Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Why Dandelions Are Essential
I POSTED THIS on my photo blog Today two weeks ago and it had a wonderful reception from readers. It occurred to me that the information here also applies to managing your backyard wildlife habitat as well as “Living Green With Pets” while keeping your yard healthy and pest-reduced without using toxic chemicals. I have a few others on “Today” and I’ll share those as well. In the meantime, please feel free to right-click and download the image above, and spread this important message!
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Where else can a hungry honey bee find a meal early in the spring when nothing else is blooming? This little cluster of dandelions is a lifesaver for a bee with spring coming so late and many plants blooming even later, or not at all after a series of freezes. This is another in my series of “Save Our Native Bees” images. Please download and share, or just share this post!
Dandelions are native to all temperate areas of the planet and in that way are familiar to bees all over the planet, providing nectar and pollen as early as warmer temperatures awaken bees. Many other pollinating insects rely on them for a meal as well, such as butterflies, and despised as they are they are important for attracting pollinators to gardens everywhere.
I just don’t understand the hatred of a pretty little yellow flower. I’m so glad to see them in the spring—sometimes they’ll actually bloom during the spring thaw, between the snows, and they’re good to eat too. Their long tap roots break up hard soil and bring minerals up to the surface where plants with shorter roots can access them and they help fix nitrogen in the soil. All those minerals and the vitamins that are locked into the leaves of any verdant plant, as nutritious as any cultivated cooking green we might grow like spinach, chard or mustard greens, are in those pointy leaves for us to consume, and from root to flower dandelions have been a staple in the human diet and healing pharmacy for as long as humans have been foraging. The yellow flowers have been used to make a famous dandelion wine, and also a pale buttery yellow dye. I find them pretty inspiring for artwork as well.
And if you want to have fruits in your orchards and vegetables in your garden, nothing welcomes pollinators like a bright yellow dandelion.
So many chemicals are used to kill dandelions on lawns every year and this chemical use contributes to nonpoint source pollution of our waterways, the largest category of pollutants in the nation. Maintaining your lawn as a habitat and cutting your grass as tall as possible generally keeps them under control—I’ve never gone after the ones in my yard, never use any chemicals at all, and this spring I have about six dandelions. A friend with a new home and an undeveloped lawn was angry about the dandelions that sprung up opportunistically before the grass was even planted. She hated having a front yard full of dandelions. I asked her, after she sprayed them, what did she have left? Dirt. How attractive was that? At least she’d had something blooming before she killed them.
So honor this beautiful and willing flower that has added so much to our health and the beauty of our human lives on this earth, and had not been at all humbled by our attempts to ungratefully kill it off once we decided it no longer fit our ideal of beauty and usefulness. And most importantly, let if feed our endangered bees.
Wikipedia: Basic Information
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association: Ten Things You Might Not Know About Dandelions
Mother Nature Network: Save the Dandelions. Save the Bees.
US EPA: What is Nonpoint Source Pollution?
Off the Grid News: 8 Uses for Dandelions
Originally published April 26, 2014, “Why Dandelions are Essential” on Today.
And here is one good reason not to use chemicals to kill those pretty yellow flowers!
A sleek black panther was strolling through the wild grasses! This photo and the next were first published last year at this time under the title “The Panther and the Birthday Party”, but they illustrate a few points about letting dandelions, and native plants, grow in your hard, and managing your lawn in a different way. I think this is far prettier than a “perfect” green lawn, and notice that there is only one dandelion in view. I manage my back yard as a meadow habitat—remember, it’s only 75′ x 75’—and because the grass grows just a little taller and there are other wildflowers growing the dandelions really don’t stand a chance.
Mimi was imagining herself as a panther strolling through a meadow in search of…well, she was in search of just the right blade of grass. She’s typically not interested but it looks so luscious even to me, especially on a rainy day when it’s wet and looks quite bright green. But the wildflowers add to the ambience. Realize the Mimi is about 9 inches tall at her shoulders so everything around her looks quite big, even the dandelion.
But we did have an important destination, Mimi and me and my camera, because it was a very special day in our garden. Each morning or afternoon we check the progress of our plants and seeds.
The beans were having a birthday party! They were born today! Woo hoo! Don’t they look happy dancing there in the dirt?
And also read “Begin in Spring to Control Fleas” for other reasons to manage your lawn in a different way.
Read other articles in the category of Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat
If you’re interested in more information about Backyard Wildlife Habitats, choose the category Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat for a list of articles in this series, visit the Backyard Wildlife Habitat page for a series articles on developing your habitat or choose the category Backyard Wildlife Habitat to find all posts sharing the articles, photos, paintings and sketches, poetry and prose I’ve done that were inspired but my backyard.
All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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© 2014 | www.TheCreativeCat.net | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!
