NO MOW MAY
No Mow May!
An easy way to support native bees and create pollinator-friendly habitat in your backyard is to do nothing! We’re talking about No Mow May, an initiative to limit the mowing and clearing of your yard to promote healthy habitats for pollinators.
Bees are critically important pollinators to our local Southeastern Wisconsin ecosystem, and in the winter they hibernate in our yards: under leaf piles, sticks and branches, and in holes in the ground. If we clear our yards early, we may be eliminating these important pollinators before they have emerged from hibernation. A messy yard with last year’s leaves, stems and rock piles are a wonderful winter home for these essential pollinators. The other important reason to delay the yard cleanup every year is because our lawns naturally grow the resources that bees require to survive: including dandelions, clover, and naturally occurring spring flowers. If all we do is wait to mow our lawns, then bees will be given more time to have the food and resources they need to survive!
Make sure you check your local ordinances on lawn-height requirements and obey your city, village or town laws. If your neighborhood has such an ordinance, contact your representatives and let them know why it’s important to allow time for overwintering pollinators to emerge. Tell them why pollinators are so critically important to our yards and our wellbeing.
Remember, every yard is important and together we can all make a difference to save local pollinators! Scroll down to learn more about the science behind No Mow May, an endangered species supported by No Mow May, and other ways you can help.
Research suggests that our urban gardens and lawns are a valuable, dependable resource for bumble bee populations – just as much as rural green spaces! By planting and growing native pollinator-friendly plants you are directly contributing to habitat restoration for the pollinators we depend on. The more homes that participate, the more habitat we are able to provide.
In fact, a study conducted in Appleton, WI in 2020 found that homes participating in their No Mow May initiative had more diverse and abundant flora, higher bee richness, and five times higher bee abundances than in frequently mowed spaces (Del Toro et al 2020). These numbers provide us with a roadmap to helping pollinators in this critical spring season and all we need to do is put off the spring cleaning for just a bit longer. Even waiting a few extra weeks or days can allow more time for overwintering pollinators to emerge for the season.
Del Toro, I., & Ribbons, R. R. (2020). No Mow May lawns have higher pollinator richness and abundances: An engaged community provides floral resources for pollinators. PeerJ, 8, e10021.
Tew, N. E., Baldock, K. C., Vaughan, I. P., Bird, S., & Memmott, J. (2021). Turnover in floral composition explains species diversity and temporal stability in the nectar supply of urban residential gardens. Journal of Applied Ecology.
Support an Endangered Species!
Did you know that there might be an endangered species in your backyard No Mow Zone? The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee was placed on the Federal Endangered Species List after surveys found a 90% drop in population abundance. Previously, this bumble bee species used to be found in 31 US states, and has been reduced to 10 states in the Midwest region. Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois have been highlighted as priority habitat for Rusty Patched Bumble Bee conservation. There is still much we have to learn about this species, how they nest, and how we can conserve remaining populations. Go to the USFWS Rusty Patched Bumble Bee page to learn more about conservation efforts. Go to the Wisconsin DNR’s Bumble Bee Brigade page to find out how you can support community science observations and bumble bee ID.
Bumble bee conservation efforts Help the DNR collect bumble bee data
How else can I help?
- Limit or eliminate the use of pesticides!
For many years the traditional American green lawn has been viewed as the norm, but we’re trying to change that. The monoculture nature of the green lawn has little benefit for pollinators and biodiversity. Green lawns require constant maintenance and often will be treated with pesticides. Pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, are the greatest threat to pollinating wildlife including bees, butterflies, birds, and bats.
- Get in touch with your local representatives to learn how to change lawn-height requirements in your community for the month of May!
Many city departments and neighborhood associations have lawn requirements that limit the height of the grass in your yard. Because these rules vary depending on where you live, we recommend you look up the guidance in your area and contact your local officials to let them know how important pollinators are to our gardens. Join other community scientists in advocating for pollinator-friendly habitat and work to change lawn-height requirements in your community.
- Plant a pollinator-friendly garden!
You can create sustainable habitat and food resources for pollinators by planting a variety of native plants for spring, summer, and fall! Below are links to resources you can use to help build a pollinator-friendly habitat in your own backyard.
- Wisconsin DNR’s Native Plants for Beginners List (spring, summer, and fall bloomers!)
- Wisconsin DNR’s list of Native Plant Nurseries (List of where to buy native pollinating plants!)
- Xerces Great Lakes Region Pollinator Plant Guide (PDF)
- Midwest Grows Green guide to growing environmentally friendly lawns and gardens (PDF)
- Pledge to protect pollinators past May.
Take the Midwest Grows Green (MGG) pledge to create pollinator habitat and eliminate your use of harmful chemicals to pollinators. Pledge takers gain access to a monthly sustainable landscaping newsletter from our friends at MGG.
No Mow Zones
If you’ve recently visited the Milwaukee County Zoo, you may have noticed some areas around the Zoo indicating with signs that they are ‘No Mow Zones’. These Zones actually began seven years ago, when Milwaukee County Zoo Horticulturalists tried a new strategy for dealing with an unruly plot of land by letting it be. They replaced invasive plant species with low-mow grass species and created a self-sustainable plot. Over the years, hours of labor were eliminated, landscaping costs were cut and pollinators grew abundant in these zones. Some of the zones are filled with grass, some with flowers, all of them are bustling with bees, butterflies, moths, and birds. You can replicate this in your yard at home! By providing a smaller No Mow Zone plot in your yard, you can help conserve and support our local pollinators too.