I suspect most people have heard or read somewhere that it’s No Mow May. The idea of a No Mow May was first promoted in England in 2019 and a year later the concept took root in the United States in Appleton, Wisconsin as a strategy to counter the decline bee populations. This is of great concern as it is estimated that 75% of global food crops and 35% of global agricultural land depend on bees and other pollinators. By forgoing mowing, not only does grass grow, but also other plants, many of which are considered weeds by most people.
There was a time, many years ago, when my turf care goal was to achieve a look comparable to Fenway Park’s center field. Although I have never applied herbicides, I have dug up dandelions and plantains and made annual applications of lawn fertilizer. Everything was futile. Our lawn never achieved the Fenway look and I also began to appreciate violets, clovers, blueberries and a myriad of other flowering “weeds”.
For those who may be embarrassed to be perceived as careless or lazy due to lack of lawn maintenance, No Mow does not mean No Mow Forever. In studies by USDA Forest Service scientists just down the Pike in Springfield, mowing a lawn once every two weeks was found to actually increase the bee population. This was largely due to the growth of dandelions, clovers, violets and other plants that many perceive as “weeds” when found in their lawn. On the other hand, although mowing every three weeks more than doubled the number of flowers available in lawns and increased bee diversity, overall bee abundance was lower compared to the every two weeks strategy.
There are other benefits to reducing mowing frequency. Some of the “weeds” contribute to soil health. Dandelions, on the other hand, have deep taproots that help reduce soil compaction, aerate the soil, and absorb many nutrients that eventually become available to grasses.
Other healthy lawn care practices include avoiding cutting the grass too low, which is called scalping. For most grass species, the ideal cutting height is 3 inches. Also, leave the clippings in place after mowing. The clippings are rich in nitrogen. On the other hand, if the clippings accumulate on the lawn and risk choking the grass, rake the clippings and add them to the compost pile.
While the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, yours may be healthier for the environment and the bee population if it has a color palette.
Gypsy moth (formerly called gypsy moth) caterpillars have hatched and will climb trees to feed on the foliage. Scrape as many as you can into a bucket of soapy water while they’re still within reach.
Here are some tasks to fill in the free time created by less frequent mowing:
- Continue to transplant frost-tolerant seedlings into vegetable and flower gardens. Despite the dramatic rise in temperatures this week, I will wait until the first week of June to plant tender vegetable seedlings, including tomato, pepper, eggplant and vine crops. I still remember the morning of June 1, 2009, when an unexpected frost killed all my tomato plants planted on Remembrance Day. There may not be another frost, but exposure to cool nighttime temperatures in the upper 30s and 40s will stunt their development.
- Apply a water-soluble, i.e. high phosphorus, fertilizer when planting seedlings. This reduces transplant shock by stimulating rapid root development.
- Make the first planting of sweet corn. By the time the corn arrives, we hope to be past the danger of frost.
- Save the eggshells. After drying, crush the shells and spread them around the seedlings in the gardens. This will discourage cutworms from attacking seedling stalks. Wood ash scraped into the soil around seedlings is another cutworm deterrent.
- Plant a blueberry bush or two among landscape plantings. Not only will they provide fruit for picking, but the brilliant red fall foliage will grace the fall landscape.
- Consider Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) as an alternative to Japanese pachysandra when looking for a ground cover in shady areas of the yard. It is much less invasive and tolerates pachysandra blight better than the Japanese species. Where Japanese pachysandra is already growing, thin out the planting, especially removing those with withered leaves.
- Wait until the leaves of early-flowering bulbs turn yellow before pruning them. Fill empty spaces in flower borders where bulbs have bloomed and sow seeds of annuals such as ageratum, cosmos, lobelia, marigolds, nasturtiums and petunias.
- Check potted herbs such as rosemary and sage for aphids and spider mites. They are most commonly found on the undersides of leaves, the tips of sitting stems and, in severe infestations, along the stems. Control pests by applying neem oil or insecticidal soap. Another option is to throw (technical term for whirlpool) the infested plant in a dish soap solution. Let the plants sit for 15 minutes, then rinse with clean water.