DULUTH — Peeking through a front lawn packed with trees, shrubs and native flowers is the house of Duluth resident Carol Andrews. Certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, her yard serves a community of birds, insects and four-legged critters.
Andrews is part of a booming trend of people replacing lawn with native landscapes. Many set out on their own with these projects, but others utilize programs such as Lawns to Legumes, which is run by Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources with the goal of creating pollinator-friendly habitats and habitat corridors.
Carol Andrews stands in the front yard of her Duluth home, which has been certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
Noah Beardslee / Cloquet Pine Journal
A habitat corridor is an area of habitat that connects wildlife populations and allows for their passage.
“With this program we’re really trying to create a movement for the protection of pollinators and make this much more of a common practice in residential landscapes to have pollinator habitat,” said BSWR senior ecologist Dan Shaw.
Shaw noted a sense of urgency he feels in regard to the rapid decline of Minnesota’s state bee, the rusty patched bumblebee, but also pointed to the success the program is having in Carlton County.
Since 2020 there have been 53 completed planting projects in Carlton County through
Lawns to Legumes
and 673 volunteer projects according to Alyssa Bloss, a conservation specialist for Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District.
“It’s been insane. This program has just blown up in Carlton County,” Bloss said.
The success led to the establishment of the Midway River Pollinator Partnership earlier this year. The partnership is led by Carton County SWCD and comprised of South St. Louis County SWCD and the Xerces Society. BWSR awarded the partnership a $40,000 grant to put toward habitat corridor projects in the
Midway River watershed area
positioned between the two counties.
In the application for the grant, the MRPP cited a 2019 sighting of rusty patch near Cromwell, the presence of populations of the bee to the northwest and south of Carton County, and their goal of enabling the species to recolonize the whole region.
The need for habitat corridors factors into decisions on who gets grants from Lawns to Legumes.
“With the individual support grants, there’s a scoring that’s used for essentially ranking the applications that come in for that part of the program. So if people are in a
they essentially receive additional points in the process,” Shaw said. Priority one areas focus on the needs of the rusty patched bumble bee, while priority two areas focus on corridors and the needs of wildlife and pollinators more generally.
Timothy Craig, who studies insect/plant interactions at the University of Minnesota Duluth, explained the purpose of habitat corridors. Planting hundreds and thousands of native plants in one location to attract a faraway population of a dependent pollinator species won’t work if there is nothing in between to connect them.
“You have to think more in terms of the whole landscaping; keeping connectivity … making one isolated part by itself isn’t enough,” said Craig.
In addition to connectivity, specifically planting native plants offers a greater advantage to pollinators.
Dan Schutte is the owner of Shoreview Natives, a landscaping company and vendor of native plants, which has grown “tenfold” since 2015 according to Schutte.
“There is a tight co-evolution process with the insect and the plant. If you lose those plants, you lose the insect. Once you get the garden in, they flock to them,” said Dan Schutte
Andrews encouraged people who are interested but on the fence about replacing their whole lawn to start small.
“Lawn does have its purpose so where you need it it’s great, but a lot of people have a lot more lawn than they need,” Andrews said. “If there’s a part of your yard where the only time you go there is to mow it, think about getting rid of that lawn first.”
According to Andrews, fall is a good time of year to begin lawn smothering, a technique that layers newspaper, cardboard and mulch on a plot to kill existing plants. “… by May — June it’s definitely dead because it had all that time in the spring where it tries to grow and says ‘oh never mind, we give up.’”
Lawns, pavement, and houses have displaced so much habitat, Andrews said, that she feels an obligation to share her property. “You know people go to parks, or boundary waters or cabins to see wildlife. Why not have it at the house you live in. We don’t have a cabin. This is where we see wildlife.”