A Homeowner’s Guide to No Mow May
This spring, laziness pays off big for pollinators. Here's how to effectively and politely participate in No Mow May.
I love my hometown in May. The air is still light and fresh, and the city’s normally manicured lawns and medians grow shaggy with wildflowers. That’s thanks to No Mow May, an initiative that encourages people to hold off mowing their lawn until there are ample flowers for the bees and butterflies to thrive.
Other towns nationwide, like Edina, Minnesota, also encourage No Mow May. The Minneapolis suburb jumped in after a few locals started participating.
“This family told me how the yield on their vegetable garden went way up after doing No Mow May, as well as how healthy their yard and gardens were overall,” says Edina City Council member Carolyn Jackson.
Jackson saw such merit in the practice that she convinced other council members to change a city ordinance that fined homeowners for letting their grass grow too tall. “We were a little nervous going into No Mow May that the city would get a lot of complaints about long grass,” she said. “However, [we] did not receive a single complaint.”
Here’s what to know if you’re thinking about joining the No Mow May movement.
What Is No Mow May?
No Mow May encourages homeowners, municipalities, universities and other entities to postpone their first lawnmower runs of the season. Depending on your geography, it may take place in May proper, a little sooner or a little later. Of note: This only works in yards with some flowers in the grass.
“This time of year, when plants are starting to emerge, we need more habitat and food for our pollinators,” says Shubber Ali, CEO of Garden for Wildlife. “So if you’re looking for a simple and impactful way to support the environment, consider leaving the lawn mower in storage a little longer and participating in No Mow May this year!”
The British conservation charity Plantlife started No Mow May in 2019. The movement quickly gained popularity and spread to other countries.
In the U.S., Appleton, Wisconsin adopted it first. Today No Mow May is a widespread grassroots effort (pun intended) that’s unofficially rooted with the Xerces Society and its Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates. But you don’t need special qualifications or registrations to join in.
Benefits of No Mow May
Because our buildings, lawns and parking lots cover so much natural habitat, No Mow May helps pollinators find food when they’re waking up from overwintering. The benefits include:
- Giving pollinators quick nutrition and a strong start to the growing season;
- Supporting local ecosystems;
- Promoting biodiversity, especially for the 3,600 species of native bees in our country;
- Starting a conversation in your community about conserving pollinators.
“There’s this whole world of bees of all different sizes and different habitat needs, and they really need our help,” says Laura Rost, Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA coordinator with the Xerces Society. “Honey bees are not at risk of going extinct, but many of our native bees are.”
Side benefits to No Mow May include:
- Reduced air and noise pollution;
- Time and money savings;
- More resilient grass. “If you allow grasses to grow longer just in general, they tend to get deeper roots and also require less water,” says Rost. “They’ll actually retain more moisture.”
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Are There Drawbacks to No Mow May?
Yes. Yards can look unkempt. Neighbors unaware of the movement may complain. And once you start mowing, it’ll be harder to push the mower through the long grass.
“However, most people find these as just minor inconveniences compared to the numerous benefits of supporting local ecosystems,” says Ali.
Not mowing might also violate Homeowners Association (HOA) regulations or local ordinances. So before participating, contact your municipality or HOA, learn what’s OK and what’s not, and see if it offers exemptions for pollinator habitat.
If going that long without mowing doesn’t feel right for your situation, you can still help by avoiding the mower for a couple of weeks. “However you choose to do it, it’s just one small thing we can do to help our native pollinators at a very important time of year,” says Rost.
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The Growing Popularity of No Mow May
“It really kind of went viral last year,” says Rost. “Part of it is, it’s a catchy phrase, and it’s relatively self-explanatory. But it can also be a starting point for conversations in your community about weed and lawn ordinances.”
Last year Longmont, Colorado, got on board. It further supported its initiative by removing turf areas and installing pollinator gardens. “Public feedback has been very supportive,” says Scott Hansen, the city’s communication specialist. “Protecting pollinators and wildlife should be an initiative that all communities take seriously.”
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, also joined in, with positive results. “Many noticed a huge increase in insect and bird activity in their yards,” says Village President John Heller. “In addition, many stopped using chemicals on their lawns to further promote pollinator health and ecosystems.”
No Mow May Sign
You don’t have to sign up to participate in No Mow May, but displaying a sign in your yard lets people know what you’re doing. They’re often available from local conservation groups and participating cities.
According to Rost, other steps you can take to encourage No Mow May include:
- Learning what your local ordinances are and, if needed, advocating to change them;
- Asking elected officials to support No Mow May with an ordinance or resolution;
- Educating your neighbors about helping pollinators;
- Maintaining a buffer of cut grass along the sidewalk and paths to the house. “This gives an indication that to the community that this isn’t just neglect,” says Rost.
Beyond No Mow May
While it helps, No Mow May alone will not save the bees, unfortunately. Rost suggests further steps: Reducing or eliminating pesticide usage, and growing native plants. For a guide to good pollinator plants for your area, try Garden For Wildlife’s native plant finder.
Next, check out the best flowers that attract bees.