Discover the risks and lost opportunities of the so-called perfect lawn.
“Join us for No Mow May?” the email beseeched me. I almost skipped right past it since my husband Sean is our family’s designated mower. But, because the email arrived from the founder of a local animal sanctuary, I clicked it open with curiosity. The email contained a short but sweet message:
“I’ve just learned about No Mow May, an important initiative that encourages homeowners and businesses to let their lawns grow throughout the month in order to provide essential food for our pollinator friends! We absolutely love this idea, will be implementing it at the sanctuary, and hope you will join us.”
I was inspired, but I wasn’t sure how the idea would go down with my family.
Our Love/Hate Relationship With Yard Maintenance
Having been raised in the suburbs in the 1960s and an avid golfer in his middle years, my husband has long been on a quest to cultivate the perfect lawn. Year after year he is foiled by the slate bed which underlies our yard and by intrepid crabgrass. Plus, he has to deal with me constantly advocating for dandelions and suggesting that perhaps tending our backyard might be easier if we just mentally reframed the whole space as a salad bar for deer and tiny critters.
For many people, lawn care can be a competitive sport. On the flip side, a lack of care for one’s yard can cause conflict with neighbors who have differing views about neighborhood aesthetics. Luckily, the email provided downloadable signs from the folks at Pollinator Pathway that we could print and display to explain our messy May lawn to any critical neighbors.
Why Meticulously Groomed Lawns Are a Problem
While many humans idealize lush, evenly colored green lawns that are soft for bare feet, those types of turf bring lots of risks and lost opportunities. Lawns can’t filter strong water flows from storms. And they don’t provide habitat for other creatures. Maintaining lawns also requires a lot of water and often leads to people using chemicals that can leech into water systems. Plus, lawnmowers contribute greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. (The emissions from a typical lawnmower running for one hour are equivalent to an average gas-powered car traveling 500 miles!) Both mowers and gas-powered leaf blowers cause noise pollution, bothering neighbors and animals.
[Read: “The Extinction of Quiet.”]
The more I researched, the more problematic our yard became. Rewilding just small portions by mowing less of it could help create more homes for other animals. Planting bushes assists with carbon uptake. Expanding our flower beds with wildflowers might attract more bees and butterflies.
We decided to observe No Mow May, then adopt a lazier mowing schedule throughout the summer and a year-long organic lawn care strategy. The folks at Pollinator Pathway advised, “Studies have shown that lawns mowed every two weeks―or better yet, every three weeks―resulted in the presence of more bees and a wider variety of bee species.” These bees are crucial for maintaining biodiversity and vibrant ecosystems. A meta-analysis of North American and European data agreed that low-intensity lawn management makes good sense for bees, animals, and humans alike.
Our Top Ten Reasons for Becoming Lawn Slackers
- Frees up our time to do other things
- Conserves water
- Saves gas
- Allows growth of longer root systems that makes our lawn more resilient to drought
- Causes grass to grow slower overall
- Reduces noise
- Reduces air pollution (The EPA attributes 5 percent of U.S. air pollution to mowers!)
- Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
- Helps pollinators thrive since the tops of the low flowering plants they love and need aren’t snipped off by our mower
- Helps birds and squirrels (Dried up stems, leaves, and plants help make good nests!)
Resources for Reimagining Your Yard
Learning more about how our local habitats can thrive is also an act of interspecies compassion. Check out these books for more tips on cultivating a lawn that’s perfect for both you and your more-than-human yard mates.
- The Pollinator Victory Garden: Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening; Attract and Support Bees, Beetles, Butterflies, Bats, and Other Pollinators by Kim Eierman
- Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony by F. Herbert Bormann, Diana Balmori, and Gordon T. Geballe
- Lawns into Meadows: Growing a Regenerative Landscape by Owen Wormser
- Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants by Richard Mabey
- The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation by Fred Pearce
Want more wellness ideas for your yard? Explore 6 Sustainable Gardening Tips for Animal Lovers.