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No ‘No Mow May’ | Madison opts for ‘Low Mow May’ instead

Jane Witmer pulls the electric cord for her mower along behind her as she mows her lawn...
Jane Witmer pulls the electric cord for her mower along behind her as she mows her lawn Wednesday, April 14, 2010, in Seattle.(Elaine Thompson | AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 1:53 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The City of Madison wants to give bees an extra chance to pollenate this May, but that doesn’t mean residents can let their lawns grow all month.

On Tuesday, city leaders put their own twist on the ‘No Mow May’ movement cutting its way across Wisconsin by passing what they call ‘Low Mow May.’ So, while homeowners cannot simply lock up their lawnmowers until June, they will:

  • Only be required to mow once during May, rather than every 7-10 days
  • Be allowed to raise the mower height to four inches, rather than the 2-3 inches more commonly used

The ‘No Mow May’ effort started in Appleton a couple of years ago. The idea is to give homeowners the option of letting their lawns become a bit overgrown for a few weeks to ensure that bees that are coming out of hibernation have plenty of options for the nectar and pollen they need. Cities temporarily waive enforcement of ordinances that require homeowners to maintain their lawns.

Since then, the number of Wisconsin cities embracing the idea has been popping up like weeds. Madison listed eleven places where many lawnmowers are sitting idle this month, in its presentation explaining why ‘low mow’ would work better in the state’s capital.

A presentation to the Sustainable Madison Committee argued that cutting grass that had been allowed to grow for all of May would be worse for both the greenery and the equipment cutting it, citing research by UW-Madison Associate Professor Paul Koch. The grass would be harmed because cutting it after a month would chop off most of the plant’s photosynthetic capacity.

“The plants would likely survive but would be weaker and more prone to drought stress, weed encroachment, insect pests, disease pests, etc.,” the presentation contented.

As far as equipment, the slideshow states mowing longer grass increases wear and tear on the equipment, increases gas usage, and could clog storm drains. The next slide in the presentation offered two pictures, one of a median and one of a park, where grass had been allowed to grow.

A slide from the 'Low Mow May' presentation delivered to Madison city leaders.
A slide from the 'Low Mow May' presentation delivered to Madison city leaders.(City of Madison)

In addition to its arguments that a ‘No Mow May’ plan would be bad for the plants and for that first time everyone cranks up their mowers, the presentation includes a quote from a researcher with the USDA Forest Service, Susannah Lermann. She stated that a lawn that grows to five inches, which corresponds to mowing approximately every two weeks, “supported the highest abundances of bees, and the abundance was related to the amount of flowers present (e.g., dandelions, clover, violets).”

Lermann’s paper, which was published in the journal Biological Conservation, noted however that, while the bees in her research were more abundant in western Massachusetts yards used her research, the two-week mowing cycle also produced the least amount of richness and evenness.

In the resolution implementing ‘Low Mow May,’ the city celebrated gaining certification as a Bee City, according to the requirements of Bee City USA and reaffirmed its commitment to support pollinator health.

‘No Mow May’ cities listed in Madison presentation
  • De Pere
  • Fort Atkinson
  • La Crosse
  • Middleton
  • Monona
  • Oshkosh
  • Shorewood Hills
  • Stevens Point
  • Sun Prairie
  • Wausau
  • Wisconsin Rapids

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