When Mayor Amáda Marquez Simula of Columbia Heights pointed out her “No Mow May” lawn last year, we didn’t realize it was an international movement to save and increase the pollinator population. Columbia Heights City Council this year formally adopted a perpetual No Mow May resolution. While the other cities in the Northeaster’s area haven’t done so, some people are thinking about it.
Hatched in the United Kingdom by the Plantlife organization (see https://nomowmay.plantlife.org.uk/), it simply means put off the first mow so that the plants that live in lawns, such as clover, daisies, selfheal and yes, dandelions, can flower and provide nectar for bees and other pollinators; a head start when later-blooming garden plants aren’t available. Insects hibernate in dry leaves, so delayed cleanup helps them emerge undisturbed.
Pollinators are a necessary part of, in fact, impact most of, our food chain. An Appleton, Wisconsin study found there were three times as many species and five times more population of bees in yards that were left alone, versus those mown.
No Mow May resolutions or ordinances aren’t mandates, they simply protect those residents who want to participate, from enforcement when neighbors complain.
In Columbia Heights, according to Dan O’Brien, Heights Assistant Fire Chief whose department handles outdoor inspections, “the height the grass grows to by June 1 really depends on the amount of rainfall we get. In my experience, I will guesstimate lengths anywhere from eight to eighteen inches.” (Nine inches is the city’s normal limit). He said in 2020 the city documented 60 tall grass/weed complaints, of which six were received in the month of May. In 2021: 86 complaints, 20 received in May.
“A quick scan of the complaints showed several having a note from the complainant stating something like ‘…owner never mows…’. No Mow May is not mentioned in any of the complaints. While it wasn’t officially observed, we tried to give a degree of latitude last year.”
In St. Anthony, Lona Doolan and another resident spoke about No Mow May at a recent council meeting. Retired Citizens for Sustainability founder Clif Ware said, “it’s a wonderful idea, it’s got to catch on” nationwide. Of course, it would have to be different months in different climates, he said. St. Anthony City Manager Charlie Yunker said the city doesn’t issue fines, but sends someone to talk to people who don’t follow codes. The council took no action.
Columbia Heights offers yard signs for purchase (printed in batches). “The yard signs are for educational purposes and to help residents inform their neighbors about why their lawn is not mowed (in case someone is thinking about reporting a violation),” said communications director Ben Sandell. More info and a link to the resolution, at: https://www.columbiaheightsmn.gov/community/residential_resources/pollinators.php
The Northeaster polled Minneapolis Northeast neighborhood organizations to see if the subject has come up at neighborhood meetings, and so far it appears it hasn’t. A search for “No Mow May” on minneapolismn.gov, the city’s website, came up with just one reference to advising mowing at a higher than usual height.
North Oaks, West St. Paul, Vadnais Heights and Edina are among the metro cities that have adopted language for No Mow May. Marquez Simula said she first heard about it from a friend in Edina, where currently 1,126 households have registered.
The Plantlife website suggests that mowing some portions of the yard quite short, after May, actually encourages more robust growth of some beneficial flowering plants within turf grass. (Plants tend to grow and spread to survive when wounded.) For that reason, Eric Watkins, horticulture science professor at the University of Minnesota, quoted on WCCO-TV, said not mowing could be a net negative for the lawn.
Marquez Simula said of No Mow May, “If anybody can have a moment to rethink their lawn, and be more aware of it as a habitat, it’s worth the conversation.”
Below: No Mow May lawn sign (Provided graphic) Dandelions and violets are good for pollinators. (Photo by Cynthia Sowden)