The Gleaner
Environment

To mow or not to mow

Just like dandelions, the concept of “No Mow May” came from across the ocean. Dandelions arrived in North America in the mid-1600s with settlers who brought the plant for food and medicinal uses. No Mow May was launched by a botanical group in the United Kingdom in 2019.

I’ve long considered the yellow-headed weed a bright addition to our yard, and even after it goes to seed it hasn’t bothered me. I’ve got a river to paddle, my guy has bikes to ride; who has time to worry over a perfectly manicured lawn? So, when I first heard the catchy tagline and thought about hungry bees searching for food, I hopped on the bandwagon and promptly tried to drag my better half on board.

Hubby knows a thing or two (or thirty years’ worth) about lawnmowers, so he pointed out that not mowing until June is bad for the lawn and the machine. The height and volume of plant material will result in an uneven job, leaving behind big clumps of cuttings which can smother everything underneath or require labour-intensive raking. By that time, the process can also place additional strain on equipment causing possible damage, and while that might be good for the family business, it isn’t really good for the clientele or their pocketbooks.

 

Close up image of a bee clinging to a blade of green grass, with a few flowers showing in amongst the blades of grass.
PHOTO Lorelei Muller

 

Luckily, my mechanic and I haven’t landed on opposite sides of the debate. A little research provided plenty of other rationale to reconsider No Mow May. First of all, there are several reasons why dandelions are not an ideal food source for bees – they are much better served by willows and other native plants. Secondly, dandelions aren’t the only foreign plants to make an appearance; allowing a lawn to run rampant for so long provides an opportunity for invasive weeds, like the garlic mustard we are working to eradicate from our riverbank, to take hold.

And, what happens when June arrives, and well-intentioned people finally cut everything down? It can actually put pollinators in jeopardy when the food sources upon which they were becoming reliant are suddenly gone. Meanwhile, the creatures that took up residence in the wild lawns of May are at risk of getting mowed down along with the vegetation; these can include bugs, snakes, and baby bunnies.

While we can applaud the British initiative with its snappy hashtag for raising awareness, our local pollinators will be better supported if we increase space for native plants throughout our yards to provide food and habitat all year long. A mower can pass over low-growing native plants like the wild strawberries and violets that are scattered around the lawn. Spring ephemerals like bloodroot, trilliums, and trout lilies can be naturalized under trees to provide early food for native bees. Milkweed, goldenrod, and asters bring colour to our lives and food to insects in the summer and fall.

So, we mowed. Violets still dot the yard with purple, and plenty of dandelions survived the blades as well. But we’re planning for less lawn to mow in the future. Though we’ll still maintain enough open space for a game of badminton or croquet, we’re planning to devote more of our yard to the native plants that will support our pollinators throughout the month of May and beyond.

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