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Does ‘No Mow May’ actually help bees? A master gardener and professor weigh in

As May reaches the halfway point, many remain split on whether “No Mow May” is an effective method in aiding the native bee population.

According to a blurb from Bee City USA, a pollinator conservation organization, the movement encourages homeowners to refrain from mowing their lawns throughout the spring as there are scarce floral resources that can provide nectar and pollen making it challenging for hungry bees to find nutrients.

But Richelle Gregg, a master gardener in Timberlea, N.S., described the movement as a “bit controversial.”

“It sounds like a great idea. We can all just put our lawnmowers away and not worry about mowing our lawn for a whole entire month,” she explained, adding that the untrimmed grass at this time of year doesn’t always offer nutritional value for native pollinators.

Gregg said that because lawns are grown as a monoculture, weeds tend to be what people have popping up in their yards when lawns go uncut.

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“The weeds that grow (in our lawns) are dandelions, clover, and Dutch white clover, which aren’t native bee food material. So, you’re really just producing a big buffet of junk food for the bees to live off of.”

She said she isn’t talking about honeybees in particular, as her focus is on bees that are native to Canada.

“The bees we’re talking about are native bees. These are sweat bees, digger bees, mason bees … they all are pollinators, and we have to support all of them, not just the pretty butterflies.”

Richelle Gregg, a master gardener in Timberlea, N.S., said it’s important to consider the nutritional value for native bee species when deciding to participate in “No Mow May.” Skye Bryden-Blom

Gregg said honeybees were brought into the region to support agriculture, and the area’s plants have developed to work closely with the native bee species — making it important to keep the two together.

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“We have to keep those two together. If we start losing our native bees, then our native plants will stop being pollinated and then we’ll start losing species,” she said.

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“The key is to have areas in your yard that are native – designating a certain area in your yard for the bees and the butterflies.”

She said when people ask her for advice on how to better support the native bee population, Gregg said she recommends residents aim for 25 per cent of their garden to consist of native flowers like bee balm, goldenrod and black-eyed Susan.

When deciding what plants to grow could be beneficial for the native bee population, Gregg said for people to just “look around.”

“What’s on the side of the road? We see lupins, goldenrods, daisies, all of those are great foods for bees,” she said.

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“These native bees stay very close to their nest,” she said.

Gregg said she advises people to do additional research surrounding No Mow May before coming to a conclusion.

“If you let your grass grow too long and then suddenly you cut it down to two inches, you’re causing so much stress on that grass. You just removed all its leaf value so that it can make food … you can damage your lawn, it’ll get weeds, you should never let the lawn grow more than three inches.”

Truro residents share thoughts on ‘No Mow May’

In Truro, N.S., some people were taking advantage of the sunny weather and doing lawn maintenance on Friday.

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Resident John McOnie said he chooses to mow his lawn throughout the spring.

“No Mow May? That’s everybody’s choice. If they want to do it, they can do it,” he said after spending his morning on his ride-on lawnmower.

“I like to keep my property looking half-decent and not out of control.”

Just down the road, another homeowner was on a similar schedule as McOnie.

Craig Matthews said he was taking advantage of his day off from work by cutting the grass.

“I think it makes my neighbourhood look good. It makes my property look nice,” he said of his choice to mow his lawn.

Matthews said a few of his neighbours participate in No Mow May and although he supports it, he prefers to give his front yard a routine trimming.

“I’m a tiny bit selfish. I like my lawn to look good,” he said.

“Some of my neighbours are doing it and I support that. I just like my little piece to look one step above bad.”

The importance of a healthy bee population

Paul Manning, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture, said there are better ways to support pollinators as dandelions can be a tough competitor for “healthy” bee plants.

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“The evidence on whether No Mow May really helps pollinators is pretty mixed at best because the things that flower in our lawns, like dandelions, don’t have a whole lot of nutritional value for bees,” he explained. “They also have some qualities that can impact the growth of other plants that can maybe be a more nutritionally suitable source for bees.”

Manning said dandelions can outcompete other plants that could provide healthier pollen for bee species.

“Their pollen can actually reduce the number of seeds that other species produce,” he explained.

“Just because something is feeding on it (dandelions) doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a very nutritious source of food for them.”

He said one positive is that people are starting to think more critically about supporting their native bee population by researching the most nutritionally appropriate plants for their area.

Manning said that bees are integral for sustaining a healthy environment, along with their contributions to the overall food chain. He said while most people automatically think of the European honeybee when bees come to mind, there are hundreds of species native to Canada.

“These native bees don’t live in hives in the same way, they live in little holes in the ground,” he explained.

Manning said that it’s important to prioritize ways to support all bee populations.

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“A lot of foods that we eat that are very nutritious for us are only made possible because of bees and other pollinators. Things like blueberries, cranberries, almonds, apples,” he said.

“Without pollinators, a lot of the foods we rely on for certain micronutrients and vitamins would be in much smaller supply so it’s really important for human health. They also have a really important role within the wider ecosystem in assuring that plants can reproduce, set seed, and give way to new plants.”

— with files from Skye Bryden-Blom

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