Mike Uncorked: No Mow May!

BEES and Thank You
Mike Butler

Can I have a show of hands: who likes to mow their lawn? Okay, there are a few of you out there but the majority find it to be tedious, sweaty, tiring work that eats up your weekend and makes your allergies act up. Let me save you some trouble and introduce you to No Mow May!

Some choose to put a lot of work into a lawn. There can be liming, fertilizing, raking, aerating, patching, re-seeding, mowing, rolling, edge trimming and watering. In addition, there can be weeding and pest destruction by herbicides and pesticides respectively, hopefully in an environmentally-sound manner. And as much as it is great to be outside the house, and as much as gardening and
yard work is great exercise and therapeutic, let’s pause and ponder the effects of shifting your mowing obsessions, or as I call it: MOW C. D.!

There are positives to lawns. A small neatly kept area of pure green can be a wonderful foil for colorful flower beds. However, there are negatives to lawns. Clearly the “perfect, weed-free” lawn does little, if anything, to promote
life on our planet.

A question for environmentalists is how to promote the switch from a sterile, manicured lawn to something more like a meadow that provides and supports life. The No Mow May movement started in the UK and sought to facilitate such a transition by educating and changing the minds of those who clear-cut the lawn. The movement is gaining traction in the Maritimes, thus the town councils of Moncton and Sackville, New Brunswick both lent their support in 2021. The idea behind the No Mow May movement is to let early-flowering wild plants (especially dandelions) grow in lawns and elsewhere. In this manner, essential food is on hand at the time when hungry native bees, butterflies and insects are emerging.

The No Mow May movement is a worthy initiative. The movement has really got the conversation going and has caused a seismic shift in attitudes. A concern with No Mow May is that we are importing a European solution in an attempt to solve a Canadian problem. That wouldn’t matter if the climate and
growing conditions in the Maritimes and Europe were the same but they are not. Last year, an encouraging number of Annapolis Valley residents did not mow in May. What happened, in some cases at least, was that by mid-May the dandelions had gone to seed and by the end of May the grass was quite long. The relationship between the frequency of mowing, number of native bees and number of wild flowers is not straightforward. With frequent mowing there are few bees of any description and few wild flowers. As the frequency of mowing decreases at first there are more wild flowers and more bees. However, there is evidence indicating that, within limits, while the number of flowers always increases as mowing decreases the number of bees on those flowers eventually starts to decline, the suggestion being that native bees don’t like to hunt for flowers in long grass. In addition, climatic conditions are such that bringing the long grass down to something resembling a lawn at the end of May is a challenge for Nova Scotians that the European advocates of No Mow May do not have to face.

Perhaps the first step in strengthening the No Mow May plan is to match the timing and duration of a no mow period to our climatic conditions. There is evidence that if the start of the spring clean up is delayed till there have been 7 to 10 days at around 10 C, the unintended destruction of native insects will be avoided. By this stage the insects that emerge in Spring will have left their winter quarters, be they underground or in the stalks of dead plants or fallen leaves. Linking the no mow period to native insect emergence and to the blooming of flowers feeding pollinators would seem to be common sense.

I am very proud of those areas of the Valley that promote secluded pollinator gardens, created and maintained to feed the bees. It’s a great first step to helping the movement and to have a visual place to educate youngsters on this movement. Why not create a small pollinator garden on your property and promote it? There are some beautiful gardens in the Annapolis Valley designed to be part lawn and part meadow. Find them and show them off! We have, at our fingertips, the knowledge and advice of the Blomidon Naturalists Society. If you have any questions about what you can do to help, reach out to info@blomidonnaturalists.ca. Peek at the website, find your strength, make the change and, bees and thank you, enjoy NO MOW MAY.