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Vermont town considers adopting No Mow May

Pat Bradley

A concept that began in Britain is gaining popularity in the U.S. The idea of following the principles of No Mow May was debated by the Town of Thetford, Vermont Selectboard Monday night.

The idea of not mowing lawns during May was conceived by the group Plantlife as a way to protect pollinators like bees, butterflies, grasshoppers and other insects that rely on early grasses and blossoms such as dandelions and clover.

The Thetford Vermont Selectboard considered a resolution Monday evening to adopt No Mow May for municipal properties. It led to a nearly hour-long discussion on the science and aesthetics of the idea. Chair Sharon Harkay says they are not trying to convince everyone in town to stop mowing.

“It’s not that we’re considering an ordinance about how lawns must be kept. This would be free will. But we do need to decide by the end of the discussion whether or not any of our town lands will not be mowed during the month of May.”

The proposal had been put forth by the Energy Committee. Member Tom Ward noted that the idea is about harm reduction related to the environment.

"There’s sort of a dual benefit. One is potentially for pollinators. It sounds like there’s incomplete science on the pollinator side of things. I think that No Mow May will reduce energy use. From the energy community’s perspective if you don’t mow at all that’s the best thing you could do to save energy.”

Supporters of the idea say No Mow May aids pollinators and helps the underlying turf. In New York’s Schoharie Valley, Landis Arboretum Director Fred Breglia says No Mow May preserves pollinators’ early food sources.

“They all are really, really, really depending on those early flowers to survive. You know when you start to just mow those all down that starts to become a big problem. A lot of our pollinators will run out of food and will end up being weaker and we already are in trouble with a lot of pollinators. A lot of biodiversity has been lost and I think the more that we can help our pollinators, because they are certainly helping us, the better. And one of the easiest ways to do that has been the sort of No Mow May.”

Clinton County Cooperative Extension Executive Director Linda Gilliland notes that No Mow May doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop mowing your entire lawn.

“You don’t have to do the whole area and what they’re recommending is maybe you start small, reduce what you’re mowing by 2 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent. You know mowing in the same area also compacts the ground and therefore compacts the soil and everything beneath our feet is a biodome. There’s a whole ecosystem down there we can’t see with our eyes.”

Cornell University Community Integrated Pest Management Educator Joellen Lampman says the name may be catchy but it’s not a good idea.

“Ecologically when we have turf that we’ve pretty much destroyed because we allow it to get up to six, eight inches during the month of May and then we mow it back down that turf grass is really going to be suffering. We’re going to have open spots. That’s going to open up those areas for erosion, for other weeds to come in. So ecologically it’s not great. If we want to support pollinators it is so much better to be putting in pollinator supporting plants such as flowering shrubs, perennials that are going to provide pollen resources rather than relying on our turf grass to provide that service.”

The Thetford Select board voted 3 to 2 to mow municipal property no more than every other week for the season and can reevaluate the decision in the future.