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Simple Acts: No Mow May

1 May 2023 3:52 PM | Megan Shellman-Rickard (Administrator)
Simple Acts:  No Mow May

By:   Marikay Shellman, BPW Colorado Virtual
Chair, NFBPWC Environment and Sustainable Development Committee (2022-2024)

Here’s a Simple Act for May: No mowing your lawn for a whole month!  “The goal of No Mow May is to allow grass to grow for the month of May, creating habitat and forage for early season pollinators.  This is particularly important in urban areas where floral resources are often limited.” (Bee City USA).  No Mow May is a catchy phrase, however, it depends upon where you live.  It might make more sense to have a No Mow April or No Mow Spring; whenever you notice the daffodils popping & robins eating worms, the native bees and bumblebees are beginning to emerge and need food and cover from the chilly nights. 

The start of growing season is a critical time to give lawn flowers a chance to bloom and provide nectar and pollen for these early emerging bees and pollinators to fed themselves & their offspring.  Don’t jump into Spring Garden cleanup.  Leave those leaves that you didn’t rake last Fall as they provide much needed protection from the Spring winds and lingering frosts for both plants and invertebrates. 

Many bees & butterflies don’t emerge until late May.  Notice chrysalides still clinging to the dried standing plant material you left last season.  Longer grass can provide shelter for many invertebrates, and several species including ground beetles and some butterflies (fiery skipper and sachem) use grasses as host plants. (Xerces Society).  

We need to re-think the American lawn.

40 million acres, 2% of the land in the US, are covered in lawns which are mowed, raked, fertilized, weeded, chemically treated, and watered.  These neatly kept monoculture lawns provide little food or habitat for native bees and pollinators, and the pesticides & lack of habitat are contributing to one in four bee species being on the verge of extinction.  “Weed and Feed” products contain toxins such as neonicotinoid insecticides, deadly to bees & other pollinators.

Last year I experimented with leaving half my lawn un-mowed for the month of May and the pollinators did come, for example this Sphinx moth on a dandelion flower (photo to the Left taken by my grandson Dylan Rickard).  When it is finally time to mow, turf grass extension specialist, Paul Koch, University of Wisconsin, explains that: “You never want to remove more than one-third of the green leafy tissue at any one time.”  By raising your mowing height to four inches and mowing every other week, your lawn will flower throughout the growing season attracting more bees & butterflies.  You can over-seed your lawn with of “bee lawn seed mix” typically including white clover and creeping thyme.  Longer grass shades the ground underneath keeping it cooler and maintaining moisture.  It’s a win-win situation.  Less time mowing, less expense in upkeep, less water use, and providing a diversity of plants equals a huge positive for pollinators and your pocketbook.

Balancing the urge to have a lawn for playing with your dog and wanting to create habitat for pollinators, try mowing a smaller portion of your lawn and leaving border areas of bunch grasses and shrubs.  You can always make your patio or balcony more pollinator-friendly by planting pesticide-free native plants.  If your neighbors or HOA are wondering about your long grass, print out free NO MOW MAY sign available from>no-mow-may .  Office Depot will laminate them, “outside” thickness, for a minimal charge.  Involve your community members and city officials or HOA board members by asking them to adopt a No Mow Spring policy.

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