Any point to ‘No Mow May’? Experts weigh in

The City of Kingston’s ‘No Mow May’ campaign poster.

Some residents in Kingston have been letting their lawns grow wild throughout the month of May as part of the ‘No Mow May’ movement.

It’s an idea that has been wholeheartedly adopted by the City Council and the City of Kingston, with online campaigns encouraging residents to leave their lawns untouched throughout the month of May in an effort to increase pollinator-friendly habitats throughout Kingston’s urban setting.

While it is something that falls in line with Kingston’s environmental goals and is incredibly simple for people to be a part of, experts say the science doesn’t point towards creating the pollinator haven many participants have become convinced of.

Dr. Jannice Friedman, Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Queen’s University, said the initiative has been a beneficial idea in the UK — but this is not the UK.

Unmowed North American lawns are typically just not yielding the native species pollinators actually need, she noted.

“Not mowing really allows those native weeds to thrive and feed the local bee populations,” Friedman said. “The problem in North America, and certainly eastern Ontario where we live in particular, is that most of our weedy species are non-native, or worse, they’re invasive species.”

The most commonly seen weed in lawns, dandelions, only hold about 15 per cent protein content in their pollen, whereas native species of willows for example carry 40 per cent protein content. Dandelions are also allelopathic, which means they have chemical properties that interfere with the growth of other pollen.

“So when bees pick up dandelion pollen and then visit a native plant and deposit some of that dandelion pollen, it can actually have detrimental effects,” noted Friedman.

In addition, our seasons are not aligned with the UK, and the majority of our native bee species won’t even be active until the warmer months. Ultimately, the scientific evidence just isn’t there to support not mowing in May being very beneficial to our native plants or bee species.

That doesn’t mean that overall avoiding or limiting mowing is a bad thing, and there are benefits to avoiding mowing, such as the lack of noise pollution and generally countering the more desirable aesthetic of perfectly manicured, green lawns.

Dr. Friedman expressed that people just shouldn’t get the idea that they’ve done good by literally not doing anything.

“Not mowing lawns, in general, is actually a good thing, it’s not that lawns are better than dandelions, our lawns are pollinator deserts, as well,” she said.

“I think the problem is it gives people a false sense of having done something positive for the local ecosystem or biodiversity… Sort of patting themselves on the back that they didn’t mow their lawn for the month of May, but they haven’t really helped.”

Friedman stated that if you really want to help local biodiversity and pollinators, replacing some or all of your lawn with seeds for native plant species is a good idea.

If the lack of work of “No Mow May” was the most appealing part, Dr. Friedman said that you can contribute in the fall by simply not getting rid of fallen leaves and dead vegetation.

“If you’re looking for something to just not do,” she noted, “don’t pick up all your leaves and leave some of that dead vegetation around for insects.”

In February, Kingston City Council voted in favour of a motion presented by Councillor Brandon Tozzo that would see the city encourage “No Mow May” alongside the Rotary Club of Kingston, who have provided signs to interested residents.

Council directed the City of Kingston to use social media and other platforms to promote and educate the community about the benefits of “No Mow May.”

Queen’s Associate Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Ecological Genomics, Dr. Robert Colautti, said that there are more effective ways the city could have promoted pursuing this goal, they just may not have been as catchy.

“There are other and better ways to promote biodiversity,” Colautti said. “It’s kind of like a really simple solution, but there are better ways that are not as easy to communicate as a kind of catchy slogan.”

The City stated that its promotion and communication of the No Mow May movement hasn’t cost the city any money.

The movement’s effectiveness in Canada has been questioned by experts at other universities, along with those from Queen’s University.

Owen Fullerton is a Kingston-based reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI).

One thought on “Any point to ‘No Mow May’? Experts weigh in

  • I thought the reason not to mow in May was to leave the fall leaf litter intact on your lawn for the Lepidoptera pollinators to erupt unscathed. Never heard it being about growing dandelions and other weeds!? I am surprised the biologists don’t mention the importance of leaf litter in addition to replacing a monoculture lawn with native species.

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