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No Mow May is an international conservation initiative that encourages property owners to stop or reduce mowing in May to create habitat and provide resources for hungry, early-season pollinator populations, such as native bees. The initiative also brings awareness of the importance of pollinator species, raises interest in year-round pollinator-friendly landscaping and stimulates conversations about how the built environment can better interact with the natural world.
East Lansing, like most urban and suburban communities, has local code that regulates “nuisance lawns” and requires property owners to keep lawns mowed. Through the adoption of No Mow May and associated policy resolution, the East Lansing City Council has suspended enforcement of this ordinance for the month of May to facilitate community participation in the initiative.
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Around 80% of the 1,400 food crops grown around the world require pollination by animals, which include insects like bees. Pollinators also support the ecosystems that clean our air, stabilize our soils and purify our waters, but pollinator populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use and loss of food supply. No Mow May is a small step community members can take to help.
In early spring, pollinator food – nectar and pollen – can be in short supply within urban and suburban landscapes. By allowing lawns to grow longer, it gives a chance for the plants sometimes referred to as weeds (like dandelions and clover) to flower, creating habitat and forage for emerging pollinators and providing vital food sources at a time of year when these resources are scarce.
There are many ways to participate in No Mow May and residents are encouraged to participate in any way that matches their level of comfort and interest. Participation is voluntary and can be adapted to what works best for individual participants. Here are some examples of ways different residents may choose to participate in this community effort:
All of these approaches will reduce mowing and help local pollinator species. There is no wrong way to participate!
Registration is not required, but it is useful for tracking community participation. Submit the form here if participating and, by doing so, receive a free yard sign to show support for pollinators! Those who register, will receive an email when the yard signs are available to be picked up at the East Lansing Department of Public Works, 1800 E. State Road, or East Lansing Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road.
The No Mow May initiative does not apply to violations of City ordinance that affect public safety. Grass and weeds must be maintained to ensure an unaccompanied minor, a person in a wheelchair or a person walking a bike are adequately visible to a driver. Grass and weeds must not intrude on the right-of-way in such a manner as to create a hazard for pedestrians using the sidewalk.
Researchers with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Northern Research Station have explored whether bee-friendly, lawn-mowing practices come with increased tick risk. The study (referenced here) found that lawn mowing frequency in suburban areas has no detectable effect on the presence of ticks.
If residents still have tick concerns, they are encouraged to consider the characteristics of their lawn that may play a role in being more inviting to ticks and strategically select mowing/no-mow areas accordingly, or mow common walking areas as paths to limit potential contact. Tick habitat is typically found in the interface between woods and field, or where areas are moist and shaded and contain leaf litter. If a lawn stays relatively dry and exposed to the sun, risk is lower than in shaded, moist areas.
Mosquitoes love and need standing water. Their larvae and pupae live in water with little to no flow and reducing their access to it is the single most important way to reduce their ability to breed and thrive. Every week, empty and scrub, cover, turn over or throw out items that hold water like birdbaths, toys, small pools, buckets, tires or planters that they use to lay their eggs. Adult mosquitoes can use moist, tall grass as cover from the heat of the sun and protection from the wind; consider mowing spots that are most inviting to them. However, eliminating standing water will reduce the number of mosquitoes any time of the year.
As of June 1, enforcement of City Code that limits grass height to six inches will resume and not mowing can result in a violation. It’s important to have sharp mower blades, plan to use the mower’s highest setting and go slower than normal. If the lawn grew exceptionally high, residents may need to weed whack areas prior to utilizing the mower. Consider “mulch mowing” to provide nutrients back to the soil. The City will also be providing free yard waste collection at the beginning of June to collect bagged grass clippings.
Even though No Mow May will end in June, residents can keep the momentum going in other ways. Planting pollinator-friendly plants or converting parts or all of their lawn to year-round pollinator-friendly turf are some ways to help the local pollinator community the rest of the year. Visit the City’s Pollinator Friendly Community website for resources. Residents may also consider installing a native plant rain garden, which helps feed pollinators, captures and treats stormwater runoff and reduces yard flooding. Visit the City’s stormwater webpage to learn what the City is doing to improve stormwater management and encourage native plantings. Visit the City’s partner website for information on planting rain gardens and selecting native plants.
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