State offers funds for pollinator-friendly plants

Southwest Minneapolis part of high-priority area

Native plants, shrubs and grasses
Native plants, shrubs and grasses line East Harriet resident Craig Buchanan’s yard, attracting a variety of pollinators during the summer months. Submitted photo

A state agency is wrapping up the initial application period for a new program that will provide Minnesota homeowners with funds to plant native flora.

The Board of Water and Soil Resources’ (BWSR) Lawns to Legumes program will end its first application period Feb. 28 and will open a second period March 1.

BWSR will prioritize applications from homeowners in parts of the Twin Cities metro (including Southwest Minneapolis) and several other pockets in Minnesota.

That’s because the $900,000 program is geared toward protecting pollinators, particularly the federally endangered rusty patched bumblebee, which has larger numbers in the metro compared with most of the state. The Legislature named the species the state bee during the 2019 legislative session.

“[The program] allows people in Minnesota to play a role in helping pollinators in a way that’s really tangible,” BWSR communications coordinator Mary Juhl said.

Lawns to Legumes, which opened for homeowner grant applications in December, is funded by a grant from the state’s Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund.

The program will provide approved homeowners with up to $350 to plant native and pesticide-free plants in their yards or gardens. The funds will be in the form of a reimbursement and will cover up to 75% of a project’s cost.

Homeowners must complete the projects within a year and commit to maintaining them for at least three years. They must source their native plants and seeds (when possible) from within 150 miles of their location and use plants that bloom in multiple seasons.

Projects can include planting pockets of native flowers, planting native shrubs or converting a turf lawn into a pollinator-friendly lawn or meadow. Juhl said turf conversions will be especially beneficial to the rusty patched bumblebee, which nests in the ground, as traditional turf has few nesting opportunities. 

In educational materials, BWSR said native plants have benefits to these species that turf grass does not, such as pollen nectar and nesting opportunities.

The agency has said almost all of the land that native plants previously occupied has been converted into other uses, a change that has contributed to the decline of the rusty patched bumblebee.

Pesticide use has also contributed to the decline of pollinators, BWSR said.

The rusty patched bumblebee is one of 23 bumblebee species found in Minnesota and is the first-ever bumblebee species in the U.S. to be listed as endangered.

The species can be distinguished from other bumblebees by a brownish central patch on its back. It once occupied a range that stretched between Maine, Georgia and Canada, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, but now occupies just a sliver of that territory.

“Basically, if you drew an oval between Chicago and Minneapolis, that’s its remaining range,” said Heather Holm, a Minnetonka author who has written two books about pollinators.

Holm said she thinks the Lawns to Legumes program could help raise public awareness about the rusty patched bumblebee and other pollinators.

She also said it could help create a more connected network of pollinator habitat, which is beneficial for pollinators, since they can only fly so far.

A challenge of the program, she said, could be ensuring that projects are maintained in the long term, if the homeowners who planted the flora move.

Some Southwest Minneapolis homeowners who’ve already completed such projects said it’s been worth the effort.

East Harriet resident Craig Buchanan, who has gradually added natural plants to his yard and removed turf, said he has enjoyed the wildlife in his yard, as well as the changing colors and smells of the flowers in bloom.

Plants in his yard include various grasses, honeysuckle, milkweed and coneflowers, among others. He has also installed two crabapple trees.

Juhl said the agency won’t determine how many Lawns to Legumes grants it will distribute until the application period closes.

Another part of the program is grants for community projects, though the initial application window for those projects has closed. There are also educational materials available online for both grant recipients and those who simply want to learn more about native plantings.

Visit bwsr.state.mn.us/l2l to learn more about the program and to apply.


Gasterland yard
Gasterland’s yard

What you can do

For Southwest Minneapolis residents looking to make their yards more habitable for pollinators, winter is a good time to begin taking inventory of plants that need replacing, said University of Minnesota Extension Educator Julie Weisenhorn.

Weisenhorn encouraged people to look at pollinator-friendly plants and plants that bloom in multiple seasons. For renters, she said, options include planting containers with pollinator-friendly plants on their patios, decks or front stoops.

“The easiest thing that people can do is grow flowers,” she said, adding that she would encourage people to avoid pesticides.

Weisenhorn pointed to the websites of University of Minnesota Extension and the Xerces Society as places with good information. She also said local master gardeners are very knowledgeable about pollinator-friendly plants.

Southwest residents

Buchanan said there aren’t many costs to maintaining a pollinator-friendly yard once it’s established, and he, too, encouraged people to start small and understand how much sun their yard receives.

He said he’d like to see the city incorporate more native plantings into its landscaping projects instead of relying on nonnative species.

Bryn Mawr residents Barb and Hans Gasterland created a pollinator-friendly prairie full of natural grasses and flowers when they built their home in the early 2000s.

Barb Gasterland, who’s a Hennepin County master gardener, said she worked with a landscape designer on the project. She has since built a couple of rain gardens into the yard.

Gasterland said it’s wise to consider how much sun you have in your yard before purchasing native plants. She also said it’s a good idea to start small and that she hasn’t had problems with bees, adding that she enjoys seeing them throughout the yard.