“No Mow May” means delaying the onset of mowing until the end of May. “No Mow May” is a cost-free and effective way to get started with fostering pollinators in our gardens.
In May, bees and other pollinators come out of hibernation hungry. There are over 3,600 species of bees in the U.S., some of them endangered, and they need an early source of food to get started. They need pollen to eat and nectar to feed themselves and their babies. During May, lawns that are allowed to go to flower will provide lots of pollen from grass as well as nectar from the dandelions, violets, chick weed, and other flowers, some of which are native. Bees also use dew on the grass as a source of water.
Lawns (or playing fields) that are mown short, fertilized, weeded, and chemically treated provide little sustenance and are generally toxic to invertebrates such as butterflies and bees. Those that are mown later, less often, less short, and sewn with native grass seed mixes provide more sustenance and habitat. And by mowing less, we practice good stewardship by supporting our native plants.
🐝 Take the five-year challenge! Contact Green Maynard at begreenmaynard [at] gmail.com for a “No Mow May” sign for your garden.
Will the flowers in your lawn support a lot of bees? The answer depends on the diversity of species in it. Bee City USA, an initiative of the Xerces Society, describes it like this:
“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 in your lawn.”
Other Pollinator-Friendly Practices
There are many other ways to support pollinators, some of which may be more effective than “No Mow May.” All may be used in combination with it. Every household who is interested can find their own path for increasing pollinator friendly places and increasing diversity. Finding what is right for you and your garden is more effective than any prescriptive recipe for increasing diversity of wildlife. Other menu items to increase biodiversity in your garden include:
Mow less often.
Have a meadow area.
Encourage a mix of grasses and low-growing flowering perennials.
Reseed the lawn with a native seed mix—that is, exclusively native grasses and flowers.
Incorporate native plants into existing gardens.
Turn a small patch of lawn into a native wildflower garden.
Provide water for bees and birds in summer.
Provide natural nesting areas for bees and birds.
Leave the leaves for overwintering insects.
Stop applying herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, or use sparingly.
Plant native trees (most effective of all).
Think about how to support the whole life cycle of bees.
Grow an oak tree (which supports 900 species of butterflies and moths—food for baby birds).
Research from Bee City USA shows that leaving all or part of the mown areas to grow until the end of May yields a five-fold increase in the number of bees in springtime.
No Mow Maynard
In Maynard there are 140,709 square meters of grassland. The quality of habitat that Maynard gardeners and playing field managers offer pollinators ranges from toxic deserts to bountiful oases. Many Maynard gardeners are already havens for amphibians, birds, and pollinators. There is still enormous potential for hundreds more gardens in Maynard to support more wildlife. Imagine Maynard’s impact on the butterfly population if the majority of residents consistently encouraged a diversity of plant species throughout the year.
Since our family started “No Mow May” several years ago, in combination with organic practices, each year we have seen additional species take residence. Some of them are native: selfheal (pictured below), dandelions, and violets. Others are non-native but helpful, such as clover. It is a vibrant, colorful ecosystem. The variety of flowering plants creates a mosaic of color while using less water. It is covered in bees and other insects unidentified. By July, many of the manicured lawns in town have gone brown from drought, but the diverse species on our lawn, many with deeper roots, remain green for longer and stand up considerably better.