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Walk Softly – Should I mow my lawn?

by Geoffrey Carpentier

People spend a lot of time and money trying to keep their lawns perfectly weed-free. I could not determine how much of our landscape is covered by manicured lawns in Canada, but in the USA, it is cited as over 40 million acres. That’s a lot of mowing, fertilizing and chemical treatments! But is there a better choice?

There’s a global move afoot, to convince us, if we don’t mow our lawn in May all pollinators will be better off. The genesis of the concept was the idea of, the U.K. based organization, Plantlife. The concept was simple, don’t mow your lawn in May, to allow early season pollinators the opportunity to find food sources in the spring.

However, the reality is, not mowing your lawn may actually weaken the grasses we cherish, while providing a safe haven for some pests. Such as mosquitoes and ticks which like to rest in long grass, waiting for a meal.

Allowing your grass to grow uncut for a month may result in weaker roots, as the energy is put into leaf development, rather than root generation. Deep healthy roots are essential to keeping grass strong when summer comes, while the availability of water may be reduced. Additionally, in most lawns, the ‘wildflowers’ which are trying to grow, are often not the best food sources for our pollinators, and, in most cases, provide poor quality food. Dandelions, for example, provide protein-poor nectar which is of little benefit to pollinators in general.

So what do we do about the pollinators then?

Reduce rather than eliminating. Consequently, mowing is a more valuable model to follow. Simply stated, don’t mow as frequently and don’t cut your lawn too short. Still, do this all season, not just in May. The benefits are immediate and profound, as the grass will be deeper rooted, stronger and healthier. Some shorter pollinator friendly plants, such as clover, can also thrive in this environment.

Pollinators will also undoubtedly benefit, if we simply reduce the size of our lawns and replace parts of them with friendlier options. For instance, if you have the space, consider not mowing an area of your lawn, all season. Create your own ‘meadow’ and species will thrive, naturally. The pollinators are already in balance with native plant species and know when and where to find the best nectar. So let nature do what it does best. You can enhance and encourage your meadow by planting certain species which produce high quality nectar at the right time, but make sure you plant and encourage native plants only. Ornamentals may be pretty, but provide little value to our pollinators, so choose wisely. This way you can enhance your garden with pollinator-friendly, native shrubs and flowers which bloom for long periods of time and produce protein rich nectar.

So what about the parts of our property we decide to keep as lawns?

While lawns don’t generally foster many pollinator friendly plants, they do produce oxygen and trap CO2. All good things as we fight climate change impacts. So allowing some lawn to thrive is a good thing. Studies show, reducing mowing frequency, to once every two or three weeks, produces immediate benefits to wildlife. This results in species diversity increasing, not only for direct pollinators, but for all insects.

In Ontario we have restrictions on the cosmetic use of pesticides, so we are already used to having some weeds in our lawns, but in other parts of North America, people are conditioned to think any weed is a bad thing. Plants such as violets, clover and wild strawberry grow well in our lawns, and generally don’t tend to overtake the lawn. Not only that, they have the benefit of providing food for pollinators.

So by altering our mowing cycle and allowing native plant species to thrive, we encourage these healthier alternatives, while still maintaining the appearance of a green healthy-looking lawn.

This is just scratching the surface of this complex issue, but hopefully it encourages you to try to make a difference in your own small way!


Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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