No mow doubts

Blossoms and lawn

I realize I’m a bit late to the No Mow May party but I kept seeing a lot of messaging through news and social media about what a great idea not mowing your lawn in May is but not a lot of good hard reasons why you should or what to do after May. The general idea that not mowing will help pollinators and save the bees, in particular, is pretty clear. But there didn’t seem to be much in the way of explaining exactly how not mowing works. So I did a little digging. Here’s what I found:


Yup! The very best explanation I found came courtesy of an interview aired on the U.S.’s own NPR last week. Israel Del Toro, a biology teacher at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, likens weeds to cheeseburgers when it comes to hungry insects. He was elaborating on a study that revealed unmowed lawns can host five times the number of bees – bees that happen to be very hungry in early spring.

So when we leave our weeds – or things we would normally call weeds – to grow, those are like little cheeseburgers for our pollinators, and they’re able to get some cheap calories really, really fast and put on some weight that’ll give them a leg up for the season.

Israel Del Toro talking to Chuck Quirmbach on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, May 4, 2022

Now that’s a great reason! And just think of how many cheeseburgers we could all offer up to those hungry bugs if we all got together. The Nature Conservancy of Canada points out that lawns are one of the largest green spaces in our towns and cities and Canada has over 6 million lawns. That’s a lot of area that can be harnessed, easily enough, to help support not only bees and butterflies but moths, beneficial flies, beetles and ants.

What if you’ve already mowed?

Lawn and hedges

So I’ve convinced you that not mowing for this month is a good thing but you mowed the lawn last week already. Although the idea is to allow food for pollinators to flourish at a time when they are just starting their pollinating season, you can start to not mow at any time. And, if you’re a lawn lover and just can’t bring yourself to let your meticulous garden go full-on jungle, you’ve got options.

According to the NCC, you can:

  • Simply delay mowing long enough to get a good crop of flowering weeds going and then mow
  • Mow less often
  • Mowing slower to allow wildlife such as butterflies and frogs to get out of the way
  • Leave a swath of lawn un-mowed (kind of like creating a strip meadow).

But what about those dandelions?

Weed and lawn

So you do the right thing and don’t mow all month and now you’ve got a field of dandelions. As it turns out, you can deal with weeds without undoing all the good you just did. Check out Michigan University’s Smart lawn care to protect pollinators which includes responsibly achieving a weed-free lawn and controlling grubs in lawns even when you continue to keep around some flowering weeds.

Considering never mowing again?

If you’re thinking of going lawn-less altogether, no surprise that I have an opinion on that: Are you ready to give up your lawn? And, just so you know, a little later I wrote an apology to lawns in which I backtracked a tad, listing how lawns can be a benefit to gardens, gardeners and the environment thus inadvertantly proving that lawns, mowed or un-mowed, will always be a hot topic.

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