Any point to “No Mow May”?

The City's No Mow May campaign poster

Some residents in Kingston have been letting their lawns grow wild throughout the month of May as part of the “No Mow May” movement.

It’s an idea that has been wholeheartedly adopted by the City of Kingston and City Council, with online campaigns encouraging residents to leave their lawns untouched throughout the month of May in an effort to increase pollinator-friendly habitats throughout Kingston’s urban setting.

It’s something that falls in line with Kingston’s environmental goals and is incredibly simple for people to be a part of, but experts say the science doesn’t point towards creating the pollinator haven many participants have come to be convinced of.

Dr. Jannice Friedman, Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology, says the initiative has been a beneficial idea in the UK – but this is not the UK.

Unmowed North American lawns are typically just not yielding the native species pollinators actually need.

“Not mowing really allows those native weeds to thrive and feed the local bee populations,” Friedman said.

“The problem in North America and certainly eastern Ontario where we live in particular is that most of our weedy species are non-native or worse, they’re invasive species.”

The most commonly seen weed in lawns, dandelions, only hold about 15% protein content in their pollen, whereas native species of willows for example carry 40% protein content.

Dandelions are also allelopathic which means they have chemical properties that interfere with the growth of other pollen.

“So when bees pickup dandelion pollen and then visit a native plant and deposit some of that dandelion pollen it can actually have detrimental effects,” Friedman said.

In addition, our seasons are not aligned with the UK, and the majority of our native bee species won’t even be active until the warmer months.

Ultimately, the scientific evidence just isn’t there to support not mowing in May being very beneficial to native plants or bee species.

That doesn’t mean that overall avoiding or limiting mowing is a bad thing, and there are benefits to avoiding mowing like lack of noise pollution and generally countering the general aesthetic of desiring perfectly manicured, green lawns.

Dr. Friedman says people just shouldn’t get the idea that they’ve done their part by literally not doing anything.

“Not mowing lawns in general is actually a good thing, it’s not that lawns are better than dandelions, our lawns are pollinator deserts as well,” Friedman said.

“I think the problem is it gives people a false sense of having done something positive for the local ecosystem or biodiversity… Sort of patting themselves on the back that they didn’t mow their lawn for the month of May but they haven’t really helped.”

Dr. Friedman says if you really want to help local biodiversity and pollinators, replacing some or all of your lawn with seeds for native plant species is a good idea.

If the lack of work of “No Mow May” was the most appealing part, Dr. Friedman says you can contribute in the fall by simply not getting rid of fallen leaves and dead vegetation.

“If you’re looking for something to just not do,” Dr. Friedman said.

“Don’t pick up all your leaves and leave some of that dead vegetation around for insects.”

In February, City Council voted in favour of a motion presented by Councillor Tozzo that would see the city encourage “No Mow May” alongside the Kingston Frontenac Rotary Club who have provided signs to interested residents.

Council directed the City of Kingston to use social media and other platforms to promote and educate the community about the benefits of “No Mow May”.

Queen’s Associate Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Ecological Genomics Dr. Robert Colautti says there’s more effective ways the city could have promoted pursuing this goal, they just may not have been as catchy.

“There are other and better ways to promote biodiversity,” Colautti said.

“It’s kind of like a really simple solution but there are better ways that are not as easy to communicate as a kind of catchy slogan.”

The city says its promotion and communication of the No Mow May movement hasn’t costed the city any money.

The movement’s effectiveness in Canada has been questioned by experts at other universities along with those from Queen’s.