Why you can stop mowing the lawn

An unmowed lawn with one dandelion By Ravennka/Shutterstock

Mowing the lawn. The weekly chore can be a meditative escape. More likely, though, you’d rather be doing something else. Now the Canadian Wildlife Federation is giving you a hashtag-worthy, and feel-good, excuse to quit a little early. Grow It! Don’t Mow It! encourages Canadians to set aside a portion of their lawn for the birds, the bees, and the butterflies.

“A perfect green lawn looks nice, but there’s no flowering plants and no habitat for pollinator species,” says Carolyn Callaghan, a senior conservation biologist with the CWF. “It’s a mono-culture desert.”

That’s a problem, because species that pollinate plants—birds, butterflies, and other insects—are vital to the food system and many are declining in abundance. Callaghan says the CWF knows of eight pollinator species officially at risk in Canada, but population data is lacking for most insects, and studies suggest anywhere from 40 to 70 per cent of insect species are in decline worldwide.

“Many of the things we eat rely on pollination by insects,” she says. “Even the grass that feeds dairy cows.”

The CWF’s goal is to create a “pollinator pathway” across Canada. Homes and cottages act as “stepping stones” linking wilderness areas. With more than six million lawns in Canada, small, unmowed patches could have a huge impact.

“If we stop mowing even a small portion of those lawns it will help recover species at risk, stabilize the soil, sequester carbon, and absorb more water into the ground,” Callaghan says.

An anchor of our yard culture, letting go of the manicured lawn will be challenging for some, she acknowledges. But she also says it’s just a matter of perspective. Take the dandelion, one of the first things to grow up among the long grass.

“We’re used to looking at the dandelion as a weed, but it’s also a pretty yellow flower, a great food for pollinators, and a medicinal plant,” she says.

After a few weeks of not mowing, other flowers will magically join the dandelions. Butterflies will flit about, bird song will fill the air, and the emerging meadow will buzz with insects. Within a couple years, the wild habitat will bloom with a rainbow of wildflowers from spring through fall, and a natural predator-prey ecosystem will emerge.

When it comes to the lawn, doing less actually does more, says Callaghan. “When you don’t mow, beautiful things can happen.”

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