpillars needed to keep birds nesting in or near your yard.

Bradford pear tree with smelly flowers.

Multiflora rose choking out trees.

Now for the main event: the best shrubs and trees to plant!

How the lists are set up: Shrubs, small trees, and larger trees that are native to Iowa and beneficial to pollinators are listed below in order of bloom time. Each table describes a specific genus or species of tree, which is pictured to the right of the table (or below in mobile format).

Shrubs and small trees are listed first, and larger trees are listed afterwards. A small picture of the blooms produced by a shrub or tree may be displayed in the corner of the picture of the mature plant. These are not exhaustive lists; they are meant to get you started!

{ See end of article for a list of places to purchase native shrubs and trees! }

Shrubs

 

The following native plant species are shrubs and small trees reaching a maximum height of 30 feet. These trees are perfect for small yards, or large yards that want to add visual interest and diversity by planting trees of varying heights. Some of these shrubs also make great hedges or borders near property lines! Be sure to look up how some of these shrubs spread to make sure their maintenance needs meet your expecations.

Common NameBloom PeriodSun and Soil Needs
Pussy WillowEarly to Mid-SpringFull Sun, Wet – Moist
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported
Salix discolor2 WeeksPollinators, Birds
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
6 – 20 ftSmall, fluffy white catkinsDull green – yellow

 

Butterfly weed
Common NameBloom PeriodSun and Soil Needs
Serviceberry (Juneberry)Mid-SpringPart – Full Sun, Moist – Dry
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported
Amelanchier arborea1 – 2 WeeksPollinators, Birds, and more
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
6 – 20 ftWhite, 1-inch flowersRed-orange

 

Butterfly weed
Common NameBloom PeriodSun and Soil Needs
Eastern RedbudMid-SpringPart – Full Sun, Moist – Dry
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported
Cercis canadensis4 WeeksPollinators
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
15 – 25 ftShowy pink flowersYellow

 

Butterfly weed
Common NameBloom PeriodSun and Soil Needs
American PlumMid- to late SpringPart – Full Sun, Medium
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported
Prunus americana2 WeeksPollinators, Mammals
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
10 – 15 ftShowy white flowersRed to Yellow

 

Butterfly weed
Common NameBloom PeriodSun and Soil Needs
Prairie Crab AppleLate SpringPart – Full Sun,  Moist – Medium
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported
Malus ioensis1 – 2 WeeksPollinators, Birds, and more
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
10 – 25 ftShowy white-pink flowersBrown-orangeish

 

Butterfly weed
Common NameBloom PeriodSun and Soil Needs
Gray DogwoodLate Spring to Mid-SummerPart – Full Sun,  Moist – Medium
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported
Cornus racemosa3 WeeksPollinators, Birds, and more
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
8 – 15 ftShowy white flowersRed-purple

 

Butterfly weed
Common NameBloom PeriodSun and Soil Needs
American ElderberryLate Spring to Mid-SummerPart – Full Sun, Moist
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported
Sambucus nigra canadensis, or Sambucus canadensis3 – 4 WeeksPollinators, Birds
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
4 – 12 ftShowy white flowersBrown-reddish to Yellow

 

Butterfly weed

Trees

 

The following species are taller native trees ranging from 40 to 120 feet tall. These trees will provide high-quality habitat in larger yards, and are sure to attract and support wildlife, especially if mutlitple species are planted. Be sure to check if these trees create any fruits or seed pods so you can determine which trees best match your expectations.

Common NameBloom Period Sun and Soil Needs
Maples (Sugar, Black, and others)Early to Late SpringPart – Full Sun, Medium
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported 
Acer species1 – 2 WeeksPollinators, Birds,  and more
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
60 – 100 ftSmall yellow-green flowersStriking colors, varies by species
Bicknell's sedge

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

Common NameBloom Period Sun and Soil Needs
Black CherryLate Spring to Early SummerPart – Full Sun,    Moist – Dry
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported 
Prunus serotina2 – 3 WeeksPollinators, Birds,  and more
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
50 – 80 ftShowy white flowersYellow to reddish
Bicknell's sedge
Common NameBloom Period Sun and Soil Needs
Kentucky CoffeetreeLate Spring to Early SummerPart – Full Sun,    Moist – Medium
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported 
Gymnocladus dioicus2 – 3 WeeksPollinators, Birds
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
60 – 90 ftSmall white flowersYellow
Bicknell's sedge
Common NameBloom Period Sun and Soil Needs
Basswood (Linden)Early SummerPart – Full Sun,    Medium
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported 
Tilia americana2 WeeksPollinators
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
50 – 100 ftSmall white flowersDull green – yellow
Bicknell's sedge
Common NameBloom Period Sun and Soil Needs
Oaks (Red, White, and others)VariesVaries
Species NameBloom LengthWildlife Supported 
Quercus speciesVariesInvaluable to countless wildlife
Max HeightBloom DescriptionFall Color
40 – 80 ftVariesDull to striking colors
Bicknell's sedge

Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

* = According to research by Dr. Doug Tallamy, author and faculty member at the University of Delaware.\

This article used a number of resources, including:

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center                                      Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Missouri Botanical Garden                                                         Michigan State University

University of Minnesota Extension                                            USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

 

Some great native shrub and tree nurseries:

 

The State Forest Nursery: Ames, Iowa.  1-800-865-2477 or 515-233-1161

Iowa Native Trees and Shrubs: Woodward, Iowa. 515-664-8633

Blooming Prairie Nursery: Carlisle, Iowa. 515-689-9444

Happy Arbor Day, and happy tree planting!

