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No Mow May

How taking a month off can give you and the pollinators time to enjoy.

I live in a small row home in South Philadelphia, so I don't have a lawn, but I will admit to a little lawn envy. No, not for the manicured green lushness of Kentucky bluegrass, fescues or rye, but for the expanse of lawn itself. If I had one, it wouldn't be a traditional lawn, but an urban rewilding. I have fevered dreams of a chemical-free space to allow clover and wild strawberry, wood sorrel, and yarrow to create a carpet of medicinal and edible green.

I already do this on a limited scale with areas I'm slow to plant, as I wait for seedlings to mature. Or soil-filled pots I allow to remain fallow, just to see what pops up courtesy of winds, birds and squirrels, depositing seeds as they clamber across my raised beds. By doing this, I get familiar with what seedlings look like for a variety of plants, and I can't tell you the joy when I ended up with a large pot of giant red clover that I never planted. (Bees love it and it makes a great tea for coughs)

No Mow May is an annual campaign launched by UK based PlantLife, that encourages you to not mow your lawn for the month of May, to encourage pollinators to feast on the nectar from the plants; because we need both plants and bees and the numbers for both have been down.

Translating this to the US, is a brilliant idea, but not an easy sell to a country that historically desires a lush, green lawn. Add to that antiquated city and municipal ordinances that can regulate height, and often the types of plants that can be grown, and it is an uphill battle. But maybe it's time for a change.

In the US 40 million acres, or 2% of the land, is maintained as lawn. That means that lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the country. And keeping that lawn green and weed-free becomes a major consumer of time, water and chemicals which can be harmful to bees and invertebrates. Not to mention the lack of biodiversity in lawns, bereft of the required floral resources for nesting bees and butterflies.

So the goal of No Mow May is to allow spring plants to get some leverage, and create a home for early-season pollinators. This is especially important in urban areas where floral resources are already limited. So this break can show you the potential of what can grow in your lawn, conserve water, lower the level of pollutants going into our ground water and reduce emissions from the use of gas-powered lawn equipment.

Because it's only a month, you might be able to stop mowing for 31 days without much of an issue, but should you have persnickty neighbors, or should the month inspire you to reconsider the use of such valuablgreen space, Bee City USA suggests a few tips including:

  • Good borders make good neighbors: A tidy border may be the lawn version of a mullet: All business around the edges and a wild party in the middle.

  • Educate your neighbors about your wild side: Just a simple No Mow May can open the conversation and armed with this fact sheet from Penn State Extension you can play all Sargent Friday and give them, "Just the facts M'aam" about creating natural environments in residential areas

And for those of you who want to change the laws in your area...

  • Begin a conversation: Talk with your city council and local officials.

  • Offer solutions: If they seem reluctant to take on the process of re-writing a "weed" ordinance suggest creating program that allows you to "opt in" as a recognized natural landscape, with the local health department. Once registered, the health department would have the ability to waive any fines associated with breaching the weed ordinances as long as you maintain your natural landscape and don't encourage noxious weeds. Here's where I refer you back to the above section "Good boarders make good neighbors".

So if you'rer intrigued and worried about the plight of bees and our other pollinator friends, remember the best thing you can do for them this May, when it comes to your lawn, is nothing at all.

Check out these Alternatives to controlling Weeds around the home.

For more information on No Mow May, check out PlantLife, Bee City USA and Penn State Extension.

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