If you’ve walked past a front lawn lately and noticed that the grass seems to have grown out of control, it might not be due to the residents’ laziness. They might just be participating in No Mow May. It’s a movement intended to help with the growth of early flowering grasses and along with it pollination. This observance began in Appleton a few years ago, and this year it’s happening throughout Dane County. Some municipalities have even paused mowing ordinances so that residents can take part.
Christelle Guédot is an associate professor of Entomology at UW-Madison. She says that while dandelions and other flowers that naturally grow among grass can be undesirable, bees depend on that for their food.
“You know, people are not excited about having them, but by not mowing, you’re leaving flowers at a critical time where bees are coming out and are in need of food when there’s not that much out there,” says Guédot. “So if everybody was to mow, and all those grassy areas were to be mowed, then you could imagine it as a little bit of a desert for that time of the year.”
Madison is among the towns and cities participating, although with a slightly different approach: Low Mow May. The city eased mowing requirements down to once every two weeks. Stacie Reece, the Sustainability Program Coordinator for the City of Madison, says this decision was made with input from residents and various city departments.
“So everyone got to offer suggestions around how the city of Madison can promote pollinator populations while also staying within our general ordinances around height of grass, as well as thinking about some of the other unintended consequences of consideration with having grass grow to a really high length and then cutting back around it to chop it down which could be really damaging to the grass overall,” Reece says.
Reece adds that residents can help pollinators in a variety of ways.
“And we also wanted to promote other ways that folks can engage if they do want to mow their lawns rigorously throughout the month. They can think about things like buffer zones or natural prairie plantings or other sorts of conservation efforts.”
Verona suspended its mowing ordinance for the month of May so that residents could participate in No Mow May. That’s largely due to the efforts of Verona Alder Kate Cronin, who pushed for the town to participate.
“About one third of the food that Americans eat is dependent on pollinators, and they have been under siege in the last decade because they have been exposed to herbicides and pesticides that have interrupted their breeding cycle and negatively impacted their health,” says Cronin.
According to the USDA, bees alone add $15 billion in crop value each year.
PJ Liesch is the director of the Insect Diagnostic Lab at UW-Madison and has earned the nickname “the Bug Guy.” Liesch says plant diversity is also crucial to maintaining pollinators.
“If you think about Wisconsin pollinators, folks think of bees first and foremost, we have close to 500 or so different species of bees,” says Liesch. “And each bee species differs in terms of the types of flowers and plants it likes to go to. Some may be broad generalists that can go to a wide range of flowers. Other ones might like a specific plant family or plant genus. And so if we have a greater diversity of plants blooming around us, we’re going to provide a greater diversity of food.”
Liesch and the others I spoke to also called on residents to avoid the use of pesticides so that pollinators can enjoy the nectar and other nutrients the plants they feed off have to offer.
Last year, two state lawmakers introduced a package to limit the use of certain pesticides in protected wildlife areas. The bill, which stalled in committee, would also have allowed local governments to regulate the use of certain pesticides.
Image courtesy: Ochir-Erdene Oyunmedeg / UNSPLASH