No Mow May (And April) Comes to Madison
No Mow May (and April) is a nationwide effort that urges home and business owners to let parts of their lawns remain unmowed during the early spring months of April and May. The Pollinators Pathways Project of Madison is urging all shoreline residents to take part in this hands-on opportunity to directly impact the local ecology.
According to Bee City USA, an initiative of the Xerces Society dedicated to improving pollinator populations across the country, the typical American lawn is, in essence, a species desert that offers little if any food or habitat for native pollinators, birds, and other species.
According to the organization, “Lawns cover 2% of land in the U.S., making them the single largest irrigated crop we grow. Lawns are mowed, raked, fertilized, weeded, chemically treated, and watered—sucking up time, money, and other resources. Lawns provide little benefit to wildlife and are often harmful. Grass-only lawns lack floral resources and nesting sites for bees and are often treated with pesticides that harm bees and other invertebrates. When we think of habitat loss, we tend to imagine bulldozers and rutted dirt, but acres of manicured lawn are as much a loss of habitat as any development site. Rethinking the American lawn can take a variety of forms from reducing mowing frequency or area mown to permanently converting lawn to a more diverse and natural landscape.”
The organization cites several studies demonstrating that using a less frequent mowing schedule promotes a healthier habitat for these pollinating insects and wildlife in general. Other benefits include that homeowners spend less time and money on lawn care, and municipalities can see significant savings in fuel and employee time when altering their mowing schedule.
According to Madison Pollinator Pathways Project member Kellie Brady, the project’s focus is to not mow in early spring and to “observe what plants come up.”
“This is a way for people to rethink their lawns and help out our native pollinators. Roughly 40 million acres of the U.S. is lawn, it’s a monoculture that requires a tremendous amount of work, a lot of fertilizers, a lot of pesticides, and it requires a lot of water, and all of that has very little benefit to wildlife, especially native bees, which are in decline,” Brady said. “I think No Mow May is an educational opportunity about the importance of promoting this effort that supports native pollinators. It’s a way for people to directly do their bit to help.”
Bees are just one species that have seen a significant decline in population in recent years in the U.S. According to several sources that promote and report on bee decline issues, 2021 was the second-highest hive die-off in their records. Many factors impacting bees, such as pesticide use, habitat loss, and loss of native plant species, affect other pollinators and insects, some of which have also seen disturbing declines.
Most people think of bees in trees and in hives, but there are close to 4,000 bee species in North America, and most of those are ground solitary dwelling insects, according to the Xerces Society.
Brady said that homeowners don’t have to leave their full lawn untended to participate in the program. Leaving small portions or dedicated unmowed areas can significantly impact local pollinators by providing the “pathway” for these insects.
“You don’t have to leave your entire lawn unmowed. Even just leaving a patch of your lawn not mowed, or mow every two weeks,” said Brady. “Sometimes it can be more beautiful than that expanse of green which doesn’t support any species and is really just a monoculture with little diversity.”
Madison Conservation Commission Chair Heather Crawford said the effort is a simple way to make a positive impact. Crawford urged any resident with a lawn to consider a less frequent or no mowing schedule.
“Keep in mind we need pollinators to grow our food; without pollinators, our crops don’t grow. So, this has benefits all around for our communities,” said Crawford. “The reduced use of pesticides is also an extremely important factor when we talk about habitat.”
However, some homeowners are hesitant to take up the practice, fearing the “look” of unkempt grass or opinions from neighbors who may look askance at lawns that are not being mowed, according to Crawford.
“One of the things we are doing this year is to pass on out lawn signs, which explains what the project is all about. And if people are concerned about it, they can simply choose to do a portion of their yard. They can keep the front yard mowed and keep the back unmowed, or they can simply mow the edges 10 to 15 feet close to the road, and this will still have some benefit,” said Crawford. “My husband and I are actually feeding our goats from what he mowed off of the front lawn last year; we are still feeding them from that.”
In response to that, on Tuesday, April 25, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., the Conservation Commission and members from the Pollinator Pathway Project of Madison will be giving a talk at the Scranton Library. There will be signs available to place in yards that will help educate residents on why lawns are purposely unmowed.
“We are going to teach people the importance of not mowing and also pass out lawn signs so that residents can feel more confident and comfortable that their neighbors know this is a temporary thing to support the environment,” Brady said.
Crawford added, “We will also be handing out signs at both of Madison’s Green Up Clean Ups at the two drop off locations on that Saturday the 29th, and if people can’t make those, they can contact the Conservation Commission, and we will figure out how to get one to them.”
For more information about No Mow May, visit www.beecityusa.org/no-mow-may.