Now Mow May - a great conversation starter
The fresh growth of spring means the return of the #NoMowMay campaign encouraging homeowners to let their grass grow longer to help insect pollinators. As the experts in grasses, we've been asked by the public and media to weigh in with our opinion.
Is No Mow May a bad idea?
We feel that this a great campaign for starting a conversation about supporting our pollinators. However, it is a little misguided. Many early-flowering weeds that can be found in lawns, such as dandelions, are actually an incomplete source of nutrition for pollinators.
“Dandelions aren’t going to save the bees,” says Lyons. “A much better nutrition source for them are flowering trees, like crabapple, choke cherry and even maple, oak and willow.”
This is echoed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada in a news release in 2022.
“We are suggesting they use native plants – trees and flowers – in their yards to have a lasting impact,” he said, adding many plants bloom before dandelions and are more nutritious.
-Andrew Holland, NCC national media relations director
What’s more, creating temporary habitats in the form of an overly long lawn is not helpful to pollinators if the plan is to eventually mow the grass into a lawn. Plant pollinator-friendly flowers, grasses and shrubs instead. If you feel very motivated to support pollinators, you could create wildflower zones in home gardens with pollinator-friendly grasses and shrubs to benefit insects and wildlife all year round. Note that these areas can attract all kinds of biodiversity, even some of the pests that we don't like (fleas, ticks, mosquitos) so we recommend putting these "Naturalized Zones" in an area away from children and pets.
From a turfgrass perspective, “No Mow May” can harm the home lawn.
“Allowing lawns to grow long can encourage the growth of undesirable weed species such as thistles, prostrate knotweed and wild violet, which are difficult to remove once they become established. It will likely take more inputs of water, fertilizer, seed, and herbicides to get your lawn back into shape after a #NoMowMay."
-Dr. Sara Stricker, GTI Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Cutting too much of a grass’s length at once is also traumatic, leaving the grass with a sudden loss of an energy source during an active growing time. Tall grass is also difficult to mow, which can increase the risk of “scalping” the turf, making the lawn more susceptible to insects, weeds and disease.
“We recommend mowing home lawns when the grass reaches approximately three inches high,” said Lyons. “Grasses have evolved to be grazed upon by herbivores, so they actually respond positively to mowing practices.”
-Dr. Eric Lyons, Professor at the University of Guelph
The #NoMowMay campaign has gone viral because of its simplicity. Do nothing = support environment. Unfortunately, conservation efforts are rarely so simple. Talk to your local garden centre about which plants are best for your region, and which are native in your Hardiness Zone. In general, planting perennials is recommended since they will come back every year (easier for you to maintain) and it reduces on shipping/manufacturing inputs.
#MowWhenYouGrassNeedsMowing doesn't have the same ring to it, but perhaps we can promote #PlantNatives instead?