Are you tired of keeping a well-manicured lawn? If you’re weary of your weekly mowing sessions, there’s good news—you can save time and help support wildlife at the same time. By cutting down how often you mow plus learning how to mow your lawn safely for wildlife, you can achieve a win-win for your time management and garden wildlife.
When most people think of lawn management, lawn weeds come top of mind. However, we often forget that our urban lawn, big or small, is an important habitat for local wildlife. Butterflies, bees, invertebrates, birds, and even some small mammals are all drawn to natural, wildlife-friendly lawns.
Did you know that in the United States alone, there is 63,243 square miles (163,799 square kilometers) of lawn space which makes up 40-55 percent of urban land in the country. That is a lot of space. Now if all of these lawns are so-called “green deserts” (meaning devoid of wildlife), that would be a sad plight, indeed.
Luckily there are a few easy things you can do at home to turn your lawn into a wildlife habitat.
Tips for how to mow your lawn safely for wildlife
So, how exactly do you protect wildlife when mowing your lawn? Here are a few tips on how to make your lawn more wildlife-friendly:
Do a quick inspection first: Before mowing, do a quick walk around your lawn to ensure no small creatures are in its midst.
Use a push mower: If you’re able to use a push mower rather than a gas or electric mower, please do so. This allows you to slow down while mowing to provide time for animals to escape. It also leaves a smaller carbon footprint.
Start from the inside-out: Start at the center of your lawn and move outwards. This provides a potential escape route for critters rather than driving them inwards to the center of your lawn.
Leave a border of grass around trees: Leave the grass bordering trees to grow longer to provide a home for wildlife. Why not try planting a few flower bulbs such as native daffodils, crocuses, and snowdrops? These spring flowers provide nectar for bees. You may also consider leaving a border of longer grass along fences, a common home for spiders, frogs, and toads.
Ditch the weed-whacker: When trimming edges, replace your weed whacker with a pair of sharp gardening or pruning shears. This allows you the chance to slow down and examine long grasses for critters before mowing.
Consider mown paths: Rather than having your entire lawn shorn, consider letting it grow longer and having a few mown paths instead.
Leave certain weeds alone: While you’ll definitely want to get rid of any invasive or noxious weeds such as Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), others may contribute to your wildlife habitat. Weeds such as plantain, clover, and daisies attract pollinators. These weeds lay fairly flat and are passed over by the lawnmower, anyway. If you can resist pulling them out, let these grow naturally. The bees will thank you.
Leave grass clippings: Do you bag your grass after mowing? There are so many reasons to leave grass clippings on your lawn after mowing. Not only does it contribute to a healthier and greener lawn, it also uses fewer plastic garbage bags and requires less work.
Ditch the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides: If you’re already going ‘bagless’ when you mow and leaving the grass clippings on the lawn, you’ll find a reduced need for weed and pest control. If you require some sort of lawn treatment, consider natural solutions over chemical-based ones.
Checklist of a wildlife-friendly lawn
How does your urban lawn fare in terms of being wild-life friendly?
How a wildlife-friendly lawn benefits you
So what’s in it for you, the homeowner? There are a number of reasons how you could benefit from a more natural and diverse landscape:
- Less time spent mowing: The obvious example is more leisure time spent doing what you want. Imagine a few free weekends where you don’t need to mow the lawn. While you probably don’t want to ditch your lawnmower, mowing every two or three weeks would still keep grass height manageable while inviting in wildlife.
- Reduce the amount of weeds and pests: A 15-year study conducted in North America and Europe found that urban lawns cut more frequently have reduced plant and animal diversity, plus an increase in the number of weeds and pests. If you have a garden, it will also benefit from a more diverse ecosystem that controls pests naturally.
- Fewer allergies: Ragweed is a common allergenic weed that’s prolific throughout North America. It also thrives in lawns that are frequently mowed. By reducing the frequency of mowing, fewer ragweed plants are around helping to reduce the amount of pollen in the air. The Canadian province of Quebec found that ragweed-based allergies cost $155 million each year.
- Improved food and plant production: While having a more natural landscape obviously helps the plight of local pollinators, pollinators in turn also help pollinate many of the foods we eat. This includes apples, squashes, vanilla, and almonds to name only a few.
Tip: It’s a common lawn mowing mistake to cut grass too short. This is known as “scalping.” Grass that’s too short makes it easier for weeds and pests to invade your lawn.
Small steps make a difference
While it takes some time getting used to longer grass and a lawn that’s not perfectly pristine, the local wildlife will thank you. It’s time to start thinking of our lawns as an important habitat for bees, butterflies, birds, invertebrates, and small mammals—and not merely an ornamental patch of grass.