Photo: Matthew Shepherd
No Mow April, No Mow May, Low Mow Spring FAQs
How exactly will allowing my lawn to grow benefit pollinators?
Mowing your lawn less allows flowering plants to bloom, providing bees and other pollinators with the nectar and pollen that they rely on to feed themselves as well as their offspring. This is the primary benefit, giving flowers a chance to bloom uninterrupted and in greater abundance. Longer grass can also provide other benefits to invertebrates including shelter. The more varied structure created by longer grass will support more than just bees, including ground beetles as well as some species of butterflies that use grasses as host plants. The fiery skipper and sachem are two examples of butterflies whose caterpillars utilize lawn grasses.
So, letting my lawn grow will be great for bees!
It won’t be great, but it will be better than nothing. Letting your lawn grow and having Dutch clover, dandelions, and other weeds flowering will mean there is something for bees to forage on, but many weeds are non-native, and don’t support a wide range of native bees. In addition, some lawn weeds are noxious and need to be controlled. To be honest, it would be better if you rip up your lawn and replace it with a little meadow or prairie. But reducing the intensity of lawn maintenance is a starting point for changing our neighborhoods into places that will support bees and other wildlife.
Given that my lawn is primarily turf grass and non-native weedy species, will I be spreading weeds by not mowing my lawn?
Because lawns are usually mown, the plants that grow there are species that tolerate those conditions. Both grasses and typical lawn weeds have buds that are low to the ground so they are able to re-sprout after each mowing and their roots tolerate the compacted soil that is caused by the frequent passing of the mower’s tires. Turfgrass and common lawn weeds may also grow in nearby compacted soil, but in general, they will not spread to other non-lawn areas, where different soil conditions and the presence of other perennial vegetation or tillage is beyond their “comfort zone.”
Will the flowers in my lawn support a lot of bees?
While lawns are traditionally maintained as primarily monocultures of one of a handful of species of often non-native grass, many lawns also include a variety of native and non-native flowering species. Common examples of flowers found in lawns include dandelions and Dutch clover, but you may also have native species of clovers, violets, and selfheal. The number of bees that your unmown lawn supports depends on the species and abundance of flowers intermixed with the grass. A lawn without any flowering plants won’t benefit bees while one rich in a diversity of native species will attract lots of bees. Non-native plant species will provide some nectar and pollen to bees, however native plants will attract and support a greater variety of native bee species. Since many of the thousands of bee species native to North America are specialists, relying on the specific plant species that they evolved alongside, it’s important to do what you can to increase native plants.
I didn’t realize that there were so many types of bees. How many are there?
There are just over 3,600 species of bees in the U.S. and Canada: mason bees, sweat bees, mining bees, polyester bees, small carpenter bees, yellow-faced bees, leafcutter bees, long-horned bees, squash bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees, digger bees, and more! The largest (carpenter bees and bumble bees) may be 1.25” long, the smallest (tiny sweat bees and mining bees) 0.1” or less in length. Bees may be hairy or shiny, be black, brown, red, sparkling metallic green, or shimmering blue, have bands of yellow, orange, white, or change color depending on the light angle — not at all like the cartoon image of black-and-yellow and hairy.
I have ground-nesting bees. Should I let my grass grow?
This just illustrates that there is no “one size fits all” approach to gardening — or pollinator conservation! Some mining bees prefer to nest in locations with thin or patchy grass. In some places they are referred to as “lawn bees,” but now are widely known as “tickle bees” thanks to the amazing aggregation at an elementary school in Portland, OR. If you are lucky enough to have ground-nesting bees in your lawn, it will be better to keep mowing the area in which they are nesting. You’ll probably want to mow in the evening when the bees are not active — walking or running a mower over their nests won’t harm them. They’ll be sheltering in their nest tunnels and will re-emerge the next morning.
Lawns are great for throwing a ball around or playing with a dog. What are some ideas for how to balance the desire for a lawn with creating habitat for pollinators and other wildlife?
We get it that people want a place where they can throw a ball, their dog can run around, they can sit with friends on a summer evening. None of that requires a grass-only, unblemished lawn. All of those things can be done with a flower-filled lawn; you may just have to raise the cutting height and mow less frequently. Lawn flowers will do fine with regular mowing as long as it isn’t too short and isn’t too frequent. As your space and household needs allow, you can also consider dedicating a smaller portion of your yard to lawn that is mowed and convert the rest to pollinators. The spaces you’ve gained can be used to grow a range of native or non-invasive pollinator-friendly plants such as shrubs, flowers (annuals and perennials), a border of bunch grasses, vegetables, herbs, or berries. Another option for areas that won’t get a lot of foot traffic but where shorter vegetation or less mowing is valued, is to sow naturally short grasses or grass-like plants such as buffalo grass and rushes, as well as selfheal or violets.
