By Donna Merrill
Not everyone irrigates their lawn, and many avoid using dangerous pesticides and fertilizers, but everyone mows. It’s a fact of life in suburbia. It’s noisy, pollutes our air and water and creates yard waste. Yet we want to keep our lawn, which we see as an extension of our home, neat and tidy. Besides, many of us don’t have the time, the money, or the inclination to replace our lawns with wildflower meadows or butterfly gardens. So US Forest Service Research Ecologist Susannah Lerman has a suggestion:
Make your lawn “less bad” by mowing once every two weeks instead of every week.
We learned from No Mow May that a lawn left alone becomes a patch of flowers. In these patches is a diversity of wildflowers that support wildlife, including our native bees responsible for pollinating 87% of our flowering plants.
Dr. Lerman conducted a research experiment in New England over a 2-year period and found that a lawn mowed every 3 weeks has 70% more flowering plants than one mowed every one or two weeks, but that lawns mowed every two weeks had the most bees.
This higher abundance of bees contradicts the reasoning that more flowers equals more bees so for now scientists can only hypothesize. One thought takes into consideration that many of our native bees are about the size of a grain of rice, so perhaps these smaller bees cannot navigate through the taller grass to forage on the flowers in a lawn mowed every three weeks. More research on this issue is needed.
The Pollinator Pathway promotes rethinking your lawn to combat these monocultural deserts, useless to birds and bees. Mowing less frequently is one immediate step a homeowner can take to lessen the impact of their lawn. It also gives permission to the neighbors that they, too, don’t need to be so fussy. Just like NO MOW MAY, it’s OK to be lazy. Mow every two weeks for the rest of the summer. It’s economical, simple, saves time and pollutes less.