by Connie Oswald Stofko
No Mow May is gaining popularity locally and across the country.
The idea is to help bees. When you take a break from mowing your lawn, you’re allowing plants in your lawn, such as dandelions, white clover, violets, trefoil and self-heal, to flower. Those flowers provide food for bees and other pollinators.
The idea started in Britain. Following Britain’s success, Bee City USA, an initiative of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, partnered in 2020 with Appleton, Wisconsin to study how it might work there.
The research findings in Appleton were impressive, according to Bee City USA. Yards that weren’t mowed had three times more bee species and five times more individual bees than nearby parks that had been mowed.
It shows what can be achieved in one community with an act as simple as allowing grass and plants in lawns to grow, said Matthew Shepherd, director of Outreach & Education at the Xerces Society.
“But it’s just a starting point,” Shepherd said. “We want to see landscapes transformed. We want lawns that are less manicured, where bees can overwinter and where flies and fireflies can live, too.”
Lawns: the bigger picture
Lawns make up roughly 40 million acres, or 2 percent of land in the United States, making them the single largest irrigated crop we grow. Yes, we have more lawn than corn fields. And many lawns provide nothing to support bees or other wildlife.
“If people manage their lawns the way they see them in magazine ads, it’s just monotonous, unblemished green,” Shepherd said. “Nothing lives there. That’s as significant a loss of habitat as plowing something up.”
Low-growing plants, such as dandelions, white clover, violets and trefoil, aren’t native plants, so they don’t support a wide range of native bees. But allowing these lawn weeds to grow is better than having nothing but grass in your lawn, he said. (Note: Some sources suggest that there is a species of self-heal that is native to North America, while others suggest self-heal originated in England.)
Letting flowers bloom in your lawn is helpful, but there’s more you can do, too.
More ways your lawn can help bees & the environment
- Convert part of your lawn into a meadow.
- Turn some of your lawn into gardens, and add native plants.
- Reduce your use of chemicals in your garden or lawn. Insecticides can kill beneficial insects as well as pests you may be targeting. Instead of killing “weeds” with herbicides, let flowering plants grow. That can keep our waterways cleaner, too.
- Avoid riding lawn mowers and gas-powered leaf blowers to cut down on air pollution and noise pollution.
“If 10 or 100 or 1,000 people do these things, there becomes quite an impact,” Shepherd said.
Don’t let those ideas scare you
- People enjoy having a place to throw a ball around, have a barbecue or let their pets do their thing. “You don’t have to convert all of your lawn” into a meadow or garden, Shepherd said. “But there may be other areas that you’re not using, that you’re just running a mower over once a week.”
- If you’re worried about ticks, you don’t have to keep all of your grass long. Any areas that you wouldn’t be brushing up against could be left longer while you mow the areas where you walk.
- Allowing your grass to grow longer shouldn’t create a rat problem, he said. Meadows don’t create food that rats like.
No Mow Mid-April?
It was sunny and hot on Sunday, and I think everyone in my neighborhood mowed their lawn that day. Should Western New York still wait for No Mow May?
May was chosen because that was a good choice for Britain. Wisconsin chose the same time. But some communities are doing No Mow April or just No Mow Month, Shepherd said.
With the erratic weather we get in Western New York (mowing days alternated with snowing days last May), it’s difficult to point to the calendar and say when winter ends or when we should always have our No Mow Month.
Just as we do when we want to plant tomatoes, in Western New York, we will have to watch the weather and play it by ear.
And remember to look at the bigger picture.