That dandelion in your yard isn’t as useless as you might think.
Before you pluck it, think about the bees. To those buzzing little pollinators, dandelions are like candy.
Dandelions are one of the first flowering plants in spring. And in modern backyards, where lush green lawns are often void of habitat for native bees, dandelions are a sugary oasis, if you can stand the eyesore.
“Dandelions have only recently been described as a weed in the turfgrass setting in the last 100 years,” said Scott Evans, horticulture program coordinator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension office. “Most people don’t know how important they are for pollinators.”
Keeping a few dandelions in your yard is akin to putting out a bowl of fruit before a family dinner. Dandelion nectar is packed full of sugar — roughly 45 to 50 percent — which gives bees a high dose of energy. Like fruit or candy to a human, dandelions alone won’t cover a bee’s diet, however.
Dandelion nectar is low in protein, so bees will need to look elsewhere for a balanced meal. When food is short in a suburban backyard, dandelions will get the job done, particularly in early spring when fewer flowers are in bloom.
“Early-emerging bees such as mason bees, bumblebees and leaf cutter bees are hungry and need food,” Evans said.
There’s another reason to keep dandelions around, Evans said. Their far-reaching root system helps break apart spring soil, allowing rain to percolate into the ground.
If you’re looking for a broadleaf plant or weed to help your lawn, Todd Valley Farms co-owner Paul Thorson says clover is more beneficial than dandelion, as it helps return nitrogen to the soil. But he still wouldn’t recommend allowing either to flourish, if you’re thinking about the health of your lawn. Both are imperialistic.
“The biggest problem is that (dandelions) spread pretty easy,” Thorson said. “They can kind of look all nice when they bloom and are all yellow, but they pretty quickly turn to white and start dropping those seeds. That can upset your neighbors.”
But if you don’t mind the aesthetic, don’t like your neighbors or just want an easy way to help out the bees, skip the spray this year.