The suburban landscape is known for its crisp, green expanses of mowed lawn as far as the eye can see and we’ve normalized this aesthetic as the desired backdrop to the neighborhoods in which we live. While lawns have an appropriate place in our communities, there are also some significant downsides to consider, including:
They are relatively ecologically sterile, meaning they provide little to no food and cover for wildlife, pollinators in particular.
Because turf grass has very shallow roots, lawns absorb and filter only minimal water during storm events, meaning that more polluted water reaches our creeks and streams with greater force and volume.
Lawns are expensive to maintain, requiring both time and money to mow and fertilize.
To bring awareness to this topic and support healthier ecosystems, many communities participate in “No Mow May,” where residents are encouraged to skip mowing throughout the duration of May (or April, depending on where you are located). Postponing mowing allows a variety of plants like violets, wild strawberries, dandelions, and clover to bloom in your yard and provide food to insects just emerging in the spring. You can even take it a step further by seeding your lawn with early-blooming plants.
Alternate approaches to landscape management offer a multitude of benefits, all year long. By simply reducing chemical applications and mowing, and allowing a variety of plants to grow in your yard, you create a place where pollinators and other wildlife can find food and cover. Indigenous wildflowers and grasses have deeper root systems than turf grass, and they absorb and filter runoff much more effectively, which helps keep our waterways cleaner and reduces flooding. In areas where lawns are not used for recreation or other intentional purposes, consider planting trees and shrubs, or a flower or vegetable garden – these similarly provide more resources to our local bee, butterfly, and bird populations. Indigenous plants with deep root systems are also much more drought and disease tolerant, and do not require the same level of watering, fertilizing, or maintenance that a lawn does, meaning you save both time and money.
Some people might think long lawns, meadows, and wildflower gardens look messy, but there are tactics to give naturalized yards a more managed look. Adding a visual perimeter to un-mowed areas such as low fencing or edging, or even mowing a narrow strip around the uncut edges demonstrates that ‘nature’ is being actively managed. Creative signage like “Don’t mind the weeds–they feed the bees!” can also raise awareness and educate passersby.
A challenge to the No Mow May movement is that many municipalities have weed ordinances that limit residents’ ability to allow their properties to grow more naturally. Residents in many areas are advocating to update these ordinances or their Homeowner’s Association’s rules to allow for managed, naturalized landscaping. For example, Springfield Township in Montgomery County, PA recently approved No Mow May for residents.
If you want to participate, reach out to your municipality or local Environmental Advisory Council/Board to inquire about No Mow May and local regulations regarding naturalized landscaping. Or, check with your landlord about adopting some of these practices. For resources on what you can do on your property to manage stormwater and support our local environment, check out our Take Action at Home page.