No Mow May: A Foot in the Door to a Greater Movement

April showers bring May flowers… unless we decapitate them all with our lawnmowers.

By Grace Hassler and Grant Jensen

Est. Read Time: 5 minutes

We’ve heard from quite a few people who have said that No Mow May was their entrance into thinking about their yard as a habitat. That’s why we want to give it a shoutout!

No Mow May isn’t as cut and dry (ha) as the name suggests. Also known as Low Mow May, No Mow April, or Low Mow Spring, the basic premise is fairly straightforward - in a display of solidarity with our pollinator pals, homeowners refrain from mowing their lawns for the first few weeks after the grass begins to grow in the spring. Ideally, this allows the flowering plants in the lawns to bloom and provide an early and much-needed food source for insects waking up from winter. Foraging resources are often scarce in early spring, so saving any available blooms for pollinators is important.

In reality, refraining from mowing for a few weeks only offers short-lived benefits to our native insects and pollinators. Perhaps more importantly, it can start a conversation that extends well beyond the month of May and help people rethink the societal norm of a perfectly manicured grass lawn.

No Mow May is easy, unintimidating, and a promising first step for many people starting their journey toward a more biodiverse yard. If you do participate, consider using No Mow May as an educational tool to engage your community and introduce them to Homegrown National Park and the concept of using our yards to create habitat.

Other Ways To Support Biodiversity

If you’re looking for more ways to help increase biodiversity around your home after No Mow May is over, here are some additional actions that can help pollinators year-round.

Shrink your lawn and incorporate more native plants
You won’t have to mow as much if there is less lawn to mow! Dr. Doug Tallamy, co-founder of Homegrown National Park, suggests shrinking your lawn by identifying the places in your yard where it is useful to have turf and converting the rest of the lawn to native landscaping. Prioritize planting Keystone species, the most productive plants that support the most species. Use HNP’s Keystone Guides for container-friendly flower plants or trees & shrubs to determine the Keystones for your area.

Remove invasives
Invasive species take over landscapes, outcompete native plants for limited space and resources, and rarely provide the same caliber of food and habitat as native plants. To add insult to injury, many invasive species are popular for home landscaping. Try to identify any invasive plants in your yard (apps like iNaturalist can help) and remove or replace them.

Soft landings
More than 90% of the caterpillars that develop on trees drop to the ground for part of their lifecycle. Consider replacing lawn under trees with well-planted beds of groundcovers appropriate for your area. This will give the caterpillars a nice, soft landing they can easily dig into.

Don’t cut your stems
Many pollinator species nest and overwinter in plant stems. Leave the old stalks where they are to provide quality habitat for beneficial insects.

Grow a native bee lawn
Bee lawns are turfgrass lawns enriched with low-growing flowering species. They provide foraging opportunities for pollinators while still allowing for moderate recreational use, and require less frequent mowing than traditional turf lawns. Learn more about native bee lawns.

Advocate for more biodiversity-friendly ordinances
Unfortunately, your ability to participate in No Mow May might be curtailed by local ordinances and HOA requirements for lawn maintenance. If your HOA or local government has strict rules on lawn care, advocate for guidelines that allow for landscaping that supports native pollinators.

 

Additional resources about No Mow May and beyond:

https://beecityusa.org/no-mow-may/

https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/whats-the-deal-with-no-mow-may/

https://beelab.umn.edu/no-mow-may

Grace Hassler Round

Grace Hassler recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Master of Environmental Studies degree focusing on local land conservation. She loves storytelling and finding ways to connect the public with important environmental research in a way that is interesting and understandable. In her free time, you can find Grace outside participating in one of her many hobbies – whitewater kayaking, birding, mountain biking, photography, rock climbing – you name it!

3 thoughts on “No Mow May: A Foot in the Door to a Greater Movement”

  1. With the continual warming of our climate, No Mow May is too late in the Great Lakes region. No Mow UNTIL May makes more sense. The grass and weeds were a foot high by May and one needs a scythe to begin attacking the jungle.

