Plantlife, a conservation charity based in Salisbury, England, owns nearly 4,500 acres of nature reserve across England, Scotland and Wales. The organization works nationally in the United Kingdom and internationally “to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi,” and its conservation initiative, No Mow May, has also taken root across North America.
Bee City USA, an initiative of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, has taken on the task of “Re-thinking the American lawn,” and last year, encouraged its over 250 affiliates to participate in No Mow May, to encourage people to stop mowing for the month of May “in order to create habitat and provide resources for bees and other pollinators.”
This year Bee City USA’s initiative has gained renewed strength. No Mow May has become a significant topic of discussion on a Nextdoor neighborhood group for the Pine Hills section of Albany, New York. The neighborhood network App known as Nextdoor, by the “numbers” noted on its website, shows a huge presence in a startling 285,000 neighborhoods globally, with nearly 1 in 3 U.S. households participating in the U.S. Hopefully, this conversation about No Mow May is taking place on many other Nextdoor neighborhood groups.
In Albany, a recent airing of a senior’s complaint that a neighbor mowed her yards without first asking for her permission, has drawn much attention and comment. She wrote that she was participating this spring in No Mow May.
Next spring, this Albany neighbor should be certain to take advantage of Bee City USA’s offering of free printable No Mow May signs! With a couple signs around her yards, participation in No Mow May would become obvious. And the door bell ringing and a knock on my front door from a landscaper asking whether I needed my lawn mowed was also a reminder that for May 2023, a sign or two would explain why the yards around my home may look “overgrown.” (And a thanks, but no thanks to the landscaper, since for over four decades, this homeowner has been maintaining his yards as best he can, ecologically. A weed is not always a weed to some eyes.)
But nonetheless, little doubt that Bee City USA has it right when it suggests that “A lush, green, weed-free lawn has historically been center stage in American landscaping.” And it’s also correct in noting that a lush lawn in American suburban culture “tells the whole neighborhood that you are a competent, hard-working, contributing member of society” while, on the other hand, “Dandelions and an overgrown lawn are a sign of neglect, incompetence, and laziness.” (But far from, on further thought!)
The fact of the matter is that lawns are the “single largest irrigated crop” grown in the U.S.A., with two percent of land in the U.S.A. (40 million acres) maintained as lawns. Bee City USA’s explanation why this is a big negative is succinct:
Lawns require frequent mowing, raking, fertilizing, weeding, chemical treatment, and watering-sucking up time, money and other resources. Not only are lawns burdensome for the people maintaining them, but they also provide little positive benefit to wildlife, and in fact are often harmful. The traditional monoculture lawn lacks floral resources or nesting sites for bees and is often treated with large amounts of pesticides that harm bees and other invertebrates. When we think of habitat loss, we tend to imagine bulldozers and rutted dirt, but acres of manicured lawn are as much a loss of habitat as any development site.
In the face of personal pressure from any self-instilled or otherwise, suburban cultural values, it’s helpful to think “chemicals” when seeing lush, green lawns and also think “Save the Bees!” And for homeowners who do maintain lawns, we’ve referenced Beyond Pesticides’ Lawn Pesticide Fact Sheets, which offer an alternative for safer lawn care, in an earlier post. Its “Least Toxic Control of Weeds” factsheet, in particular, is informative.
(Frank W. Barrie, 5/27/22)