by Connie Oswald Stofko
We talked about No Mow May in an article last year. The idea is to take a break from mowing your lawn until the end of May. That way, you’re allowing plants in your lawn to flower, providing early food for bees and other pollinators.
“But it’s just a starting point,” said Matthew Shepherd, director of Outreach & Education at the Xerces Society. “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.”
Western New York gardeners took the idea and ran with it.
Let’s see what some communities are doing.
Village of East Aurora
Last year several people from Aurorans for Climate and Environment (ACES) went to the East Aurora Village Board asking for support for No Mow May.
“That night it passed unanimously,” said Ellen Neumaier, ACES board member. “We did this for the good of everybody, not to make anybody feel bad or because of fines.”
Does the village fine residents for having long grass? Neumaier didn’t know, so I turned to Cathryn Thomas, village administrator.
Thomas said that during May, it’s not a violation if residents have weeds that are more than 10 inches high.
Are there fines at other times of the year?
If there’s a complaint, the village will mail a letter to the resident, Thomas said. If there’s an issue with disease or rodents and the resident doesn’t rectify the issue in a certain period of time, the issue could go to court. Although I asked several times about fines, she didn’t address them specifically.
“We send them a letter,” Thomas said. “We hope they voluntarily comply.”
I was getting a certain vibe from East Aurora.
“We have many environmentally aware residents,” Thomas said.
ACES was started 10 years ago, Neumaier said, and that was when the Village of East Aurora decided to work toward becoming a New York State Climate Smart Community.
“No Mow May came to my attention in 2020,” said Karima Bondi, a member of the Parkside Community Organization in Buffalo. “At risk of making a pun, it sounded like such a grassroots thing, but there’s a way everyone can do this.” (See below for other ways to help.)
Bondi started with her own lawn, putting off mowing until the end of May.
“It can be really hard to let the lawn go like that,” she said. “You don’t want your neighbors to think you’re being negligent” by not mowing. A few other neighbors joined in.
Then another member of the Parkside Community Organization told Bondi that she would like to let her lawn grow for No Mow May, but was afraid about getting cited or fined from the City of Buffalo for not mowing. Bondi contacted her city councilmember, Joel Feroleto, who suggested she bring the issue to the Buffalo Common Council. Since it was already a bit late—well into April 2022—she took it to the council this January.
“The idea was very well received, unanimously,” Bondi said. “I was very pleased and very surprised.”
The council adopted a resolution supporting the No Mow May initiative for whole or portions of lawns. Homeowners are allowed to participate without being cited or fined if they choose to leave their lawns unmowed during May.
“By participating in No Mow May, you are not only creating a habitat for pollinators, you are putting the pollinators’ plight in the public eye,” Bondi said. “We hope this sparks conversations and encourages questions from your neighbor.”
Orchard Park, town & village
Carol-Jo Pope, member of the Orchard Park Garden Club, decided to take on a new project for the club and chose No Mow May.
“Grass is the Earth’s skin,” Pope said. “Grown responsibly (never sprayed and not cut under 6 inches high), grass is a living organism that supports pollinators.”
This year she went to both the Town of Orchard Park and the Village of Orchard Park asking for support for No Mow May.
On April 5, the town, which is more rural than the village, unanimously passed a resolution to waive the town code that requires residents to keep grass no higher than 10 inches. Town Councilman Conor Flynn sponsored the resolution.
The village, which is more suburban, was more reluctant to allow unmown lawns. Instead, the village decided to allow property owners to leave a 2-foot-by-2-foot section of their lawns unmowed in May.
Tip: If you want to let your neighbors know why you haven’t mowed your lawn, get a printable sign from Xerces here.
What you need to know about No Mow May
- No one will stop you from mowing your lawn in May. There aren’t any regulations against mowing in spring. No Mow May is an invitation, not a requirement. “We’re not arguing or pushing ourselves on someone; it’s friendly,” Pope said.
- If you’re worried about ticks, you don’t have to keep all of your grass long, said Shepherd from Xerces. 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, Shepherd said. Meadows don’t create food that rats like.
What you can do
“This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor,” Bondi said. If leaving your front lawn unmown doesn’t appeal to you, here are other things you can do to help pollinators and the environment.
- Mow the front lawn, but leave the backyard unmown.
- Mow your lawn less frequently.
- Set the blades on your mower high.
- Leave a strip of lawn unmown.
- Turn some of your lawn into gardens, and add native plants. (See a list of native plants for Erie County here.)
- 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.
Are you doing something for pollinators, Earth Day or No Mow May in your Western New York community? Please tell us about it in a comment below.
2 Comments on “No Mow May: what people in WNY are doing & why”
Hi James, I don’t know what is happening in Niagara County. I hope someone will fill us in.
How about Niagara County or the City of Niagara Falls?