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No Mow May, a grassroots initiative first popularized by UK-based Plantlife, is gaining some popularity in the US. With the goal of creating a larger habitat for pollinators, the No Mow May campaign asks property owners to stop lawn mowing and weed-whacking on May 1st and let wild flowers—and even weeds—grow for one month.

No Mow May

Rusty patched bumble bee. Photo: Kim Mitchell, USFWS

Bee City USA, a Xerces Society initiative focused on sustaining bee populations, has taken up the No Mow May campaign stateside. While the concept has been adopted by individual bee advocates throughout the U.S, it has reportedly seen the most community momentum in Wisconsin, particularly around the town of Appleton, WI. “In 2020, Appleton grew to become the primary metropolis in America to undertake No Mow May, with 435 houses registering to participate,” reported the NY Times in a March 28 article, “In Wisconsin: Stowing Mowers, Pleasing Bees.”  That same Times article has since inspired a movement in Hartford, CT, according to an article published Monday by CT Insider, and Homes & Garden magazine published an article about No Mow May just this week.

Landscaper Perspective

While beneficial to bees and other pollinators, if the No Mow May concept were to grow, it would clearly present challenges for lawn and landscape professionals. LCOs could face financial issues with their primary work in less demand, but even larger, full service landscape companies could be affected.

Ryan Richeson, who owns Appleton, WI-based Appleton Lawn Snow And Landscaping said some his clients were among those who decided not to mow in May. “[It] does present a few problems. It makes it difficult to staff correctly because if we are cutting fewer lawns in May, then there is less work for our current crew,” he told Turf. 

In Richeson’s case, however, the campaign’s impact on his business has been minimal. “A lot of our clients have an expectation of a top-notch look for their property so the majority of our clients continue to have us mow their property in May.”

The First June Cut 

No Mow May

The properties of clients who do participate in No Mow May, though, present more than just a staffing issue. “Lawn mowers can struggle to cut thick grass that long—and it most certainly does not cut cleanly at that height,” says Richeson. “We also have a ton of clippings to haul away. More often than not, the client expects us to eat the cost of the extra time and they also expect the lawn to look perfect the first cut after May.” 

Often, multiple passes are required when mowing a lawn left untouched for a long period of time. Richeson comments, “Unfortunately when with double or triple mowing a property, the yard can still look like a hay field. And then that reflects poorly on us.” 

Mower overload is another potential issue. Excessively long grass clippings can become lodged within the mower, clogging it. While overload can be solved by slowing down mower speed, or repeatedly stopping to clean out clippings, it can make the job take longer than usual. An electric mower can also experience battery drain more quickly when faced with an extra-long cut. 

Richeson states, “Commercial mowers are pretty powerful and heavy duty compared to a lot of residential models, but grass becomes clumpy and hard to cut at around 6” to 8”. It does depend on how thick the lawn is too. Extra long/thick grass can put more stress on the hydraulic system and the motor. It’s really not too bad though as long as the operator is experienced and doesn’t try to cut 1’ tall grass in one pass.” 

Taking Action 

Brian Schwartz, lawn care professional and founder of the non-profit, I Want To Mow Your Lawn, recognizes the hardships many LCOs may face if No Mow Mays are enacted in their communities. As a result, his organization has put together a petition titled Fund Landscape Contractors during ” No Mow May.” 

The petition calls on local and federal government officials to join the conversation about No Mow May by sanctioning regulations and funding those affected. It states, “In order to get full buy-in and pick up steam, there needs to be some fixed income program in place for the month of May to provide FINANCIAL relief to licensed Landscaping companies who participate – at the least in exchange to not do any lawn mowing.”  

“These people have families to provide for and bills to pay,” comments Schwartz. “They can’t just go into lockdown and agree to not cut grass for their clients without some stipend in place — especially if one is living paycheck to paycheck or contract to contract.” He adds, “The only way to make [No Mow May] work for all parties is to have a program that pays licensed landscapers and companies who meet certain criteria, a fixed income during the month of May.” 

Besides the petition, Schwartz feels communication between all affected parties is crucial. “There’s a lot of moving parts to truly make [No Mow May] a regular, global mainstream success. The most important element is effective communication across many stakeholders for proper execution. Everyone has to be on the same page and buy into the concept,” he notes. By “everyone” Schwartz is referring not just to lawn care professionals and their clients, but to all interested parties such as government authorities, all residents, and even realtors.

No Mow May

Centipedegrass flowers contain pollen for bees. Photo: Dr. Shimat Joseph, Univ. of Georgia.

IF towns can give any form of slack during the month of May because of this movement—and the program can officially be communicated from top officials so that neighbors are also made aware of why there’s a month of no mowing next door—then this can be a sustainable success,” adds Schwartz. 

Compromise: From “No” to “Low” 

A simple compromise on the initiative may be found in Madison, WI, located about 100 miles south of Appleton. Madison’s initial “No Mow May” evolved into a “Low Mow May.” According to NBC15, “City leaders put their own twist on the ‘No Mow May’ movement cutting its way across Wisconsin by passing what they call ‘Low Mow May.’ So, while homeowners cannot simply lock up their lawnmowers until June, they will only be required to mow once during May, rather than every seven to ten days, and be allowed to raise the mower height to four inches, rather than the two to three inches more commonly used.”

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Middle Photo Credit: AdobeStock