A nice yard isn’t necessarily a quarter-acre to an acre of tightly trimmed lawn.

That’s the point the Carver County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is trying to make with its Pollinator Program, which offers cost share assistance to convert landscapes into pollinator habitat, such as varieties of milkweed, wildflowers, native grasses and legumes.

This marks the third year of the program, and the SWCD is taking applications for spring funding through May 3. There is also a late summer funding cycle with applications due Aug. 2.

“We’ve had some amazing projects planted, and each year more people are interested in converting their landscapes into beautiful and beneficial habitat,” said Seth Ristow, SWCD resource conservation technician.

It makes sense, say program organizers and those who have participated in the program. A nicely manicured lawn takes time, a lot of work, and strips away habitat for birds and insects, including pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths and beetles.

These creatures provide pollination to support the production and regeneration of over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops, Ristow explains. That means that one out of every three bites of food you eat is on your plate because of pollinators. Pollinators add $217 billion to the global economy and honey bees alone are responsible for between $1.2 and $5.4 billion in agricultural productivity in the United States.

In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect us from severe weather and support other wildlife.

On the other hand, a lawn is a “monoculture,” generally void of birds, insect activity and visual interest, says Pollinator Program participant Susan Knopp.

Last year, Knopp led a team of team of Carver Landing neighbors in Waconia to convert a strip of grass along a wall at the condo units near Lake Waconia. Now that section is a 900 square foot pollinator garden of over 800 native perennials, sedges and shrubs.

Knopp’s friend Heather Holm, author of native bee and pollinator books, helped design the garden along with Ristow. The Pollinator Program helped fund the purchase of plants, and homeowner’s association volunteers assisted with prepping, planting, watering and weeding.

“It will be exciting to begin observing native bees, butterflies, moths, birds and other and other wildlife that have found their way to a newly planted garden just for them,” Knopp said.

“If you build it, they will come,” echoes another program participant Mary Stassen.

Stassen grew up chasing and studying insects with her older brothers, she says, and now is passionate about preserving their habitat and protecting them from pesticides and fertilizers.

“We have been landscaping with grass, chemicals and alien species,” Stassen said. “We need to get back to planting natives.”

A master gardener and member of pollinator and natural planting advocacy organizations like the Xerxes Society and Wild Ones, Stassen has been working to restore native plants to the shoreline of a holding pond near her Chaska home. Now she is planning to convert 1,000 square feet of turf to pollinator habitat.

“Pollinators are our biggest ally and our greatest inspiration,” said Stassen, adding that you don’t have to be a master gardener to plan a pollinator planting. Nor do you have to plant a large swath of landscape with pollinator habitat. “A pop-up garden of zinnias is a nice start.”

If you do want to consider a pollinator planting, the SWCD can steer you to resources. There is also funding available for private landowners and public lands, non-profits and businesses.

A minimum of 250 square feet is required for private land, 2,500 for public land, non-profits and businesses. The program provides 75 percent funding of total project cost, up to $1,000 for private land and $5,000 for larger parcels; however, funding is limited and applications require a review by the SWCD board.

For more details about the program, contact Seth Ristow at 952-466-5264 or email sristow@co.carver.mn.us.

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