No Mow May
Don't mow no mo this mo!
Okay, so, pretend it’s still March because that’s when I started writing this…
The snow has finally melted here in my neck of the woods, and it’s so, so good to see the ground again. The white blanket has been pulled back to reveal…months of landscaping chores ahead! A thick layer of autumn leaves left on the ground to protect the vulnerable over-wintering organisms are sodden with snowmelt. Native grasses allowed to grow tall the previous year now form a tangled mat, stuck to the wet earth. And the perennials whose stalks and seed heads I left standing for the benefit of the winter birds and mice, are bent at odd angles, having endured a season of wind and ice. This weekend I rolled up my sleeves and started the long process of tending to this messy, muddy, beloved clearing.
Later, I took a drive into the nearby village and started to compare my “yard” with that of my townie neighbors. Their yellow-green lawns had all been responsibly cut and raked before the snows. Soon they’ll crank up their mowers and clip the first growth of the new year. Perhaps they’ll plant a new selection of annuals in their neat and tidy flower beds, maybe do some pruning of a shrub or two. In some ways, I’m envious. My personal aesthetic is very minimal; I crave cleanliness, orderliness, and organization - but I know I could never be satisfied with such a sterile relationship to my outdoor environment. After all, what would I do with myself if I didn’t spend every free day in spring kneeling in the mud, raking until my hands blister, and pulling ticks out of my hair?
As you might guess, I’m not a big proponent of lawns. I’ve been excited to see the slow but steady decrease in their popularity in favor of more interesting and eco-friendly landscaping. Americans consume trillions of gallons (yes, trillions) of water each year irrigating their lawns. This is especially problematic for large swaths of our country undergoing prolonged droughts. We also use millions of gallons of pesticides and herbicides, not to mention millions more gallons of fuel to run our lawn-care machinery. Lawns are slightly better than concrete or asphalt at mitigating water runoff and filtering toxins out of our water supply, but not nearly as proficient as a meadow. The more we mow our lawns, the more compact the soil underneath it gets. The more compact it gets, the less room there is to hold water, roots, and critters. So, in trying to keep your yard looking sexy, you might actually be degrading it further.
Lawns are also replacing millions of acres of would-be (should-be) habitat that could support a diversity of creatures. Not many organisms benefit from a monoculture of short, often non-native grasses. They become desert wastelands, forcing pollinators to travel great distances or stick to smaller and smaller ranges where they can get the sustenance they need to survive. This is especially taxing in spring when food sources are still scarce, but warming temperatures entice these creatures to come out and forage for an early meal. If they starve to death, so will we - there’s no way around it. This brings us to now, the first day of NO MOW MAY!
I urge any of my readers with a lawn to resist the urge to mow this month. Embrace the yellow dandelions and clover (or maybe like me, you enjoy coltsfoot, violets, and other spring ephemerals) because the bugs certainly do. And if at the end of the month you find that you’ve enjoyed the extra time and relaxation that forgoing the mowing afforded you, consider converting your lawn, or at least shrinking it. I’ve linked some resources below that explain how lawns became so ubiquitous in the first place, stories from a man in suburban Nebraska who ditched his lawn to astounding results, and tips for dealing with restrictive HOA’s, city weed ordinances, and old-fashioned neighbors.
The American Obsession with Lawns - Krystal D'Costa for Scientific American
No Mow May - Plantlife, UK
The Deep Middle - Benjamin Vogt of Monarch Gardens LLC
Looking for Lawns: Ecological impact - Rebecca Lindsay for NASA Earth Observatory