Do you need an excuse not to mow the lawn? Save time and energy by leaving your lawn mower in the garage for just another month. No Mow May is a great—and darn easy—way to help out our pollinators early on in the season.
You may have heard of leave the leaves in the fall. Have you heard of its spring sister No Mow May? A similarly cute but effective saying, this is a friendly reminder that it’s time to keep the mower stashed away in the shed and let things stay as they are before we jump into the garden.
Yes, you’ll have to let the idea of having a pristine lawn go. Did you know that lawns originated in 17th-century England as a way for the wealthy to show off? Somehow this trend has become the norm in North America at least.
Lawns guzzle up water and nutrients and put in zero effort to encourage biodiversity. But I get that we need to have them as spaces for children and pets to run around or lay out in the sun for a picnic.
No Mow May allows anyone with a lawn to help out our pollinators with zero effort. Yes, it’s that easy. Let me tell you why.
This post will cover…
- What is No Mow May?
- Why Should You Participate in No Mow May?
- How No Mow May Helps Pollinators
- What Are the Downsides to No Mow May?
- How to Help Out Your Pollinators Year Round
What is No Mow May?
No Mow May is when you avoid mowing your lawn until June so that early-season pollinators can have a temporary habitat and food source until more plants grow. Founded by the UK charity Plantlife in 2019, the movement is gaining traction in Canada and the US.
By not mowing, you’re helping any wildlife that comes out early, especially in its beginning life stages. This includes bees, butterflies, beetles, and other pollinators that need access to nectar. Just a section of unmowed lawn can help out a ton.
Besides not mowing lawns, the practice also applies to leaving garden beds alone. In the fall, I encourage you to leave your leaves for overwintering insects and to nourish your garden. It can be tempting to clean it all up in the spring, but wait a little longer until temperatures warm up.
Why Should You Participate in No Mow May?
No Mow May started as a way to help out pollinators. They need food sources early on in the season, and it can be difficult to find flowers with nectar for the early risers.
No Mow May is an easy way for people to help out. You are literally encouraged to do nothing! It doesn’t get much easier than that.
You can also increase awareness about helping out pollinators by letting neighbours know why you’re not mowing your lawn or by leaving a sign out for passerbys.
Besides helping out pollinators, it is also better for your garden. As the snow melts, it results in a lot of moisture. When we step or dig this wet soil, we compact it. The more compacted soil is, the less air there is. People don’t realize how essential air is for retaining water later on and providing aeration for healthy roots. Instead, you should wait until it all melts and has adequately dried.
Leaf litter will help to feed the soil as it breaks down. By allowing these cover crops, like clover, to grow, we’re helping to nourish the soil.
Plus, plants like dandelions are great for mining nutrients up to the top layer of soil.
Letting your lawn grow for a bit will also make it more drought-tolerant, saving you money down the line trying to maintain a green lawn in the hot summer heat.
How No Mow May Helps Pollinators
Whenever I spot my first bee of the season, I get a little bought of joy. Usually, they’re slowly bumbling along the ground in search of flowers. I think of them as drowsy from a long nap in search of a snack.
When you leave a lawn unmowed, you’re allowing the chance for flowers to bloom as an early food source for pollinators. Clover, dandelion, and violets are some of the most common flowers to pop up, but there can be many.
A UK study found that flowering plants in May have enough nectar to support 10x the pollinators. Another US study found that lawns mowed every two weeks had a higher amount and diversity of bees.
Most bees aren’t able to store food, meaning they need a constant nectar supply from early spring to late fall. With bee populations declining across the globe, we need to help them out as much as we can by ensuring they have these food sources.
From ladybugs to bees, many insects overwinter in leaf litter and hollow plant stems. Since they’re not all waking up at the same time, you want to leave the leaf litter alone in your garden beds. I actually never touch mine, allowing it to disintegrate and feed the soil. Plus, any “messy” appearance disappears as the plants grow.
What Are the Downsides to No Mow May?
