Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
March 7, 2020 ·  5 min read

Want to Help Bees? Leave the Dandelions Alone This Spring

When I was younger, I loved dandelions. When someone told me “they are just weeds,” I took that as a personal offense. After all, they’re just a pretty shade of yellow and they are the only “flowers” on the lawn my parents won’t get mad at me for picking and weaving into my hair. It made me sad to see those sunny plants get torn apart by lawn movers and weed hackers. 

This Bristol University professor and the new leader of the British Ecological Society seem to agree. Jane Memmott mows around the buttercups and dandelions when she trims her grass. It’s her way of helping the local environment. As she said, “You can’t personally help tigers, whales, and elephants, but you really can do something for the insects, birds, and plants that are local to you.” 

“Learn to Love Weeds”  

Think about what you’ve had for breakfast,” Memmott said. “The pumpkin seeds in your muesli, apples, whatever made the marmalade on your toast, or even the coffee beans and tea leaves that make up your morning cuppa—all of these products rely on pollinators to survive and thrive.” 

She mocks the ridiculous notion of fussing over a lawn, which she sees in England but is also as relevant in America. “This whole business of keeping your lawn clipped and pulling the weeds out is part of some British obsession with tidiness.” Besides, the spots of bright yellow can have a very pretty effect on an otherwise neat lawn. 

“…I think bohemian untidiness is what we’re aiming for,” she said, “you don’t want it to look like neglect.” And this is very achievable by allowing grass to grow 8–10 cm tall. This height allows daisies, clovers, and buttercups to flower, giving more options for pollinators.  

Every dandelion head can contain up to 1000 individual florets with nectar and pollen. Leaving these weeds be can create a beneficial effect for bees — all by doing less work. 

If dandelions were rare, people would be fighting over them,” said Memmott. “Because they’re common, people pull them out and spray them off and all sorts of horrible things. Just let them flower.” 

The Buglife charity encourages people to have a strip of garden that is only cut once in the spring and once in the fall. “An awful lot of lawns, especially in older houses, will be built on old meadows so wildflowers come up quite quickly,” said Paul Hetherington, the director of communications at Buglife.  “In a new house they might take a bit longer as they could have had a turf put down.” [1]

Related: Minnesota Will Pay Homeowners to Replace Lawns with Bee-Friendly Wildflowers, Clover and Native Grasses

Choose Pollinators 

If you keep plants — potted or planted, on a balcony, in a garden, on a lawn, even by an open window — they can make an impact on the local ecology. Memmott recommends gardeners to avoid too many pompom-type flowers — like English roses and dahlia — that focuses more on petal protection than on producing nectar and pollen. Any plants with nectar and pollen sections you can easily see without searching through leaves and petals means that that pollinators can see them just as easily, and will use them. 

“Dandelions are fantastic for early season pollinators. The UK has about 270 species of solitary bee and they love dandelions,” she said. [2]

Julia Common, chief beekeeper for Hives for Humanity, also emphasizes the importance of keeping dandelions as one of the bee’s first sources of nectar in the spring.  

You’ll see beetles, butterflies, bumblebees, all sorts of insects on the dandelions. Perhaps give it a week or two, or set your mower a little bit higher and maybe miss those dandelions,” she said. 

You could put up a sign for your neighbors if they think you’re a messy homeowner and say this is actually a pollinating lawn, I’m feeding the bees.[3]

It’s also worthwhile to note that dandelions are most likely not the bees’ first option when it comes to collecting pollen. Their first pick would be fruit trees, and the second tier contains these flowers (plus more): 

  • Snowdrop 
  • Japanese Butter Bur 
  • Winter aconite 
  • Crocus 
  • Primula 
  • Hyacinth 
  • Violet 
  • Erica (Heath) 
  • Spring beauty 
  • Spicebush 
  • Pulmonaria 
  • Daffodil 
  • Virginia bluebell [4]

If you want your garden to benefit the bees, consider planting some of these if you can along with keeping the dandelions. 

The Benefits of Being Kind to Nature 

There is scientific evidence showing that people who act kind to nature will have nature pay them back, so to speak. For example, one large study of almost 20,000 people found that those who spent at least 120 minutes a week visiting outdoor locations, like parks, woodlands, and beaches, were more likely to be in good health and have a better sense of wellbeing. [5]

The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban green-spaces seems to be a good thing,” said Dr. Mat White, who led the research at the University of Exeter Medical School. “Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.[6]

Another case-control study found that gardening improved self-esteem, mood, and confidence. [7]

 So enjoy every moment in the great outdoors, but please, keep the dandelions.

  1. Phoebe Weston. Help bees by not mowing dandelions, gardeners told  Help bees by not mowing dandelions, gardeners told. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/01/help-bees-not-mowing-dandelions-gardeners-told-aoe February 1, 2020 
  2. Andy Corbley. Want to Help Bees? Leave the Dandelions Alone This Spring. Good News Network. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/leave-dandelions-alone-to-help-bees-this-spring/ February 8, 2020 
  3. CBC News. Lawn full of dandelions a good thing, says bee expert. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/dandelions-lawn-bees-1.3526394 April 8, 2016
  4. Robert Pavlis. Are Dandelions Really Important to Bees? Garden Myths. https://www.gardenmyths.com/dandelions-important-bees/ 
  5. Mathew P. White. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3 June 13, 2019 
  6. Good News Network. Massive Study Shows That Two Hours a Week is Key Dose of Nature for Health Benefits. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/study-shows-two-hours-a-week-of-nature/ June 23, 2019 
  7. Carly J. Wood, Jules Pretty, Murray Griffin. A case–control study of the health and well-being benefits of allotment gardening. Journal of Public Health. https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/38/3/e336/2239844 October 17, 2016