No-Mow May for Birds and Bees!

April 28, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Martina Rowley

As spring is finally springing slowly—with the first flowers, like crocus, and soon daffodils and tulips colouring the boring brown and barely green ground—we are still a long way from a lush and long lawn. While the month of May will allow avid gardeners to start planting the first hardy vegetables and plants, this year, please leave your lawnmower in the shed or garage until June! Here is why.

In May, when the sun starts warming up the ground and it is safe for all the helpful little insects to come out of their shelters, there is not much for them to eat yet. Daffodils and tulips don’t really do it for bees; what they need are flowers with lots of juicy nectar and pollen—and there’s an initiative for that.

No-Mow May Lawns for Bees: Launched in the UK in 2019, the nationwide No Mow May initiative calls on gardeners to delay the first few lawn cuts until June. It serves to help wild pollinators survive until more of their food is more widely available, e.g. flowers, flowering weeds and flowering fruit trees. We can all do our part to prevent further loss of the already declining bee population in Canada and worldwide, which is due to habitat loss and degradation. In this country, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Greenpeace are pushing for No-Mow May, suggesting we delay our first lawn-mowing activities until June. This helps bees and other pollinators tremendously and by extension helps birds and the human food chain and ecosystem as well.

By letting wild-flowers bloom on your lawn, including the dreaded but so delicious dandelions, you can provide an important food source for pollinators. The problem with large areas of lawns is that they are terrible in terms of biodiversity and usefulness for wildlife species.

Bees and butterflies are the most familiar insect pollinators, while moths, flies, beetles and ants play an important role too. In recent years, there has been a sharp decline in many pollinator species—especially bees but also numerous butterfly species—due to climate change, habitat loss and pesticide use. Many of the fruits we buy or grow in our own gardens, including strawberries, apples and melons, depend on pollination by wild insects.

If you cannot quite get yourself to avoid mowing at all in May, then at least delay the first mow as long as possible, mow less often and more slowly. This allows insects, frogs and other tiny wildlife to hop or fly out of the way. If you have a dog or young children, send them out first to run around on the lawn and chase up anything that flies, so they (the insects) don’t get mown down.

You could also try “rotational mowing”, where you allow some patches of grass to grow and support flowering plants. That could look like a creative and pretty patchwork in your lawn! A UK study found that allowing wildflowers to flower can create enough nectar for 10 times more pollinators. They suggest mowing your lawn only every four weeks. I know that’s hard but once the summer heat hits, the longer blades of grass will burn and turn yellow a great deal less, or less slowly.

Why do we need these sometimes icky insect pollinators? Because they pollinate OUR foods as well. Without bees and butterflies, we would simply not have those delicious fruits from trees and much other produce that conveniently arrives on our supermarket or farmer’s market shelves for us to buy and enjoy.

Municipalities can also get on-board. Instead of monotone and costly, high-maintenance grass berms and roadsides (read: boring and useless), several European cities have stopped mowing municipal roadsides and started “rewilding” sections of their urban parks as well. One UK city, Rotheram, population 100,000, saved around $37,000 per year in mowing costs.

No-mow May Hay for Birds: On a larger scale, farmers can participate in an initiative by the Credit Valley Conservation to “Delay the Hay”. By waiting with the season’s first mowing until July 15, they can help protect at-risk grassland birds that nest in their hay fields. There aren’t enough natural grasslands in the Credit River Watershed, so these birds are attracted to breed and nest in old, as well as active hay and pasture fields. Farmers typically cut hay in late-May or June, which is also when ground-nesting birds, like bobolink and eastern meadowlark, breed and nest in the hay. You can imagine the consequences of a huge mower being driven through a field before the birds and their new fledglings have left their nesting grounds…. Every nest that isn’t mowed down will save two to seven baby grassland birds.

The benefits to farmers are that they can certify their hay as bird-friendly by registering at before May 1st. It gives farmers the opportunity to offer a niche, marketable product that also demonstrates their environmental commitment. The CVC’s year-long campaign goal was to have 400 acres enrolled by May 2022 – right now, they need just another 100 acres registered to meet, or hopefully exceed, their goal. Currently, they have 16 farmers and 19 properties signed up.

I definitely prefer a sprinkling of colourful wildflowers in my lawn. Now I just need to convince my landlord why I want him to leave the lawn alone a little longer.

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