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9 thoughts on “Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Why Dandelions Are Essential”
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Lovely blog and you make so many wonderful points. The dandelions have full run at our field 😉
I’ll bet they’re lovely, Animalcouriers!
I also love the dandelions..My big yard is full of them and I find them quite delightful..In fact I was just saying earlier that I should go out and pick some leaves to make with supper..The little pastel is so pretty..even prettier is the photo of Mimi..the tiny panther stalking the meadow..how dull that photo might be without the wildflowers growing around her..they add so much to the beauty of her as she does to them..A plain “perfect” lawn..No thanks..and no thanks to chemicals too..what a terrible thing to do to Mother Earth..we are already paying for these things with our climate change..and people still refuse to admit to that..Thanks for more good advice B..I believe that I forgot to thank you for the advice on controlling fleas early..I purchased the Diatomaceous Earth to spread around..outside and inside..and I’m considering the Nematodes for outside also..we had a terrible flea problem last year and were at battle with them from Spring through Fall..This year I have not seen one yet..she said with fingers crossed..lol
Sue, I agree with all your points about responsible landscaping, and my little back yard exhibits as many points of mixed cultures, wild, heritage and hybrids, rain garden and meadow, all of which incorporate xeriscaping to use just the rainwater that falls and that collected from my rain barrel. I’ve been writing about local water issues for years and designed and illustrated many a flyer and brochure regarding keeping pollution out of our water sources. I can be really dull at parties because I tend to start sounding like one of my articles and ticking off the points.
I read somewhere years ago that centuries ago, as humans settled into city-states and towns and kingdoms, an expanse of short vegetation around the settlement was actually a safety barrier, discouraging intruders from attacking, and that tradition came down through the ages as part of the “castle”, which in time became the “home”. Also, the human eye likes that considered “perfect”, and a perfect expanse of green falls into that category.
About the nitrogen fixing properties, I know it’s typically legumes, which includes varieties of clover, in symbiosis with Rhizobia bacteria, and you can usually see the characteristic nodules on the roots if you pull them out. Many years ago when I first began gardening I thought those nodules were baby beans and peas when I pulled out the plants, and I still rotate the legumes I grow with the heavy feeders like cole crops and corn to make sure the soil is naturally replenished and the rhizobia bacteria is present in the soil in each of my raised beds. But I had read in an older companion gardening book and in a newer book as well that dandelion roots also fix bacteria. Those books are not present anywhere on the internet, but I’ll be glad to dig out those books and look it up to let you know where.
Maybe I should go out and dig up a dandelion too just to see if there are nodules! I can roast the root for coffee. I’ve also made dye from the flowers, though I only ended up dyeing Easter eggs with it as many natural dyes need to be used right away and can’t even be frozen or pressure canned for later use and I had no fabrics or yarns to use. I’ve made other wines but not dandelion wine–I never had enough to work with, though I had friends who would clean out the dandelions in others’ yards for their wine–and there’s no better way to eliminate dandelions from the lawn than to cut the flowers before the poufs open out and blow away–and it’s a really dry wine unless you add lots of sugar, but it is definitely very different. Possibly I had too much anticipation from Ray Bradbury’s story.
I have a little vase of dandelion flowers on my kitchen windowsill from my neighbor’s side yard. They are looking a little tired. I’ll have to find more when I’m out walking. They need to get in water right away or they close up and never open again!
Hope you find some dandelions today!
I love this blog. I have been in love with dandelions since grade school when I read Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine”. I also have recently spoken with a lady that didn’t know they were dandelions–she called them blow flowers. How cool is that!
I agree with thoughts that trying to make a perfect green grass yard is bad for the environment. Unnecessary chemicals, fertilizers, and water have to be used to create the perfect mono-culture. I am sure you know that having a mono-culture of flowers,vegetables and even trees and grasses can lead to the whole kit n caboodle dying from a virus or pest (like pine beetles) or weather conditions. Especially in these days of one plant being used to clone thousands of plants–you have one genetic organism, but thousands of identical copies. If something happens to one, it happens to all of them.
The run off of water pollutes everything downstream–and we all live downstream. It also does not make sense to use the quantities of water needed to keep nice grass in the more arid regions. It may be a status symbol that they can afford it–but xeriscaping (planting native plants that do not need a lot of water in a beautiful landscape) saves water needed for human consumption. Added into the mix is that animals and children can be poisoned all too easily by being exposed to a lawn that has been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
I cannot find anything that says that dandelions fix nitrogen from air to soil. Clover does, but dandelions don’t. It is wonderfully true that dandelions with their deep tap roots bring up nutrients that are needed for themselves and everyone else–and so fertilizing the ground. But not with nitrogen.
I love dandelions, and I love that other people also love dandelions. Some day I will make or find dandelion wine–it is on my bucket list.
Thanks again for this delightful blog.