May 3, 2024 - News

Saying no to #NoMowMay

Illustration of a lawnmower towering over a butterfly on a flower.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Local lawn care experts want you to think twice before you jump on the #NoMowMay bandwagon this year.

The big picture: The campaign has spread widely on social media in recent years, urging people to stop cutting their grass for the month in an effort to boost habitat and food for bees and other pollinators.

Reality check: Experts say the mowing hiatus doesn't actually help bees all that much and could ruin your lawn.

Zoom in: The Columbus area is home to numerous specialists in the field, thanks to Ohio State University's large turfgrass science department in its College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Catch up fast: The idea originated in England before spreading to the Midwest, where it was embraced by environmental groups and some local and state governments.

What they're saying: The approach has a few major flaws, says Mike Hogan, an associate professor and extension agent at OSU specializing in sustainable agriculture and urban food systems. Among them, he says:

  • Dandelions, which would be the primary pollen source for bees if you let your lawn go, actually peak in April in our area.
  • Even if you did hit peak dandelion bloom in May, the weed's flowers aren't actually a high quality source of pollen for honey bees, especially compared to native flowers, shrubs and trees.
  • Finally, letting your lawn go for a month and then mowing it back down is a recipe for a patchy mess of turf because it would expose what has become the tender crown of the grass.

State of play: An academic study supporting the theory that a month off from mowing helps bees was retracted in 2022.

  • Cities are backing away from the trend, too. Des Moines dropped the program after one year and hundreds of tall grass complaints.

The other side: Supporters of the no-mow campaign say it's raised awareness of the negative environmental impacts of grass lawns.

  • And there are studies that show limiting mowing to once every two to three weeks throughout the growing season increases the number and types of bees drawn to suburban yards.

The bottom line: You can support bees on your property in lots of ways.

  • Options include installing pollinator gardens of local perennials that provide season-long nourishment to bees and encouraging clover and violas to mix with existing turf, Hogan said.

Go deeper: If you're looking for help or advice, reach out to the Franklin County Garden Information Helpline at 614-292-8421 or via email at [email protected].

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