‘No Mow May’ is everywhere, but there are local nuances
Chronicle gardening writer Christina Keys explores the merits of this latest trend
Over the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard of the “No Mow May” challenge.
The concept behind No Mow May is to delay mowing your lawn until June to allow insects to forage on wildflowers that would grow in the lawn during the spring. This movement was popularized in Britain, and in the last few years, has arrived here.
However, the movement is a bit misguided in the Canadian context, particularly in urban areas like Manor Park.
The purpose of No Mow May is to support pollinators early in the season as they emerge from hibernation. In Britain, there are commonly native flowers that sprout up from unmown turf that support bees and other pollinators that have co-evolved with those flowers.
In Canada, we do not often have native flowers thrive among non-native turf grasses. Instead, we have dandelions, crabgrass, creeping charlie, black medic, or other exotic species. Some of these can in fact be harmful to local ecosystems if left to take over or are simply unhelpful to local pollinators.
Bees need protein
For example, when our yards lack native pollen, native bees turn to dandelion pollen, which is too low in the quality proteins they need.
Tree pollen is the earliest food source for Ottawa’s native bees. In particular, native bees thrive on native willows, maples, and cherry or plum species. Early spring flowers include the stunning red and yellow wild columbine, prairie smoke, golden alexander, and woodland phlox.
Later on, critical flower species for local pollinators include asters such as New England aster or the shade-loving heart-leaved aster, goldenrods (blue-stem, zigzag, early, or showy), and sunflowers like woodland or pale-leaved sunflowers.
Less lawn is more
While No Mow May is a wonderful initiative for attracting attention to the needs of our urban co-habitants, the actions we need to take to support native bees and other pollinators are more complex.
Replace part of your lawn with densely planted native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses by expanding your garden beds. Plant wooly blue violets, wild strawberry, and sedges as low-growing lawn alternatives. Minimize spring and fall clean up in your yard to allow habitat for hibernating insects, amphibians, and other creatures. Remove invasive species such as dog-strangling vine, burning bush, Japanese barberry, periwinkle, miscanthus, and lily of the valley.
Mow and rake your lawn as needed, but reduce the amount of lawn you actually have to create critical pollinator habitat.
Our biodiversity crisis requires more from us than simply neglecting the lawn for the month of May.
Resources for action
- A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators by Lorraine Johnson and Sheila Colla, available at Books on Beechwood
- Free native plants and seeds from Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library
- Low cost seedlings of native shrubs, perennials, and grasses from A Cultivated Art with pick-up in Vanier
- Native trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses at well-established sizes available at Ferguson’s in Kemptville or at Ritchie’s off Innes Rd.
- Gloucester Horticultural Society Annual Plant Sale, Orleans Fruit Farm 1399 St Joseph Blvd, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday May 13 will have native plants