I would like to participate in No Mow May but my community has rules that restrict me from letting my lawn grow unmown. What do you recommend that I do?
If letting your lawn grow is not possible due to your community’s landscaping rules, there are several other options for making your yard, patio, or balcony more pollinator-friendly. You can reduce the amount of lawn that is turfgrass and fill those areas with landscaping full of plants that provide host plants, nectar, pollen, nesting materials, nest sites, and shelter from harsh weather. Even a window box or planter can be a place to provide more habitat and resources for pollinators. You could also revisit the vegetation policies of your HOA or local government. As attitudes change around sustainability topics such as mowing, pesticide use, and native landscaping, restrictive landscaping rules are increasingly out of step with the growing numbers of residents like yourself who want to plant and care for their yards and community green spaces in ways that are healthy and attractive for pollinators, wildlife, and people.
Is the month of May the best time in my region to let my lawn grow?
No Mow May began in Britain and what works there doesn’t necessarily work in all parts of the U.S. In some regions, May is fine, but the vast geographic size of this country means that we have huge regional variation in the timing of bee emergence, in other areas it may not be the best time. Keeping an eye out for early season bees and growth of plants in your yard is a great way to judge when it would be most beneficial to reduce mowing (No Mow April? Low Mow Spring?).
Does using pesticides on my lawn negatively affect pollinators and other invertebrates using the habitat?
Yes. Commonly used lawn and garden pesticides can harm pollinators and other invertebrates. Many of the insecticides you find on store shelves are broad-spectrum, meaning that they can harm a wide range of insects including important beneficials. Avoiding insecticide use is key to maintaining healthy pollinator habitat, but herbicides and fungicides can also have impacts so we recommend avoiding all pesticide use in yards and gardens. This ensures a healthy ecosystem for both your family and pollinators using your habitat. You can read more about pesticide-free pollinator gardening here.
What are the alternatives that will allow me to maintain an attractive lawn?
Turfgrass on its own does not provide food for pollinators. However, small changes in lawn management such as raising the mowing height and reducing the frequency of mowing, encouraging a mix of grasses and low-growing flowering perennials, can make a difference for pollinators. Flowering lawns are also lower maintenance; rather than spending time and resources attempting to destroy all plants except grasses, a diversity of plants — including violets, selfheal, and clovers — are encouraged. Preventative maintenance strategies, such as ensuring aeration to support grass roots, and proper watering to keep lawns healthy can help limit weed growth. Manage any unwanted weeds through physical methods, and reseed areas where weeds are removed or turf has been damaged. To keep your lawn healthy, consider applying a thin layer of compost in the spring, and leaving grass clippings in place.
What can I do to educate my neighbors and passersby about my yard choices and how they benefit pollinators?
Taking the simple step of communicating why you’ve made the landscaping choices you have to your neighbors and other passersby can help others understand that by not mowing you have made an intentional decision to create habitat for wildlife rather than neglected your yard. Putting up signs can be an easy and effective way to educate others about the benefits of reducing mowing for bees and other pollinators. Signs may also spark conversations and encourage your neighbors and visitors to consider their own yard and actions they can take to create better habitat. Visit Bee City USA’s No Mow May webpage to download free artwork for signs.
What are other steps I can take on my own property to benefit pollinators year-round?
Reducing mowing for a single month is a relatively easy step that you can take to provide bees and other invertebrates with the resources they rely on, but it’s not enough on its own—and any benefits will be canceled if you power up your mower and restart as if nothing has changed once June arrives. There are many other additional steps you can take to improve your habitat year-round. The three most important things you can do to support bees on your property are to plant regionally native plant species, provide natural nesting areas, and reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. If you’re interested in taking the next step in turning your lawn into better habitat for pollinators, consider converting it to a pollinator-friendly lawn or removing your lawn entirely and replacing it with native plants.
So No Mow May is just a starting point?
Yes, No Mow May is just a beginning, an initial step in making our urban landscapes less inhospitable to bees and other pollinators. There are 40 million acres of turfgrass in the United States, and two thirds of that is home lawns. No Mow May is a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on the needs of native bees and highlight the problems with what might be called “typical” lawn care and gardening. Pausing mowing for one month will bring some benefits, but native bees need more than dandelions and other lawn weeds. No Mow May on its own is not enough. It should be a starting point for how we can make those featureless acres better for bees. To truly have a lasting impact, we need to reduce the area devoted to lifeless lawns and replace them with native plantings. And we need to be providing for the whole life cycle of bees. Pollinator conservation is a year-round activity, not just something that happens for one month.
What about ticks?
