May is around the corner, and with it the quandary: No mow or yes mow.

Some environmental groups, like Midwest Grows Green and the Xerces Society, recommend parking your mower during May to provide early forage for insects and birds. Hoverfiles and bumblebees need nectar and migratory sparrows need seeds in spring, so the organizations say don’t chop off blooms with early season mowing.  

A crucial reason to leave your grass unmowed is for humans (and the planet): a special social science experiment. The questions to answer: How well do we like our lawns, and are they the best we can do?  

Credit: Climate Action Evanston

We are past the due date to reconsider lawns. Turfgrass, our largest irrigated crop by far, costs us 30% or more of municipal fresh water supplies, synthetic fertilizers and chemicals are applied at many times the rate farmers apply, and powered equipment cuts off any nectar, seed or pollen that would otherwise feed wildlife – all for a monoculture of nonnative grasses that drastically displaces green space for nature.

Lawns started as an emblem of privilege on European estates where they required a laboring class to maintain their manicure, and now we accept them as a suburban standard. All this is terrible for the planet, wasteful and even toxic.

Love or hate “No Mow May,” it encourages us to rethink the culture of lawns. What are we doing with lawns? What is our neighbor doing? Why? Is there a better way? All good questions. If your neighbor’s lawn bothers you, start a conversation. 

Options for improvement

What should we be doing? Should is a charged word. But for the planet, here are three options to improve on lawns: 

  • Shrink your lawn. Plant a tree, shrub or pollinator garden in place of lawn. Native plants are critical for native insects, with which they coevolved, so choose native.  They need watering to get established, but after that only in extended dry spells.  No synthetic fertilizers, mowers or blowers needed.
  • Use no-mow grasses. No monoculture is great for nature. But you can at least park the mowers and blowers and reduce the watering by planting short native grasses, like buffalo grass, or the nonnative no-mow mixes from places like, or
  • Mow less often. If you mow weekly, mow every other week or less. Let low growing violets and clover bloom and feed pollinators. 

Won’t I get ticketed? The Evanston City Council voted to start enforcing its mowing ordinance May 15. If you do get ticketed in late May, you can mow immediately or see if there is a grace period till the end of May.

Not mowing makes me sad. Sad is not OK. We should at least find joy in our own gardens. I absolutely love to see the color and buzz in my garden. Not mowing is, of course, voluntary. If you are happier mowing, there is room for you too. Mow.

Check out No Mow May in Evanston here.

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