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Mow or no? Some lawncare tips to benefit pollinators

A portion of a green lawn has been mowed, while part of it has been left long and dotted with small white wildflowers.
You can practice not mowing your lawn to benefit pollinators, but extend it past one month and they'll have wildflowers all season long.

The trend of "No Mow May" follows the logic that leaving your whole lawn unmowed for the month can help pollinators. The birds, bugs and bees will use the overgrown weeds and flowers as food and shelter. Instead of doing this for a month then mowing it all down, consider dedicating a small portion of your yard to pollinators for the whole season.

Home gardeners often want to aid pollinators by planting flowers, trees and shrubs to serve as essential nutrients for birds and bees. Another way gardeners can help is to let lawns grow by embracing "No Mow May." That's a practice that originated in Europe and means you forego mowing your grass for the entire month to serve as food and shelter for pollinators.

However, there are some drawbacks to the trend.

Some things that don't work with "No Mow May"

When you let your grass grow for a month and allow the wildflowers and weeds to pop up and flower, those blossoms provide essential food sources for pollinators. The downside is that, come June, if you break out your lawnmower and go back to a regular grass-cutting schedule, you're mowing down the wildflowers and weeds the pollinators have come to depend on.

Another bummer that comes with "No Mow May" is that all that tall grass in your yard could be harboring ticks. Those ticks can get on pets and people who walk through the tall grasses, and tick bites can transmit diseases like Lyme.

Lastly, a lot of flowers that bloom when you let your lawn go unmowed aren't necessarily the best sorts of flowers for pollinators. Some just don't have enough pollen in them to be beneficial.

Some practices to try instead of "No Mow May"

You can still embrace the essence of the "No Mow" trend and change it up a bit. First, select an area in your yard, like a side yard or backyard area — a section that doesn't get a lot of foot traffic — and dedicate that to be a pollinator area. This can be done simply but just letting the grass grow up and seeing what blooms.

If you want to intentionally plant some things, first designate a space, then layer some cardboard or newspaper along with chopped leaves, hay, straw and grass clippings. Cap it all off with some topsoil or compost and grow a wildflower bed using annuals, biennials and perennials.

That way, you're guaranteed to get some flowers that you know the pollinators like and will have all season long.

A question about growing quince in Vermont

Q: I'm wondering if quince can be a viable shrub or tree here. - Ursula, from New Jersey, now living in Vermont

Q: If you're thinking of the quince tree which is in the apple family, that grows the bright yellow hard fruits, it can, indeed, grow here. This tree grows the sort of quince that you cook before eating.

Also, quince, the flowering bush, can grow here and will be blooming soon. A number of local nurseries carry both sorts of quince.

Cleaning up the garden during "No Mow May"

Q: I want to follow "No Mow May," including holding off on cleaning up the dead plants from last year that might be housing pollinators. But I'm desperate to work outside on nice days. Is it okay to deadhead plants, if I pile them carefully somewhere? And what can we be doing in the garden this time of year while supporting pollinator lifecycles? - Caitlin, via email

A: It's a good instinct to clean up your lawn and gardens on a sunny day in early spring. And you're right, the pollinators have not yet all evolved and moved on from overwintering in that layer you left in the soil from last growing season!

If you're going to cut things down while you're cleaning up, just let dried and dead stalks and leaves drop and use them as mulch around the plants. If there are any pollinators still left in the stems or leaf litter, they will still be around your garden to help out your plants and will evolve into the adults.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send us your toughest conundrums and join the fun. Submit your question via email, to, or better yet, leave a voicemail with your gardening question so we can use your voice on the air! Call Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Listen to All Things Gardening Sunday mornings at 9:35 a.m., and subscribe to the podcast to listen any time.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.