No Mow May is a First Step

Violets (image by Nunya Carley on

Ahhhhh. . . the smell of fresh cut grass! At the end of April, we invited residents to help out pollinators by joining a campaign called “No Mow May.” The idea was to let the dandelions and violets grow in our lawns so that the bees and butterflies would have flowers for foraging nectar and pollen until more flowers were blooming. 

Many of you tried it out and discovered it was really hard to do as the grass got longer and longer–in some spots growing to over a foot tall! Some of you even received a 5 day warning from the City for having grass taller than 6 inches. (We are SO sorry!! If that happened to you.)

Now that the lawn mowers have been put to use again (and your neighbors are breathing a sigh of relief) let’s reflect on this experience. What was gained through the exercise of letting our lawns go for a few weeks? How much did it help our beloved pollinators?

It turns out that one month of letting the lawn go wild does help, but it isn’t the full story or solution to the problem of declining pollinators. 

What did we accomplish?

It’s possible that the most important thing that No Mow May might have accomplished was that it caused us to pause in our normal routine of lawn care. It invited us to look a little more carefully to see what else might grow there. It contributed to a much needed conversation about the need to reevaluate our relationship to our lawn, that our lawns don’t have to be a golf course—that is a good thing. We were excited to see that some people felt relief, affirmation and a sense of freedom.

Hopefully, out of this No Mow May experience, these overarching questions will continue to be present to us: What is the value of a lawn? How do we tend to our yards in the most ecologically sound way? If you’ve been hanging around with Rochester Pollinators for a while, then you know that increasing habitat by growing a variety of Michigan native plants is one of the best ways we can support pollinators in our neighborhoods. Our lawns take up a considerable amount of our suburban landscape. 

Considering a change in the way you approach your lawn, is a very good idea from an ecological perspective. Weed-free lawns are deserts for pollinators. Pesticides and herbicides kill insects–and they affect water quality, which is also a concern.  

Changing your lawn to help pollinators

White clover (Trifolium repens), a herbaceous perennial plant,
can improve soil fertility in lawns,
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Here are some simple things you can try if you are wondering about what to change:

  • Reduce the size of your lawn by making a border garden full of flowering native plants. They require very little maintenance because they are adapted to living here naturally.
  • Use native groundcovers, like bearberry, wild ginger or wintergreen to replace areas of your lawn. They add interesting texture and all have unique flowers and berries.
  • Rethink the value of a perfect lawn. Stop treating with pesticides and herbicides. If letting go of uniformly green, weed-free grass feels like too much of a stretch, perhaps consider only treating your front lawn and letting the back become more natural, still cutting but not treating.
  • Seed your lawn with white clover. It is green and close to the ground, and it has small white flowers that feed the bees. Additionally, clover is a nitrogen fixing legume, so it is a free and natural way to fertilize once it is established.

Additionally, see this recent Detroit Free Press article: No Mow May catches on in metro Detroit: How it helps pollinators

Keep growing the vision . . .

In the end, pollinators were helped a little bit by taking a break from mowing during the  month of May, but there is always more that we can do toward restoring an ecological balance that has really been compromised by human activity. Opening our eyes to see something in a different way that we often take for granted, is an important shift in perspective. If you decide to try one of the suggestions above, make sure you share with your neighbors what you are doing and why. Spread the word and increase the impact of your actions. Every little thing we do can make a difference.

Thank you to all who participated and we look forward to a beautiful pollinator filled gardening season!

If you received a warning from the city, bring it to the Rochester Pollinator tables at the Downtown Rochester Farmers Market on June 11 or 18, and we will let you choose something from our swag table for free!

The following corrections have been made as of June 3:

  • White clover (Trifolium replens) is a Eurasian introduced species, not native. It has benefits to pollinators, adds soil nutrients and is helpful if a lawn seems necessary in your yard. A baby step we can take to help out pollinators!
  • The three native groundcovers mentioned above (bearberry, wild ginger and wintergreen) are replacements for segments of lawn, not meant to be interspersed within the lawn. The original wording incorrectly suggested mixing it in. There is now a link connected to a DNR publication about "Grasses and Groundcovers" in that segment.

Eastern Bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) on white clover
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0