Natural Lawns and No-Mow May
See the following language from Fitchburg's Code of Ordinances regarding applying for a native landscape or natural lawn on your own property. Please reach out to Jack Pearson (email@example.com) with the Building Inspection Department, or Zack Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the Planning Department, for more information on submitting an application.
- No-Mow May Info
- No-Mow May Registration
- What You Can Do
- What Does the Research Say?
- Yard Signs and Social Media
Join your Fitchburg neighbors this Spring in the City's first pilot "No-Mow May" program. Common Council approved Resolution R-82-23 on April 11th, designating May 2023 as No-Mow May in Fitchburg and temporarily suspending the City's lawn maintenance ordinance until June 1st.
As more natural spaces are developed and wilderness increasingly partitioned into smaller and less contiguous parcels, many animal and plant species are facing pressures due to habitat loss and population fragmentation. For pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and beetles, as well as countless other invertebrate species, these developed spaces now serve as a vital part of their habitats, with property owners’ use of native plant species in landscaping and gardening an important source of shelter and foraging options.
Most Wisconsinites are familiar with the European honeybee, perhaps the most popular and well-known insect on the planet, but our state is home to hundreds of other local bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects vital to our local ecosystems and food crop pollination. Abundant food and shelter options help these species as they emerge in Spring, and providing native plant species offers the habitat they sorely need to thrive. For many property owners, those native plant species already exist in lawns, so providing habitat can be as simple as eliminating or reducing the use of lawnmowers for the first several weeks of Spring, allowing flowers to grow where normally mowers would cut them down.
From Bee City USA: "No Mow May, Low Mow Spring"
Lawns cover 40 million acres, or 2%, of land in the US, making them the single largest irrigated crop we grow. Lawns are mowed, raked, fertilized, weeded, chemically treated, and watered—sucking up time, money, and other resources. Lawns provide little benefit to wildlife, and are often harmful. Grass-only lawns lack floral resources and nesting sites for bees and are often treated with pesticides that harm bees and other invertebrates.
When we think of habitat loss, we tend to imagine bulldozers and rutted dirt, but acres of manicured lawn are as much a loss of habitat as any development site.
Re-thinking the American lawn can take a variety of forms from reducing mowing frequency or area mown to permanently converting lawn to a more diverse and natural landscape.
Why mow less in the spring?
The start of the growing season is a critical time for hungry, newly emerged native bees. Floral resources may be hard to find, especially in urban and suburban landscapes. By allowing it to grow longer, and letting flowers bloom, your lawn can provide nectar and pollen to help your bee neighbors thrive.
Mowing less creates habitat and can increase the abundance and diversity of wildlife including bees and other pollinators. One way to reduce mowing is by participating in No Mow April, No Mow May, or Low Mow Spring.
If you plan to participate in No-Mow May this year, please register your property using the online form at the following link. This will help us to track participation and impact of this pilot program, which may have an impact on program continuation in future years, as well as helping us estimate how many signs to produce for participants' yards.
What you can do during No-Mow May:
- Don’t mow your lawn for the whole month
- Mow your lawn less frequently, allowing grass—and especially flowers—to linger for pollinators’ benefit
- Increase your mower’s deck height when you do mow so that flowers can recover faster
- Don’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers
- Increase your use of native flower species, natural lawns, and gardens/landscaping instead of grass - dandelions in your lawn are okay but not really native bees' favorite; white clover is better, and natives like wood violets, red clover, jewelweed, aster, and milkweed are the best!
- Act as a citizen scientist, photographing and tracking species that visit your lawn
- Talk to your neighbors! Let neighbors know you plan to participate, talk to them about the importance of pollinator protection in the Spring and throughout the year, and see if they have concerns you can factor into your plans for the month. Maybe you still decrease mowing in your own yard but look to remove dandelions before their seeds begin spreading around the neighborhood!
- You can do all of these things (reducing mowing frequency, not eliminating it outright) throughout the rest of the year as well, not just during May! Pollinators and other invertebrates benefit year-round from increased use of native landscaping and natural lawns, and those reduce mowing and water use as well; and chemicals are one of the most damaging things to native insects beyond habitat loss, so look to replace their use entirely year-round.
On June 1, 2023, the lawn maintenance ordinance will go back into force, and participants should begin mowing their lawn again. As it is likely participants will have a larger volume of yard waste at this time than normal, making advance plans is advised. Grass clippings of 1” or less can be left on your lawn to decompose and return nutrients to the soil (clippings longer than 1" may smother your lawn), or longer clippings can be used as garden mulch or composted.
See the up-to-date curbside yard waste collection schedule here – note that there is a yard waste collection the week of May 22-26, with October 16-20 the next scheduled week. Grass clippings accumulated after that final full week in May can be dropped off with other yard waste at the City’s Recycling Drop Off Site.
It is also not recommended to cut more than 1/3 of your grass at once, to help promote grass health and avoid over-stressing your lawn and opening up more space for noxious weeds to flourish. Please consider this in your No-Mow May plans, perhaps ensuring you don't end the month of May with more than 11 inches of growth, so you can cut back below the 8-inch requirement by June 1st without damaging your lawn in the process.
Please remember that registration is required to participate, and discharging grass clippings into the street or public areas remains prohibited.
The article, "To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards," published in the May 2018 issue of Biological Conservation, makes the case for reduced frequency of lawnmowing supporting increases in both abundance and diversity of flowers and the pollinators that visit them.
Interestingly, the researchers found in their study of suburban Massachusetts lawns that a 2-week mowing frequency resulted in the greatest abundance of pollinators, but that lawns mowed every 3 weeks showed greater diversity of pollinator species, surmising that generalists initially dominate at the 2-week mark before flower abundance increases significantly at 3 weeks and more specialized species find greater foraging success.
This research suggests that waiting as long as 3 weeks to mow your lawn--provided you avoid herbicidal applications and some flowers are able to root successfully-can have a powerful positive impact on native pollinator species.
Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home: How native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens, provides substantial anecdotal data and numerous research studies supporting the idea that increasing the prevalence of native flora in our suburban and urban landscapes results in substantial improvements in population health of native animal species.
The basic premise of Tallamy's book is that native ecosystems have adapted with certain plant species as the building blocks, with everything from invertebrates to birds to reptiles and amphibians to mammals co-evolving along with those plant species to thrive in their presence. Introduced species can fill certain niches to some degree and thrive themselves, but it's native trees and flowers that are found to support the largest number of animal species as habitat and food sources. In order to support native ecosystems and the animals indigenous to our region, Tallamy encourages us to rethink the way we design human-altered landscapes, relying more on native plant species and less on manicured lawns and exotic flowers and trees.
Fitchburg provides opportunities for residents to follow these researchers' recommendations, with Article III (Property Maintenance) of the City's Housing Code laying out guidelines for property owners to work with the Building Inspection or Planning departments to create management plans for native landscapes or natural lawns, respectively.