Like all practices, no mow may isn’t perfect. The reality is that you need to do more than just stop mowing. May also might not be the best month to pause mowing, depending on where you live.
We also can’t ignore that most people just don’t like having messy lawns. You might get annoyed neighbours knocking on your door or even a fine for breaking a bylaw in your area. Even just leaving one section unmowed or mowing every two weeks can make a difference.
Grass also grows quickly. If you don’t mow for a month, getting your lawn back in shape might be difficult.
Dandelions are one of the most common flowers to bloom in a lawn. Despite how they’re advertised, dandelions are simply an okay food source for bees. But they’re better than nothing. Ask yourself if you have other pollinator food sources in your garden.
The idea is that you need to help provide food sources for your pollinators when things begin to warm up. Period. If you already have early-blooming plants like cherry blossoms or heather, you might not need to pause mowing.
How to Help Out Your Pollinators Year Round
No mow may is just the tip of the iceberg for what we can do for our pollinators. Here are some other great ideas and guidelines to follow.
- Leave the leaves! Pollinators need some spaces to shelter in during the cold season.
- Reduce your lawn size. Replace with flowering ornamentals and native plant species.
- Plant flowers so you have something blooming from early spring to late fall.
- Try to have a few different flowers blooming at the same time with different colours and sizes.
- Build a bee bath.
- Add a bug hotel to your fence as a safe habitat for insects.
- Practice regenerative gardening.
- Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden.
- Put an emphasis on native species in your garden.
- Add an early-flowering tree or two to your yard design.
- Grow butterfly pathway gardens.
Are you participating in no mow may this year? Let me know in the comments below!
I have alot of snakes in my yard, and had a huge timber rattler snake crossing my driveway last year. I have a young grandchildren who love to play in our yard. I have to keep grass cut. Love, the birds, & bees. We had honey bees for a few years. Also had a few bears, & packs of coyotes as well.
I keep bees and am an active member of our local bee club. When the “No Mow May” thing started a few years ago in our area (2020) it sounded good. But in the last couple years I’ve been doing some research and carefully observing and documenting my honeybees (and native bees) behavior. We have a large 5 acre property with tens of thousands of dandelions, clover, alfalfa & other wildflower/weeds as our lawn. We mow only about 2 acres (the other 3 is a wild area mowed 2x a year to keep brush down). The pollinators are not on those early flowers in the lawn. I have yet to see one of my honeybees or any native bees working on the dandelions but even the clover and other things bees are supposed to “love” I just don’t see them on. I have seen them working many of the trees (native flowering ones like maples, basswood and birch), and they love a few particulars I plant in my garden – hyssop, garlic chives, any brassica I let bolt & flower. I’m not convinced letting that early season grown in May does any good to the pollinators. And if we don’t mow, the lawn becomes a wilderness so that when we mow in June, it actually damages the grasses and flowering plants in it and they suffer for the entire summer making them unavailable to the pollinators later. I understand the good feeling mantra and catchy phrase but I am not one to blindly do something that doesn’t have the actual benefits it purports. If people want to help bees, providing a small safe place with a little water for them would actually be much more beneficial (I see the bees on the edge of my duck pond & extracting moisture from my compost almost constantly). Best Wishes.
Thank you for the thoughtful comment. Catchy phrases like No Mow May are exactly what we need to get folks out there observing and interacting with nature, using critical thinking and taking an active role in land and wildlife health. Your comment is a perfect example of this.
It’s been all over the news and gets quite a bit of controversy, given that people sure love their turf grasses and manicured lawns. Not every solution works for every garden or person, so the idea here is to reach out to folks and hopefully share a different perspective – that there is benefit and beauty in more wild spaces, as opposed to the meticulous golf course lawn.
Anything that gets us thinking about our role in nature and how we can do better is exactly what we need. I hope this conversation continues and builds from here.
Hugs to you and your bees!
PS: here is an easy bee bath for city folk: https://gardentherapy.ca/bee-bath/