Let’s face it – your lawn, with all the mowing, raking, fertilizing, weeding, chemical treatment and watering it requires – is pretty much useless.
At least that’s what a lot of people seem to be thinking about the flat, green sweep of turf grass that fronts most American homes. An entire movement of folks who rethinking the American lawn is – pardon the pun – cropping up.
People are abandoning their formerly manicured lawns for lots of good reasons. Here are just a few:
• Lawns take a lot of work. (Summer in Minnesota is short. Wouldn’t you rather hang out in a hammock than push a noisy lawnmower around?)
• Lawnmowers pollute our air. (Gas lawn mower emissions account for five percent of the nation’s air pollution, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency)
• Lawns suck up water (Keeping the total acres of lawn in America green requires three times as much water as irrigating all of the nation’s corn!)
• Lawns are pollinator deserts (There’s not much pollen for a foraging bumblebee in your typical turf lawn.)
People are giving up mowing in droves. The New York Times reported in March that entire city of Appleton, Wis. has declared May the month to put aside the polluter, and save some pollinators. At the urging of two college professors, Appleton became the first city in the United States to adopt No Mow May, with 435 homes promising to let the grass grow under their feet for the first four weeks of spring. The professors “studied the impacts of No Mow May on Appleton’s bees,” according to the Times article. “They found that No Mow May lawns had five times the number of bees and three times the bee species than did mown parks. Armed with this information, they asked other communities to participate. By 2021, a dozen communities across Wisconsin had adopted No Mow May. It also spread to communities in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Montana.”
The city of St Paul has yet to formally adopt May as “no mow month” but as an avid (and lazy) St Paul gardener, I have personally embraced the concept with enthusiasm. Last year, I mowed my backyard exactly twice. The result? A soft, cushy lawn that felt like a meadow underfoot and that teemed with tiny bees going about their buzziness (!) In deference to my neighbors, I still mow the boulevard in front of our house, but I am about to turn even more of that grassy strip into an easy-care garden full of native plants.
Does No Mow May sound good to you for a month, but not a whole summer? Do you want to keep some smooth grass for lawn games or an at-home putting green? No need to convert your entire lawn. Start small. Maybe just leave a little more time between mowings and set your mower height to three inches. This will actually improve the health of your lawn, by shading the soil surface, and making it harder for weeds to grow. When you do mow, leave the grass clippings right on the surface instead of bagging them up.
Ready for more? Consider a “low-mow lawn,” grown from a blend of fine fescue grasses that are drought resistant and only need mowing in spring and fall. Want to make pollinating bees happy? Mix your low mow lawn with seed for early flowering, fragrant and pollen-laden flowers like self-heal and Dutch clover.
For resources and lots of information on rethinking your lawn and No Mow May, check out beecityusa.org.
Frogtown Green is a resident-led and volunteer-powered environmental initiative in St Paul’s most diverse and vibrant neighborhood. For more information, go to frogtowngreen.com.
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