Helping pollinators isn’t as easy as watching grass grow

There has been precious little publicity for No Mow May this year and we can all be thankful for that.

Last year I said that the well-intentioned but poorly thought-out movement would be ineffective at accomplishing its goal of providing habitat for beneficial insects at best and detrimental to it at worst. I only have anecdotal evidence, but it seems to land much closer to the worst case category.

One gardening friend from England (where the movement was created before gaining favor in Appleton, Wis., and spreading across the U.S. from there) reported having a nasty weed run rampant in her gardens when it had previously been controlled in her lawn by mowing. Local gardeners who participated or live next to people who participated last year say they have many more dandelions this year that now have to be controlled somehow.

Growing dandelions is part of the point of No Mow May, although as I mentioned last year, they are not a preferred food source for native bees.

My suggestion was to make other changes, such as changing a portion of the lawn to a native plant meadow, that would have much more of an impact than growing weeds and long grass for a month.

Not only do I still think No Mow May is an ineffective way to promote biodiversity, I now think it’s just a bad idea. And I’m not alone.

Two well-known environmental stewards both recently spoke out with similar thoughts on the movement.

Ecologist and entomologist Doug Tallamy, whose best-selling book “The Nature of Oaks” shed light on how the entire ecosystem depends on oak trees for survival and habitat, told the Wall Street Journal that letting lawns grow long, then reverting to a clipped monoculture is akin to “teasing pollinators with short-term snacks followed by starvation.”

Ohio garden designer and author Benjamin Vogt, who wrote the book “A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future,” had stronger words to offer about No Mow May.

“If we’re not working smartly with a plant and a design goal, then we’re just being lazy and ideologically polarizing for no reason,” Vogt wrote on his website “That’s not helpful or neighborly.”

A lawn left to its own devices looks weedy quickly, allows invasive species to establish and tree seeds to potentially take over, he wrote.

And Vogt doesn’t buy into the idea of easing people into actively promoting biodiversity by giving them an easy way out.

“As for anyone who argues ‘baby steps,’ well, adults should be taking adult steps, similarly full of big dreams, big hopes, big risks and big faith.”

If creating a more biodiverse environment were as simple as kicking back with your feet up and a beer in hand to watch the lawn grow, we probably would have done it a long time ago. Maybe it’s time we stop making hard things sound easy and convince people its worth the hard work anyway.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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