Conservation Outdoors

Take the Low Mow Spring Pledge! Reduce Lawn, Increase Wildlife Habitat

Patchwork Meadows lawn ‘after’. Photo by Emily Sampson

By Phyllis Stiles

My 91-year-old mother is extremely embarrassed if her lawn isn’t mowed at least every two weeks during the growing season. What would the neighbors think of her?

Many Americans fuss over their “carefree” lawns to ensure they stay green and weed-free. That often requires aeration, costly watering, toxic herbicides, chemical fertilizers and reseeding. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Americans use more chemicals on their lawns than farmers use on crops. All told, Americans spend about $76 billion per year on lawn care, according to Popular Science.

Patchwork Meadows lawn ‘before’. Photo by Emily Sampson

The turf lawn is considered America’s largest irrigated “crop,” using more water than corn or soybeans. When NASA satellites calculated the size of America’s lawns in 2005, they totaled more than 40 million acres, an area greater in size than the state of Georgia.

I guess the reason we put in so much effort and expense is that we want to be able to stroll across our lawns, have picnics and play games on them. Not really. Most of us rarely do these things on our lawns.

Meanwhile, conservationists are sounding the alarm to create more habitat for wildlife. Insects, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are facing climate change stressors and competing with human development for places to raise their young.

Is it possible we could reduce both our and their stress by reducing our lawns and leaving more areas natural? Just the simple act of allowing leaves to remain where they fall creates enormous overwintering habitat for fireflies, moths, butterflies, beetles and more.

This year, Bee City USA-Asheville invites the community to take the Low Mow Spring pledge. When you see dandelions, violets, buttercups, clovers and wild strawberries blooming in the lawn, grab a lawn chair, choose a flower and spend five minutes watching pollinators visit that flower. How many honey bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, mason bees, beetles, butterflies, flies, wasps and moths do you count? You may even want to take photos. Feel free to become a member of the “Bee City USA-Asheville” project on iNaturalist and post your photos there.

Your simple act of leaving the lawn mower in the shed could provide nectar and pollen to a vast array of hungry pollinators. If you’re like my mother, this restraint will require tremendous willpower. So, when the urge to mow becomes almost irresistible, remind yourself that 90 percent of terrestrial birds feed their young soft-bodied insects exclusively—mostly caterpillars—and adult butterflies and moths rely almost exclusively on flower nectar for their carbohydrates.

Maybe your lawn care vacation will only last a month, or maybe you will set your mower a few inches higher to allow lawn weeds to bloom, or maybe you will enlarge natural areas and reduce your lawn altogether. Every little bit helps. The pollinators and birds will thank you!

Find resources at and information about native plants at Phyllis Stiles is founder of Bee City USA and chair of Bee City USA-Asheville. Learn more about Emily Sampson’s work creating pollinator habitats at

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