How mowing your lawn less could help save the bees

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer

If you forget to mow your grass for a couple of weeks, it turns out you might be doing a favor for the environment.

New research by the USDA Forest Service and partners funded by the National Science Foundation found that mowing the lawn less frequently can significantly improve pollinator habitat.

Susannah Lerman, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, and her collaborators studied whether different lawn mowing frequencies (one, two or three weeks) influenced bee abundance and diversity in herbicide-free suburban yards in Springfield, Massachusetts.

"Mowing lawns less frequently provides an additional opportunity for householders to support bee conservation," Lerman said.

Green spaces in urban residential yards could provide suitable habitats for pollinators.

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A bee searches for pollen on a flower during a sunny autumn day. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

"Mowing less frequently is practical, economical and a time-saving alternative to lawn replacement or even planting pollinator gardens," Lerman said.

Frequent mowing inhibits the growth of “weedy” species which include dandelions and clover.

Since widespread population declines of bees and other pollinators from habitat loss are a growing concern, spontaneous flowers such as dandelions and clover could provide pollen and nectar sources throughout the growing season.

The team experimentally tested whether different lawn mowing frequencies of one, two or three weeks influenced bee abundance and diversity in 16 suburban western Massachusetts yards by increasing lawn floral resources.

"Lawn-dominated yards, when mowed less frequently and not treated with chemicals, can support surprisingly high numbers of bees and species diversity," Lerman said.

Lawns mowed every three weeks had as much as two-and-a-half times more lawn flowers than the other frequencies.

The results highlight that a “lazy lawnmower” approach is best for providing bee habitat.

The researchers reported the lawns mowed every two weeks had the greatest number of bees but the lowest diversity compared to the other two mowing intervals.

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Given habitat loss coupled with other factors, the findings provide immediate solutions for individual households to contribute to urban conservation.

If you live in an urban area without a yard but have a porch, the Xerces Society has a list of plants for particular regions that are beneficial to bees.

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