Imagine waking up after a long sleep and how hungry you'd feel. Now imagine the pantry was bare and you can't feed yourself or your children. Our pollinators face the same situation when they emerge in early spring to find that humans have tidied things up and mowed their lawns down to a short, green carpet. Sure, it looks nice and is the socially acceptable way to show off your home, however our pollinators suffer the consequences. Urbanization often causes the loss of some fragile native species that some insects depend upon. They may need the pollen or nectar, or in the case of butterflies and moths, they are needed as host plants for their caterpillars that require specific plants for their food. Wild places are becoming fewer and further apart and suburbia expands its reach every day. Diversity is the key to a robust population of insects and wildlife and there is nothing diverse in postage stamp lawns of perfect, one species turf.
No Mow May Preserves Diversity
Early emerging pollinators need reliable food sources and the movement dubbed No Mow May is taking root (pun intended) in many parts of this country and the world. The premise behind the idea is to wait until the first of June to mow your lawn. This gives some of the nectar-bearing plants that are unable to bloom at shorter heights a chance to flower and provide needed nutrients to our pollinators. Some cities and communities are even offering yard signs so you can show curious neighbors just why the lawnmower isn't running at your house. However, No Mow May probably depends on where you live. Here in the mid-South, it should probably be No Mow April, since we usually start mowing the last of March. We bale the first cutting of hay during the first part of June, so if we waited that long, our yards would simply be an overgrown field. The main idea is to promote diversity with varied plant life and offer our pollinators a larger menu with more options. Some plants adapt well to a shorter height. White clover, dandelions, and sweet violets all continue to bloom even when mowed and often it simply stimulates them to produce more flowers. Ox-eye daisies, red clover and asclepias (milkweeds) all need more vertical space to properly flower.
There's Wildflowers For Any Property
Even if an entire no mow lawn isn't possible or if your HOA has rules that mandate how tall your grass can be, there are still things you can do. Take stock of your property. Hard to mow banks and steep places in your lawn might do better and be safer, sown in wildflowers. Pay attention to the lay of the land. What part gets mostly sun, what part is shaded? Do you have an erosion problem? Is the ground rocky? Does part of it stay wet? Depending on the conditions on your property, there's always something that will work for the pollinators. The daisies, fleabanes, red clover and milkweeds do well in sunny conditions. Bleeding hearts, hostas (yes, they bloom) columbine, coral bells and bee balm all tolerate shady areas. Great pollinator-friendly plants for wet or boggy areas would be marsh mallow, yellow ironweed, ragged robin and yellow flag. Rocky areas are great for oregano (a pollinator magnet!) coneflowers, verbena and black-eyed Susans. For erosion control or hard to mow areas, use creeping phlox, anemones, golden ragwort and mist flowers. So, no matter what the conditions and the situation, there are pollinator-friendly plants that will work.
Native Plants For Seasonal Blooms
May is just about over and June on our doorstep. Even if you've already mowed your lawn this year, you can still help out the pollinators. The season is young and they will need food sources through the summer and on into fall when frost sends them all back to sleep. My personal favorite plants for pollinators happen to be herbs. They do double-duty since they also provide seasonings for the kitchen. Oregano and the mints are absolutely irresistible to honeybees and other pollinators. Just remember that these plants can spread at an alarming rate and are not suitable for small spaces. I have a large property and can let them spread as they please. If you need to contain them, sink a large container in the ground, leaving the rim a few inches above the soil line. The mints will be less likely to wander like this. Asters that bloom in the fall are also great. They even survive light frosts and honeybees will continue to forage on sunny days as long as there is food. They also love autumn plants like goldenrod and ironweed. A four season garden with pollinators in mind will help them throughout the year.
No Mow May Protects Wildflower Populations
If you live in an area where lawn mowers aren't in use yet, consider waiting a few weeks to help out the pollinators. The plants will bloom, provide food and then reseed for the next season. If they are sheared off before the seeds ripen, then we have lost another link in the bio-diversity chain. No Mow May is an idea that we should practice no matter what time of year it is.