|A bunny contemplating my growing grass. Is he wondering about no-mow May?
Or is he contemplating a nibble from our just-emerging hostas which he also ate last year?
The Ann Arbor City Council recently adopted a resolution encouraging property owners to reduce mowing in the month of May, and making it legal for lawns to grow between 6 and 12 inches high. The resolution notes that “Pollinator populations and water resources are threatened due to habitat loss, pathogens, parasites, and widespread use of pesticides, including neonicotinoids and other toxic chemicals,” and “Research suggests that bees and other pollinators make use of less-intensively maintained lawn spaces.”
Thinking of the Pollinators
|A bee working in a flower in our neighborhood last summer.
We hope to do our small part encouraging bees, grasshoppers, butterflies, and other species.
Bee City USA is an organization dedicated to encouraging wildlife, especially pollinators, by cultivating flowering plants rather than standard, chemically enhanced grass. They write:
“The start of the growing season is a critical time for hungry, newly emerged native bees. Floral resources may be hard to find, especially in urban and suburban landscapes. By allowing it to grow longer, and letting flowers bloom, your lawn can provide nectar and pollen to help your bee neighbors thrive. Mowing less creates habitat and can increase the abundance and diversity of wildlife including bees and other pollinators.”
Note that the lawn-maintenance industry and a few other sources have published discussions claiming that not mowing your lawn is bad in several ways, including bad for pollinators (lots of trade-off info here). In particular, dandelions may or may not be an especially good source of pollen for bees and other insects, so if you end up with a big crop of them you might not be doing a good thing (excessive detail here).The arguments against minimized mowing mainly apply to very well-tended, chemically treated lawns, so I’m ignoring these nay-sayers.
Why do we have lawns, anyway?
The tradition of having a broad green expanse around one’s home began several hundred years ago:
“Closely shorn grass lawns first emerged in 17th century England at the homes of large, wealthy landowners. While sheep were still grazed on many such park-lands, landowners increasingly depended on human labor to tend the grass closest to their homes. Before lawnmowers, only the rich could afford to hire the many hands needed to scythe and weed the grass, so a lawn was a mark of wealth and status.” (source)
Washington’s vast lawn was one of the models for the American ideal of a personal garden space, first only for the rich, and increasingly for middle and lower-middle class households. By the end of the 19th century, lawns were common in American urban environments.
Throughout the 20th century, private lawns became more and more socially expected, and suburban housing developers created increasingly large lots to accommodate them. The expanding obligation of keeping up these lawns included possession of motorized mowing and trimming machines, use of chemicals for enhancing grass and killing anything that interfered with its growth, and devotion of personal leisure time to lawn care.
The result is that grass is the largest crop in America. The details:
“There are somewhere around 40 million acres of lawn in the lower 48, according to a 2005 NASA estimate derived from satellite imaging. ‘Turf grasses, occupying 1.9% of the surface of the continental United States, would be the single largest irrigated crop in the country,’ that study concludes. Conservatively, American lawns take up three times as much space as irrigated corn.” (Source)
Can we collectively free ourselves from the obligation to maintain our lawns? Or will climate change free us whether we like it or not? I guess we have to wait and see what happens.
Blog post © 2023 mae sander