Clover Lawns: Is the Trend Lucky for Pollinators?

Clover Lawns: Is the Trend Lucky for Pollinators?

A honey bee visits a clover flower.

The idea of creating a pollinator-friendly yard is finally taking root, and the notion of a perfect lawn, along with its expense, is being weeded out. Clover lawns are one of the latest trends yard owners are trying out in an effort to be more environmentally conscious. This new kind of lawn is often touted to support pollinators, require less up-keep, and lower pollution. But do they live up to the hype?

What is a clover lawn?

What constitutes a “clover lawn” has several renditions. The simplest form of a clover lawn is a lawn in which someone passively allowed clover to establish and grow. They stopped spraying herbicides, mowed less, and allowed grass to die in areas, giving way to clover and other plants. A second kind of clover lawn is one in which clover was actively seeded into the lawn, over the existing turf (this was a common practice until the 1950s). A third way of creating a clover lawn is to kill and remove all turf and replace it entirely with clover, resulting in a uniform lawn.

Common clovers used for lawns are nonnative, including white (Dutch) clover (Trifolium repens) and strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum), both hailing from Eurasia. Strawberry clover is also the species included in the Scotts®Turf Builder® Clover Lawn seed. The idea of seeding mini or micro clovers is increasingly popular. These clovers are normally short-statured cultivars of the species listed above. Micro clover lawns are supposed to require even less maintenance and have smaller flowers that attract fewer bees. There are no readily-available native clovers that are marketed for clover lawns (though there are some fantastic native clovers in Iowa).

A hairstreak butterfly on a dandelion.

Why would you want a clover lawn?

Those interested in clover lawns will have different objectives. Some are drawn to the fact that most clovers require less care than turf grasses (though they still require regular maintenance). Clovers usually need less mowing, resist weeds, many are drought- and shade-tolerant, and they also fix nitrogen in the soil, eliminating the need for fertilizer. These attributes are also welcomed by those looking to reduce carbon emissions and pollution by requiring less mowing, herbicides, and fertilizers. Lastly, wildlife lovers hope to support pollinators with clover due to the fact that their flowers can attract honey bees and some native bees. However, keep in mind that these positive attributes are good only in comparison to a traditional turf-grass lawn, which provides scant (if any) environmental benefits and requires a lot of maintenance. Additionally, clover does not stand up to heavy foot traffic as well as grasses, and may need to be reseeded every two or three years.

A lucky four-leaf clover.

A lucky four-leaf clover.

Luna Moth

A native bee visiting nonnative clover.

Do clover lawns benefit pollinators?

Simply put, some clover lawns can provide benefits to some pollinators. If you really want a clover lawn, the best method for wildlife (and your wallet) is to passively allow clover to enter your lawn. This practice requires you to mow less and stop using herbicides, which will keep pollinators in your area healthier.

While there are some benefits to having a clover lawn, they are small from a broader point of view. At the end of the day, adding clover to your lawn adds a few species of nonnative plants in your area, which often provide sub-optimal nutrition to native pollinators. Keep in mind that many pollinators are specialists and will not visit nonnative clover. Additionally, it may be difficult to keep the clover on your own lawn, and out of natural habitats. In contrast, planting a pollinator garden, even a small one, adds multiple native flower species and provides high-quality habitat to native pollinators. Planting within a garden also doesn’t require you to rethink your entire lawn. Finally, a garden is a stronger challenge to the status quo, as planting a diverse and beautiful garden is a lot harder to be annoyed about than nonnative dandelions and clover in your front yard. It is better PR for pollinator habitat: a neighbor with a more traditional mindset for a lawn will not appreciate the spread of “weeds”, but may be open to the idea of creating their own native plant garden.

Are clover lawns worth it?

In my personal opinion, ideas such as clover lawns challenge the current lawn standard, but are not the end goal. They also do not entirely live up to the hype: they still require maintenance, and are not the seed-and-forget or “let it go” solution that many were hoping for. From this point of view, you might as well grow native plants.

From an environmental standpoint, we need more native habitat and less lawn, whether it’s traditional or clover. It would be a more effective and meaningful trend to encourage people to grow “micro gardens” for pollinators instead of praising micro clovers and other nonnative lawn alternatives. To make the biggest impact in your corner of the world, ending pesticide use and planting a native plant garden (even a tiny one!) is best. However, if that kind of project is not possible for you at the moment, ending all pesticide use and choosing to mow less often is definitely “better than nothing”. Doing so will probably invite clover into your lawn, which will suffice until you can start a small garden. The clover trend is not lucky for all pollinators, but a garden that includes native clovers could be!

A sweat bee visiting a native clover.