LEXINGTON, Ky., Aug. 7 (UPI) -- In suburban America, a clean slate of turf serves as the default for front and back yards.
But with bee and butterfly populations in decline, some homeowners are hoping to grow a lawn that's both attractive and eco-friendly. Researchers at the University of Kentucky are looking to give such homeowners and lawn caretakers a viable solution.
Specifically, researchers are trying to understand whether the addition of white clover might foster a more pollinator-friendly yard, and one that requires less fertilizer.
"Our goal is to eventually attract pollinators to the entire yard, rather than just to flower beds," Gregg Munshaw, a turf extension specialist at Kentucky, said in a press release. "We think these clovers will be more popular with people who want to help improve bee habitat while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing yard."
Munshaw is conducting an ongoing experiment -- testing the ecological effects of different grass combinations -- with the help of Dan Potter, an entomology professor at Kentucky.
"Dozens of bee species, including several rare and declining bumble bee species, were documented visiting naturally occurring white clover in low-input yards in Central Kentucky," Potter said. "Even a small patch of clover in a backyard helps sustain beneficial urban bees that are responsible for pollinating our ornamental plants and home and community gardens."
Munshaw and Potter are currently monitoring the bee visitation and pollination behavior in and around yards with some planted clover, yards with all turf and natural, low-maintenance yards with full clover cover.
Early results show that sowing white clover along with cool-season grass can not only attract bees, but also minimize the need for nitrogen treatment. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers can threaten water supplies, raising the costs of water treatment and encouraging toxic algae blooms in ponds, lakes and oceans.
Fertilizer runoff and warm water are being blamed for what some scientists believe will be one the Great Lakes' largest algae blooms in decades.