We recommend maintaining a mowed buffer near your house or in high-traffic areas in tick-heavy regions. Ticks prefer shade, so creating gravel, bark, or wood mulch borders (about 3 feet wide) between sunny lawns and shady forests can reduce their numbers in the grass. Rodents and deer are carriers, so planting deer-resistant plants and discouraging rodent habitat can also reduce ticks near your home. Replacing lawns with ferns, herbs, and other plants can also help.
For more information see our guide: Smarter Pest Management: Protecting Pollinators at Home (page 7) and Tick Management Handbook by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (Integrated Tick Management section is on page 44).
What if there are noxious weeds?
Not all weeds are noxious, some “weeds” are even native! But if you do have noxious/invasive weeds, remove them as you would any other time of the year. Contact your local extension service for advice on management.
What about fire risk?
Green spring grasses are not too much of a fire risk, but dry grass is. Follow local fire safety recommendations for mowing if you are in a fire-prone community.
What if there are no flowers in my lawn?
If you only have grass (a monoculture with no clovers, dandelions, etc.), not mowing will not provide any new floral resources for bees. You could plant some native, spring-blooming flowers instead—but remember, you won’t get much bloom this year. The benefit from those will be in the years ahead.
What will my neighbors think?
Let your neighbors know you are letting your yard get a bit wild for a good reason. Allowing your lawn to grow a bit longer or converting part of your yard to pollinator habitat will mean it will look different, but you aren’t abandoning it. You’ll still be tending and caring for it and there are some things you can do to show that such as mowing a neat border near sidewalks and paths, adding short fencing or rocks to tidy up the appearance of the yard, or put up a handmade or purchased pollinator habitat sign. Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbors, too!
How can I shrink or replace my lawn?
Here’s a quick “lasagna” method to smother grass: Cut grass short, but leave the clippings. Completely cover grass with clean, tape-free cardboard (no gaps) and wet it down. Top with a thick layer of wood chips. Contact your local arborists for free or cheap wood chips. Another successful method is solarization using plastic sheeting. You’ll find details about these and other approaches in the Xerces Society’s guidelines, Organic Site Preparation for Wildflower Establishment. You can add native pollinator plants at any time, from flowers to shrub to trees.
Another Xerces Society publication, and another that can be downloaded for free, is Mid-Atlantic Native Meadows: Guidelines for Planning, Preparation, Design, Installation, and Maintenance. This offers detailed information about planning, creating, and maintaining meadows in place of lawns. The information is relevant for more than only the Mid-Atlantic region.
Beyond providing food resources, how does reducing mowing benefit ground nesting bees and other insects, if at all?
Reduced mowing does help other insects that benefit from the longer stems and lusher growth—plant hoppers, fireflies, etc. Longer grass may not help ground nesting bees (that lusher growth can be a barrier to accessing the soil), but less intense lawn care can. Mining bees (Andrena, aka tickle bees, and known in some places as lawn bees) are often the primary bees that nest in lawns. What they need is the space between grass to reach the soil. Cultivating a well-fertilized dense sward can hinder that.
What about snakes and rodents?
No Mow May in the US was sparked by the community of Appleton, WI. The city is a Bee City USA affiliate, and Lawrence University, located in Appleton, is a Bee Campus USA affiliate. In a blog written by these affiliates about their experience of No Mow May, leaders from that community noted:
“In the beginning, there were fears that the program would increase animosity and conflict among neighbors, that it would lead to explosions of rodents and ticks in tall grasses, and that it would destroy lawn mowers as they moved through knee high grass. Not only did those things not come to pass, but to everyone’s surprise, weed complaints rose only negligibly and a large portion of the community participated in the program.”
Penn State Extension Service has information about “neighborly landscaping” that also addresses this concern.
I have flowers in my lawn, why am I not seeing many bees?
It can be hard to know exactly when and where the bees will be year-to-year. Some bees emerge later in the season if the weather is colder. If you have fruit trees or other early-blooming trees or shrubs, bees may prefer those over dandelions and other lawn weeds. Similarly, if there are natural areas nearby with willows, they may be hanging out there. What time your local bees may emerge varies with climate. You could ask local university biology or entomology departments or your local cooperative extension service—look for Master Gardeners or Master Naturalists—if they know when they expect bees to start emerging.
What do I do when I am ready to mow?
What is the cost of converting a lawn to a pollinator meadow?
The exact costs of lawn conversion with depend on many factors, including size, how you remove the existing lawn, the number of species you plant, etc., etc. The Xerces Society publication Mid-Atlantic Native Meadows: Guidelines for Planning, Preparation, Design, Installation, and Maintenance (download for free) has information about planning, creating, and maintaining meadows in place of lawns, including cost comparisons.
Guidance from Natural Resources Defense Council: More Sustainable (and Beautiful) Alternatives to a Grass Lawn