Weeds and flowers are a crucial source of food for pollinators

It’s a sure sign of summer when you spot dandelions popping up everywhere. But these weeds aren’t just a pest we can’t seem to remove from our lush lawns and gardens, they’re also important for bees and other pollinators.

Mike Jenkins, the City’s pest management coordinator, says, “Dandelions are a pretty good source of nectar and pollen. Many insects feed off of sugar and some only carry pollen. Bees are specialized in getting pollen as a protein source to feed their young.”

Honey bees aren’t the only pollinators that utilize dandelions. “Dandelions are a benefit to honey bees and native pollinators before other flowers are out,” Jenkins says.

Considering its importance, should dandelions still then be considered a weed? “Weed is a subjective definition,” says Jenkins. “A lot depends on where it’s growing, if it’s in a sports field or a lawn. The longer you leave them, the harder it is to get rid of them. If you can keep a patch in your yard without letting them take over, it would probably be a benefit to honey bees and native pollinators.”

Edmonton has all kinds of pollinators, not just bees, but wasps, butterflies, flies, moths, male mosquitoes, ants, and other insects. 

Mark Stumpf-Allen, the City’s compost programs coordinator, explains that dandelions are also beneficial to the soil.

“They have a very deep taproot which penetrates into subsoil. Deep-rooted plants like dandelions can bring nutrients up and store it in their leaves. Those nutrients become available to plants next year as they decompose. Not many of our crops can penetrate into subsoil. Dandelions are more than bee food—they’re soil builders.”

To prevent dandelions from taking over your lawn or garden, Stumpf-Allen advises, “Pluck off new growth: the green leaves and stems, anything that will seed the roots through photosynthesis.” You can also pluck the head of the plant off before it seeds out. Stumpf-Allen adds, “But seeds are airborne and travel hundreds of meters.”

In the last few years, there’s been a lot of news about honey bees being in jeopardy. In the Eastern United States, honey bees are experiencing a colony collapse disorder due to pesticide, mite infestations, and a moniculture diet. 

“We have not seen a colony collapse here. Our honey bees are doing well,” says Jenkins, but adds that the Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee and other species, along with many of our native pollinators, seem to be in decline. 

In order to help these pollinators, plant a variety of flowers that bloom at different times since not every pollinator can use just any flower. For example, honey bees are originally from Europe and naturally seek pollen when European weeds would bloom. Jenkins says some parasitic wasps are so small they’ll actually drown themselves in dandelions. Plants like carrots, yarrow, and dill are useful for these smaller pollinators.

“Flowers that aren’t great for bees are big, double-petaled flowers that people love to plant,” says Stumpf-Allen. Bees can’t access these flowers. He adds, “Low walls of urbanite create lots of nooks and crannies for ground-dwelling solitary bees. The walls are a great way to create interest and reuse waste material.”

“More diversity is better. Having huge fields of one species leads to all kinds of imbalances,” says Jenkins. 

“The more diverse, the more healthy [pollinators] will be,” adds Stumpf-Allen. “When bees visit your garden, they’ll have healthy pollens and nectars to take back to the colony.”

Featured Image: Dandelions and a diverse variety of other plants are important for bees and other pollinators. | Pixabay