I suspect that most people have heard or read somewhere that this is 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 U.S. in Appleton, Wis., as a strategy to counter a decline in bee populations. This is of serious concern since it’s estimated that 75 percent of the world’s food crops and 35 percent of global agricultural land depend on bees and other pollinators. By forgoing mowing not only does the grass grow but so do other plants, many of which most people view as weeds.
There was a time many years ago when my lawn maintenance goal was to achieve a look comparable to that of centerfield at Fenway Park. Though I never applied herbicides, I did dig out dandelions and plantains, and made annual applications of turf grass fertilizer. It was all futile. Our lawn never achieved the Fenway look and I also began to enjoy the violets, clover, bluets, and a myriad of other flowering “weeds”.
For those who may be self-conscious about being perceived as being neglectful or lazy due to a lack of lawn maintenance, No Mow does not mean No Mow Forever. In studies conducted by USDA Forest Service scientists just down the Pike in Springfield, it was found that mowing a lawn once every two weeks actually boosted the bee population. This was largely due to the growth of dandelions, clover, violets, and other plants that many perceive as “weeds” when found in their lawn. On the other hand, while mowing every three weeks did more than double the number of flowers available in lawns and increased bee diversity, the overall bee abundance was lower compared to the every-other-week strategy.
There are some other advantages to reducing the frequency of mowing. Some of the “weeds” contribute to soil health. Dandelions, for one, have deep taproots which help reduce soil compaction, aerate the soil, and absorb many nutrients that ultimately become available to the grass plants.
Other healthy lawn maintenance practices include avoiding cutting the grass too low, so-called scalping. For most lawn 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 are piling up on the lawn and potentially suffocating the grass, rake up 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 palette of color.
Spongy moth (formerly called gypsy moth) caterpillars have hatched and will be climbing their way up trees to feed on the foliage. Scrape off into a bucket of soapy water as many as possible while they are still within reach.
Here are a few tasks to fill in the spare time created by less frequent mowing:
- Continue transplanting frost tolerant seedlings to the vegetable and flower gardens. Despite the dramatic rise in temperatures this week, I’ll 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 of my tomato plants that were set out on Memorial Day. There may not be another frost but exposure to cool nighttime temperatures in the upper 30s and 40s will set back their development.
- Apply a water-soluble fertilizer, i.e. one with high phosphorous content, when planting seedlings. This reduces transplant shock by stimulating rapid root development.
- Make the first planting of sweet corn. By the time the corn comes up we, hopefully, should be past the danger of frost.
- Save eggshells. After they have dried, crush the shells and spread them around seedlings in gardens. This will discourage cutworms from attacking the seedlings' stems. Wood ash scratched into the soil around seedlings is an alternative deterrent to cutworms.
- Plant a blueberry bush or two among landscape plantings. Not only will they provide fruit for the picking but the brilliant red fall foliage will adorn the fall landscape.
- Consider Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) as an alternative to Japanese pachysandra when looking for a groundcover in shady areas of the yard. It is much less invasive and is more tolerant to pachysandra blight than the Japanese species. Where Japanese pachysandra is already growing, thin out the planting, especially removing any with blighted leaves.
- Wait until the leaves of early spring flowering bulbs are yellow before cutting them back. Fill in the empty spots in flower borders where the bulbs had flowered, 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, sat stem tips and, in severe infestations, along the stems. Control the pests by applying neem oil or insecticidal soap. Another option is to slosh (technical term for swirl) the infested plant in a solution of dish soap. Let plants stand for 15 minutes, then rinse in clear water.