By Natasha Kassulke
When your neighbor’s lawn looks a little on the shaggy side, it might be for a good reason. We sometimes jump to conclusions without the facts. If we see a lawn that hasn’t been mowed to putter-perfect golf course green length, we might assume our neighbor is being lazy or their lawnmower is in the shop. We might wonder if they are on vacation or if they have moved out unexpectedly.
But maybe the truth is that the lawn’s lavish height is intentional. Maybe it is thoughtful. Maybe it is a creative way to address a serious environmental issue – loss of pollinators.
In our book, Planting an Idea: Critical and Creative Thinking About Environmental Problems, my co-author, Jerry Apps and I offer an approach for people to tackle environmental problems using critical and creative thinking.
No Mow May is one example we cite in the book for how apply this approach. We suggest that No Mow May is a bold collective action based on facts instead of assumptions. It’s an action that is based on acknowledging the critical connections between people and the environment.
Losing a single link in the natural network can create a domino effect that disrupts entire food chains. Bees pollinate not just our gardens but our agriculture for the food we eat. Bees are hardworking and productive pollinators, but the use of agricultural pesticides and habitat loss has caused their numbers to decline drastically.
No Mow May is literally a grassroots approach to supporting pollinators during a critical period in their life cycle, when bees that are coming out of hibernation and looking for the nectar and pollen they need. The goal of No Mow May is to allow grass to grow unmown for the month of May, creating habitat and forage for early season pollinators. This is particularly important in urban areas where floral resources are often limited.
No Mow May was first popularized by Plantlife, an organization based in the United Kingdom, but is gaining traction across North America.
Maybe pulling or whacking weeds in your lawn is therapeutic for you. You take pride in being successful weekend weed warrior. Maybe you are allergic to dandelions, or like me, you are allergic to bees and never leave the house without an EpiPen nearby.
If that’s the case, consider a compromise. Plant native flowers or allow growth only in parts of the yard. Plant flower beds or containers if you have a smaller space such as a deck or porch. If space allows, plant vegetable gardens with produce like zucchini that produce lush large flowers that bees and butterflies love.
It doesn’t cost money to participate in Now Mow May -- in fact, it saves money on lawnmower gas and herbicide application.
Supporting pollinators also supports the growth of local businesses including native plant nurseries and pollinator friendly landscaping. In our case, our actions are bringing our community together to learn about the value of biodiversity and to rally around a positive common cause.
A neighbor of mine in Madison last spring – a senior with lots of free time and a usually pristine monoculture lawn void of any weed or wildflower – let his lawnmower linger longer than usual in May. We worried. Was he Ok? Then one day, we ran into him outside and he proudly shared that he heard of No Mow May, then researched it, and after critical evaluation of the facts decided to join the campaign. The neighborhood was buzzing about the campaign – mostly from word of mouth. We joined in and so did several other neighbors on our street.
Now, we are not only neighbors, we are citizen scientists -- the photographer, the retired veteran, the teacher, the little girl with the Pikachu hat, the engineer. For us, No Mow May is not just about not mowing. It’s about evaluating our individual and collective actions and our connection to the natural world. It’s about bee-ing and doing better.