May 7, 2024 - News

"No Mow May" isn't about just one month

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

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The No Mow May trend has branched out into a conversation much larger than whether to pause mowing your lawn for a month.

Why it matters: The environmental movement cropped up because constant grass cutting diminishes pollen available to bees and other pollinating insects. The start of growing season is a critical time for hungry bees.

  • Some have turned instead to Less Mow May or Low Mow May — or doing away with grass lawns all together.

Zoom in: Ann Arbor, for example, has encouraged keeping grass 6-12 inches high, MLive reported. The city of Madison, Wisconsin, suggests mowing no more than twice in May.

State of play: No Mow May has become an important conversation starter around how short grass lawns lack the resources pollinators need, Brian Peterson-Roest, president of Bees in the D, tells Axios Detroit. It's also about how Americans' traditional lawn maintenance strategies hurt the environment, he adds.

  • But posing the issue as a black-and-white decision between "mow or don't" ignores a more nuanced conversation around what you can do with your lawn to best help the environment, Peterson-Roest says.

Reality check: For one, an academic study supporting the theory that a month off from mowing helps bees was retracted in 2022.

  • Plus, lawn care experts told Axios Columbus that the hiatus could ruin your lawn. And many cities ticket property owners for overgrown lots.

Context: No Mow May's purpose is to allow weeds like dandelions to go to bloom, because heads typically get cut off when lawns are mowed. Mowing can also destroy insects' nesting areas.

  • But it's not as simple as it seems — it's a slow process to transition away from traditional grass lawn, Peterson-Roest says.
  • "It's not like you're going to not mow for one month and your grass is now the poster child for pollinators," he adds. "Those are the things that need to be shared, because people don't know this."
  • Plus, climate change has impacted the timeline. When Michigan's winter is lacking, like this year, bees emerge early. No Mow May's timing could be pushed forward to April, depending on the year, per Peterson-Roest.

The bottom line: "The best thing you can do is to remove some of that lawn and plant native [species] because those natives are going to give a whole season of resources to the bees," says Peterson-Roest, echoing many experts.

Go deeper: Bees in the D published an up-to-date map showing which cities in Southeast Michigan allow participation in No Mow May.

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