  2. I think ignoring the contributions of small native plants to ignore the prolific and invasive spread of introduced and invasive plants like dandelions, clovers, and alien grass plants engineered to squeeze out competitors is a huge oversight to our ability to add to the biodiversity of a healthy ecology. Our human use, and “cultural bias” towards Eurasian weeds is blinding us. Why are we blowing dandelions and not goldenrods and asters? I would really like to see the dismissive attitude towards the small plants (like mosses and ferns, for example) change, and I believe the need for this is urgent.

    Can you imagine a native plant meadow that is not a wetland? Why? Because humans dominate virtually every corner of “non-forested lands”. “Old growth grasslands” of mainly native plants in “short stature” sunny drained locations are HIGHLY productive places for pollinators and lepidopterans, and have become exceptionally rare, NONE that I have found recently that are not in process of rapidly being invaded and replaced by introduced and “human engineered” plants like round-up resistant golf grasses (Agrostis stolonifera, for example).

    Further, restoration of native plant meadows…(which are quite rare in reality at this point, and every native plant meadow in every ecology type world-wide presents a different profile of plants that bloom over time (unlike a field of dandelions))…are a great goal for private land owners. They provide important “sub-nivean” and other protective habitat for insects during the winter by insulating the ground FAR better than a lawn or other human maintained landscape of constant disturbance. Returning the native grasses has resulted in fascinating appearances of native orchids, and fungi, further enhancing my property’s profile of “alive-ness”, these species working together in ways we barely understand because most research today is not basic research but applied towards making profit for people in some way rather than protecting the only known life in the universe…our very own local biodiversity.

    It took me five years to convert the lawn in my yard back to native hair grasses, sedges, rushes, wild strawberries, and other “diminutive” native plants many dismiss as irrelevant in relation to trees and shrubs. They are only dismissed because they have not been as well studied.

    I never had FLOCKS of migrating native birds in the early spring before this project, and I hope the science catches up to this very important need for this kind of habitat…before I am overwhelmed by dandelions, bittercress, and many introduced clovers being spread by road crews and No Mow May advocares…small native plants, even those which don’t appear to provide food are ESSENTIAL to building the whole habitat…that which supports every phase of the life cycles of the animals we need…such as ants…hugely important “seed planters and dispersers” which get hardly any mention…yet the plants have evolved things like extra-nectary glands and eliasomes because they are so important.

    We need to stop assuming we have the answers when we have made important discoveries (such as how important oaks are), and assume every native organism in our ecosystem is important…because we have not studied our backyards nearly enough to know, truly, how it all works. Where I live in the north-east, the well-meaningness of “No Mow May”, favors the further spread of the seeds of European weeds, and is harmful for native plants such as blue eyed grass (whose seedheads never form if mowed in May). In other words, we need to understand the growing needs for the full life cycle of native plants NOT evolved (as in Europe) for surviving “heavy pressure grazing by domesticated cattle” over thousands of years…THOSE are the ones defying the mowers and seeding anyway. Remove them manually (or start over if you have very, very few native grasses and othe native plants in your yard). The rewards are immense…just take a look, for example, of what birds’ nests are made of…many, many songbirds use fine native hairgrasses for the interior part of their nests. Animals need ALL the components of habitat to complete their life cycles…from nest materials, to winter cover, to places for thier young to have a place to hide from our domestic dogs and cats. Please.

  3. No-mow May last year allowed me to discover that a little of my “grass” was actually Blue-eyed grass, which is a beautiful tiny iris and a native to my area. That’s the good news. The bad result of no-mow May was that at least two invasives got a headstart and multiplied by 100 – Asiatic False Hawksbeard and Hairy Bittercress, the horrible seed-spewers, and they started shooting off their missile seeds before the end of MARCH! This year I had to mow, bag, and trash to prevent further proliferation. No-mow May has a double edge. Be careful. I noticed that my neighbor’s lawn was invaded by the hairy bittercress, the area nearest to mine. OOOOOOPS!

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