MURRAY – There is a saying that it is bad luck to mow before Easter. If that is true, many Calloway Countians are likely to have good luck in store for them this year as a wet, gloomy spring has led to unruly yards throughout the county. Whether motivations for postponing mowing are superstition-related or an attempt to not cause ruts in the yard, it may not be a bad thing to hold off on mowing, particularly in early spring; in fact, it may be extremely beneficial to local bees.
“Lawns represent a dominant green space (in urban environments), and their management consists of frequent mowing to inhibit the growth of ostensibly ‘weedy’ species (e.g., dandelions and clover),” said Lerman, et al., a group of researchers from the University of Massachusetts who were concerned about declining bee populations resulting from habitat loss. They investigated whether mowing frequency had any impact on bee richness (diversity) and abundance and published their results in the journal “Biological Conservation.”
The group evaluated whether there was a difference in bee abundance in yards mowed at one-, two- and three-weeks intervals. They found that waiting three weeks to mow produced 2.5 times more flowers than one- and two-week intervals; however, those mowed every two weeks had the highest bee abundance. Researchers theorized that, at week two, there were enough flowers to attract the bees without having grass tall enough to impede bees’ access to the actual flowers.
The researchers said their results “highlight a ‘lazy lawnmower’ approach to providing bee habitat. Mowing less frequently is practical, economical, and a timesaving alternative to lawn replacement or even planting pollinator gardens.”
“No Mow May” is a movement started in the United Kingdom by the charity organization Plantlife. The mission is simple – do not mow your lawn for the entire month of May. The movement began taking hold here in the United States in 2020. Appleton, Wisconsin was the first city in the country to participate in No Mow May. According to a New York Times article, in 2021, the crusade to protect pollinators spread across Wisconsin and to Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Montana.
According to an article by Del Toro and Ribbons published in the journal “PeerJ,” “The goal of No Mow May is to provide early season foraging resources for pollinators that emerge in the spring, especially in urban landscapes when few floral resources are available.” The duo worked with the city of Appleton to establish its inaugural No Mow May program and studied the impact leaving yards un-mowed had on bee abundance in the yards of Appleton homes.
They found participants in No Mow May had three times higher bee richness and five times higher bee abundance. Furthermore, they found the size and floral richness of un-mowed areas to be the best predictors of bee abundance. “Our data does show that bee pollinators make use of no mow spaces as key floral resources during early spring in the upper midwestern United States,” the article said.
One group of researchers found that even mowing as little as once a year can impact bee abundance. In their 2021 study published in “Journal of the Entomological Society,” Audet, et al., compared bee populations in two adjacent fields – one mowed, one un-mowed. They reported, “… even relatively mild disturbances, like mowing once per year, may result in alterations to local bee communities, detectable at small spatial scales of tens to hundreds of meters.”
In her pamphlet “Mowing for Pollinators,” University of Vermont Extension Pollinator Support Specialist Laura Johnson suggests, “Where possible, wait until after the first hard frost to mow, when flowers are not in bloom. Avoid spring mowing, as wet fields may delay entry and flowering and pollinator activity may get ahead of the ability to mow.”
According to Johnson, being “lazy” about lawn maintenance by mowing every two to three weeks can help save two precious commodities – time and money – but it also gives clover, dandelions and other yard flowers the chance to bloom. She also suggests protecting low-growing flowers from the summer heat by mowing grass at a higher setting in July and August to ensure there are plenty of food resources available for bees and other pollinators.