From Dry January to No Shave November, monthlong challenges with catchy names can offer a chance for those looking to improve their physical health, mental health, or raise awareness for an issue they care about.
Now, there’s a trend that has been gaining momentum in the past few years among gardeners and environmentalists: No Mow May.
According to United Kingdom-based botanical charity Plantlife, the campaign encourages garden owners not to mow their lawns for the month. Pausing mowing is meant to allow flowers in the lawn to bloom and help early season pollinators, such as bees.
But how does it work, and what are the benefits of this challenge? If you’re looking to participate in the movement, here’s what you need to know.
How did No Mow May start?
According to pollinator conservation group Bee City USA, the trend was first popularized in 2019 by Plantlife in the United Kingdom as a way to support struggling pollinators.
Homeowners were encouraged to leave their lawn mowing machines alone throughout the month of May and allow their lawn weeds to grow and bloom.
How does not mowing help pollinators?
The idea behind the campaign is to increase flowers that native pollinators feed on, said Laura Rost, national coordinator of Bee City USA. In urban areas where there’s limited flora, bees might find difficulty looking for food, she said.
By allowing the flowers in lawns to grow, Rost said people can help create a better habitat for pollinators to find nutritious food sources.
“This is one way we can potentially help pollinators in the spring,” Rost said. “So many people think of honeybees when they think about pollinators, but there’s this whole wide world of native bees that need our help.”
Rost said pollinators play an important role in agricultural production, and with over 40 percent of pollinator species at risk of extinction, it’s important to find ways to help conserve them.
“We can thank pollinators for one in three bites of food we consume,” Rost said. “They need our help, and there’s so many ways we can help them by integrating pollinator habitat into our developed landscapes.”
What other benefits are there to the challenge?
From reducing air and noise pollution created by gas-powered lawn equipment to simply saving extra time spent mowing, there are numerous benefits, according to Rost.
“Some longer grass can benefit other invertebrates that we care about,” Rost said. “Like lacewings, which are beneficial insects, and fireflies, which are a real joy to have around.”
Why are people joining the trend?
Rost said the campaign is a way for people to locally help pollinators and spread awareness about the effort to conserve at-risk bees. Environmental stressors such as habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, diseases, and climate changes threaten many native pollinators.
“We need to spread the word because we cannot do this ourselves,” Rost said. “If we’re not talking about pollinator conservation, and helping our neighbors and elected officials learn what pollinators need, we just won’t get as far.”
She also encourages participants to put up signs on their lawns about the challenge to spread awareness about pollinator conservation.
What if you’re worried about your lawn looking unkept?
Although the challenge encourages lawn owners not to mow for an entire month, Rost said there are variations and that how someone participates in the campaign often depends on their area’s climate and location.
“Studies are showing that reducing mowing every two to three weeks can still increase pollinator abundance and pollinator species diversity,” Rost said. “So you don’t have to go for weeks to help pollinators in many areas.”
Rost also recommends people joining No Mow May keep an eye out for noxious weeds, nonnative and invasive plants that can cause damage to other plants and pose serious environmental threats. Learning about what kind of noxious weeds are found locally can help people to differentiate between flowers and an invasive species.
“I manually weed in the spring when I know I’ve got some of an invasive species that are of concern,” Rost said.
There are no strict rules to the campaign, and advocates understand why some may be wary of joining in. However, Rost said the month itself can encourage some to learn about pollinator conservation and act as “an introduction to pollinator conservation for people who may not realize their property can be pollinator habitat.”
“Growing grass a little longer alone will not save the bees, bees need much more than that,” Rost said. “But this is and can be a fun way that communities can start thinking about their land as a pollinator habitat and start experimenting in a fun way to see what works.”