Let it grow.
More than 70 towns across the U.S. have signed on to relax maintenance rules for property owners during the month of May as part of a movement meant to feed local bee populations for the upcoming growing season.
Called “No Mow May,” the initiative started in the United Kingdom and was later adopted by Appleton, Wisconsin, which became the first U.S. town to implement it in 2020. This year, dozens of communities across the U.S. have adopted "No Mow May" to encourage citizens to let bee-friendly plants grow in their yards.
“Pesky weeds like clovers and dandelions are like cheeseburgers for bees,” said Israel Del Toro, an assistant biology professor at Lawrence University and city council member in Appleton.
And Appleton has seen the bee benefits, Del Toro said. Since the project began, "No Mow May" lawns in Appleton showed a fivefold increase in bee abundance and a threefold increase in bee diversity compared to nearby parkland that was mowed regularly.
Bees are essential pollinators. Every year, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the U.S. and help farmers produce about one-third of all food eaten by Americans.
But global bee populations are in danger — factors such as habitat loss, overuse of chemical pesticides and herbicides, disease and climate change can negatively impact bees, Del Toro said. Globally, 35% of invertebrate pollinators, mainly bees and butterflies, face extinction.
“If we can do just a little bit to help bees by not mowing our lawns and giving them extra food, that can go a long way,” Del Toro said.
Without regular lawn mowing, homeowners also reduce the risk of disturbing soil for bees that nest in the ground, such as mining or leafcutter bees, said Relena Ribbons, an assistant geosciences professor at Lawrence University.
Less mowing has the added benefit of reducing local air pollution. Since most lawn mowers are gas-powered, they can emit significant levels of air pollutants such as nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and carbon dioxide.
Angela Vanden Elzen, a librarian and lifelong resident of Appleton, said she rarely saw bees around town growing up. Since No Mow May began, she has seen more bees than ever buzzing in Appleton’s lawns and gardens.
“No Mow May provides a way for us to help out our ecosystem with little effort,” Vanden Elzen said. “I love sharing the project with my kids. It started with honeybees and now they’ve grown more tolerant of all creatures — even spiders.”
Vanden Elzen’s 7-year-old daughter, Elora, said she loves participating in No Mow May with her community.
“I get excited about 'No Mow May' because we get to feed the bees,” Elora said. “And I like seeing all the bright colors in my front yard and seeing the bees buzzing on the flowers.”
In other towns, residents have expressed concerns about leaving their lawns unmowed. Jo Ann Litwin Clinton, the mayor of Orchard Park, New York, raised the issue of attracting ticks and rodents with unkempt lawns. Orchard Park citizens are currently debating whether mowing 2-by-2-foot sections is sufficient to encourage bee populations.
At the University of Minnesota, a group of researchers studying bees called the Bee Squad recommends practicing “Slow Mow Summer,” a method in which homeowners infrequently mow their lawns during summer, keeping grass moderately high. Elaine Evans, an extension professor at the University of Minnesota and researcher with the Bee Squad, said this strategy can help provide food for bees throughout the season — not just in May.
Matthew Normansell, an Appleton resident who runs Eden Wild Food, a foraging and wild food education business, said that "No Mow May" is an important part of the solution.
“It’s a first step in increasing awareness that our land and property is connected to the environment,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the answer, but it’s the beginning of an important conversation.”