‘No Mow May’ – not lazy, just save the bees
Finally, an excuse not to mow your lawn – “No Mow May!” It’s a real effort to create more food and habitat for pollinators like bees. Participants simply watch the grass grow and the bees and butterflies feed.
“If you create the habitat, they will come,” said Matthew Shepherd, director of outreach and education for the Xerces Company the spearhead of the effort through Bee City United States. “There’s some kind of societal or cultural pressure to have an immaculate, unblemished, consistent and even green lawn. But that doesn’t happen naturally.”
A British environmental group, plant lifelaunched ‘No Mow May’ in 2019 and Appleton, Wisconsin was the first city in the United States to embrace the effort in 2020.
Scientific research supporting the “lazy lawn mower”
Results of a study on Appleton Lawns, conducted by Lawrence University, won over researchers when they compared the number of bees in unmowed lawns to local mown parks. Scientists have found five times as many bees and three times as many bee species feasting on lawns. “No Mow May” took off from there.
Years ago, an environmental researcher for the USDA Forest Service, Savanna LermanPhD found a similar conclusion.
“So what I wanted to see is if we mow our lawn less, do you have more flowers? And if you have more flowers, you have more bees,” Lerman said. “When I started the studya little over a decade ago the news was just filled with “the bees are dying” [stories].”
She wanted an easy way for everyone to participate in the effort to save pollinators that didn’t require expensive gardens and a green thumb.
“There are millions and millions of Americans who have yards,” she said of her research that she tries to make actionable by the public. “I like to test with very rigorous science how different types of management behaviors, whether it’s mowing grass or planting native plants, or doing specific things for the wildlife…to get the science and see how the wildlife reacts?”
For two years, she and her team mowed the lawns at different frequencies. The “lazy lawn mower approach” – being very active while being lazy, was born.
“Even though the yards that were mowed every three weeks had more flowers, the yards that we mowed every two weeks had the most bees,” Lermer said. “From a social point of view, it has made selling research to the public much easier in terms of when we go to the yards that have been mowed every week, they seem to not really need to We’ve been to yards every two weeks and I guess he can use a trim. And then we go to yards that have been mowed every three weeks, and they just look messy.
She found the middle ground that provided habitat while keeping the lawn in good condition.
Lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the United States, surpassing corn, wheat, and cotton. About 2% of the country’s land is made up of lawns, or nearly 32 million acres.
“It’s like the size of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire,” Lerman remarked.
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Why do we need bees
“Over 85% of all flowering plants are pollinated by bees,” Lerman said. “It is estimated that some $56 billion is the service provided by bees in terms of pollinating our crops. ‘If we want to eat, we need bees.’
“That’s a third of the bites of what we actually take in, and about three-quarters of food crops are pollinated by insects,” Shepherd explained.
Letting lawn flowers grow attracts more than bees.
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“Earlier today I read a comment from someone who reported seeing a monarch butterfly [butterfly] in Pennsylvania, which is about as far north as they go,” Shepherd said. “Yeah, but the only flowers that are in bloom providing nectar right now are dandelions.” And so having dandelions could support a monarch migrating at this time of year.”
Fireflies love longer grass as well as ladybugs which eat aphids, damaging the garden.
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“No, Mow May is not just about growing dandelions or just not mowing for a month. We see this as a starting point because conservation shouldn’t be about weeds,” said Shepherd who hopes to motivate efforts beyond May. “We’re hoping people will also plant native plants, maybe reduce the overall lawn area, maybe put in flower borders, maybe think about using pesticides in their gardens. That’s not just a starting point.”
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