No Mow May

Why No Mow May matters

Not mowing in May (and beyond) is good. Manicured, monocultural lawns are pollinator deserts – the less lawn the better. Replace part of your lawn with densely planted native plants. Plant early-flowering native trees such as willow, red maple and any of the gorgeous native cherry species. Support pollen-specialist bees by planting native goldenrods, sunflowers, asters and coneflowers. Eat any dandelions that appear in your uncut lawn (they’re delicious!). Spend the mowing time you’ve saved pulling out invasive species such as garlic mustard and dog-strangling vine, and planning your lawn-conversion project to a native pollinator planting. Embrace the “mess” of decaying leaves and dead plant stalks that provide crucial pollinator habitat.

Lorraine Johnson & Sheila Colla, A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators
Hungarian Minister of Agriculture

Manicured, monoculture turfgrass lawns like the one featured above are pollinator deserts and require a lot of upkeep (and fossil fuels). They fail to thrive without water and are often maintained with fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Conventional landscapes also often include sheared monoculture hedges, highly pruned non-native shrubs, and lots of hardscaping.

The result? Very few insect (or bird) visitors.

What to do during No Mow May

Hungarian Minister of Agriculture

During No Mow May you can stop mowing and begin converting your turfgrass lawn to a living lawn with clovers and other low growing plants. No more watering. No more herbicides. Add a vegetable patch. Add a pollinator patch. Plant deciduous trees for butterflies, moths, insects and birds. Reduce hardscaping. Allow plants to grow between paving stones.

The result? A wonderful increase in insect (and bird!) residents and visitors.

Stop mowing

Bylaw Officers in Kingston, Cornwall, Perth and some other cities won’t be enforcing their yard bylaws during No Mow May. Check with your municipality to find out whether they’re participating in No Mow May. Even if they’re not participating, if you do get a visit from a bylaw officer let them know what you’re doing and why (and make sure you display a sign!) and they’ll probably give you a pass on mowing until the end of May. Read the City of Kingston’s No Mow May motion and discover why Nathan, a Master Gardener in Training and one of Kingston’s climate champions, is no longer mowing and instead is intentionally wilding his yard.

If your City isn’t participating in No Mow May and has a yard bylaw that doesn’t support biodiversity, consider working with your municipality to help them transition to a bylaw for biodiversity. Check out Ecological Design Lab’s FAQ for homeowners, Cultivating Support Through Municipal Codes, Bylaw toolkit for municipalities, and model bylaw.

Transition to a living lawn

Reimagining our lawns is a first step in reversing biodiversity loss. A living lawn is a flowering tapestry teeming with a diversity of life – supporting bees, flies, moths, butterflies, wasps, beetles, fireflies and more. Read Nancy’s blog post on how to convert your turfgrass lawn into a living lawn during No Mow May.

What to do at the end of No Mow May

“Bees tell each other where the food is, and pollinators (when they discover an unmown lawn) will remember to come back to it again and again. Then on June 1st, when the food disappears, it’s not good for them.”

Tamson Yeh, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Hungarian Minister of Agriculture

After No Mow May consider transitioning your lawn and gardening practices to continue to support biodiversity. The illustration above includes a wealth of possibilities: a biodiverse meadow; a vegetable patch, native perennials in the vegetable patch, native trees, a natural hedgerow, minimal hardscaping, habitat features (bird houses, water features, bird friendly windows), climate resilient gardening practices (composting, rainwater capture and vines that cool the house).

The result? You’ll enjoy a dramatic increase in insect (and bird!) residents and visitors.

Mowing your lawn after No Mow May

“letting the grass grow high and allowing it to do its thing, and then suddenly mowing it back is really counterproductive.” Tamson Yeh, turf specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in New York

Tamson Yeh, Cornell Cooperative Extension
song sparrow nest in a No Mow May lawn

If you do decide to begin mowing again after No Mow May, don’t shock your grass by cutting it low all at once. Mow no more than one-third of its height, reducing it over several sessions to around 10 cm (4″). And before you mow walk your entire yard to check for bird’s nests, bunny nests, frogs, toads or snakes who might have taken up residence during No Mow May. There’s nothing more horrible than mowing over these living creatures.

baby bunnies in nest
Photo: lauradw99/Flickr – baby bunnies in nest in a lawn

Maintain your living lawn for biodiversity

If after Now Mow May you decide to convert your lawn to a living lawn that better supports biodiversity, read Nancy’s article to discover which plants to welcome, which plants to remove and how to change your mowing practices.

After No Mow May, consider lawn alternatives

We need to do, urgently, is to steward, tend and nurture landscapes for native biodiversity and ecological integrity. A month of long lawns filled with dandelions and other non-native weedy species just doesn’t cut it. It’s the ecological equivalent of opening a fast-food restaurant on every corner—for a short amount of time. At best, burgers and fries for a while, but not a sustained full-service menu of healthy nutrition and habitat for pollinators.

Sheila Colla and Lorraine Johnson, The surprising downside of #NoMowMay

Inspired to do more to support biodiversity? Here are things you can do after No Mow May.

  • Grow food: The possibilities for how you can incorporate growing food in your yard are as endless as your imagination.
  • Plant a fruit tree guild or food forest: Guilding is a permaculture technique that learns from and works with the relationships in nature, especially in a forest system.
  • Plant a natural meadow: Think of a natural meadow as a biodiverse pollinator patch designed using primarily native perennials, annuals, grasses and sedges (though you can mix in a few companionable non-natives).
  • Grow a sedge lawn: Sedges (carex) are a diverse species of grass-like plants that look good all summer (some are even evergreen). They’re durable, adaptable plants that enhance the health of an entire plant community and support diverse pollinator species.
  • Plant a little forest or woodland: Do you have a lawn with one or two lonely tree or shrubs surrounded by a sea of turfgrass? Diversify using natural forest layers to dramatically increase biodiversity.
  • Plant a wildlife hedge or living fence: Think of hedgerows as long, narrow biodiversity corridors composed of native trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses and sedges.

Show your support for pollinators with a #NoMowMay sign

Show your support for pollinators with a Bee Friendly No Mow May sign. Rotary Clubs are providing a limited quantity of signs, first come, first serve. Reserve your sign here. Thank you to artist Ann Sanderson (illustrator for A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee) for allowing use of the images of Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee and the Calvin Park Ecoclub students for their enthusiastic participation in the design of the lawn sign