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April Newsletter Article

Green Sanctuary News

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This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC
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Save the Pollinators!

As I look at my now forlorn gardens, I have to admit all I want to do is get out there and start cutting down all those brown, winter-worn skeletons of last year’s plants. But I know there are many bees, bugs and eggs from insects and butterflies in amongst their stems and fallen leaves hoping I’ll wait until they’ve had a chance to hatch in the much warmer weather yet to come. So, I’ll wait and take it slow to give all the critters a chance to develop before cleaning up! It’s only late March after all and I’m hoping to see many more butterflies this year than last!

Actually, my spring clean-up ritual has really changed over the past few years. I no longer make a clean sweep of all the detritus from last year. Instead, with the standing plants I cut them into smaller pieces so that they drop to the ground and act as natural mulch that degrades and replenishes the soil of the nutrients used last year. The perennials pop up and cover the area so thickly that no one really sees that I’m not using expensive mulch from the big box stores, or fertilizer either, for that matter! So it’s easier, less costly and better for our ecosystem. Over the past few years I’ve also planted native ground covers like barren strawberry, native geranium and a native sedum, (wild stonecrop, Sedum ternatum) that help retain moisture in the bed, prevent weed growth, and protects topsoil from erosion and drought. These ground covers require very little, if any, care and make gardening a lot easier, especially for folks like me who are getting along in years!

Moving along into the season, last year was the first time I was aware of talk about the downside of No Mow May. As you easily deduce from the name, the encouragement was to not mow your lawn until the end of the month of May. This movement started in Great Britain as a way to provide early pollinators with more food from wild plants in the lawn. It was also a way to “give permission” to folks to not have a perfect looking lawn while giving neighbors a chance to get used to lawns that aren’t especially perfect and raise awareness of the plight of pollinators, particularly bees. At the time this all started there in the US a research paper was published at Lawrence University stating that the unmowed lawns did have a significantly higher number of bees in them than the mowed lawns. However, on November 18, 2022, the original research study was retracted due to “several potential inconsistencies in data handling and reporting.” Very seldom are studies retracted.

In addition, turf people recommend no more than 1/3 of grass height should be cut at a time and with the entire month of May for the grass to grow, this would result in a much higher grass (possibly up to 12”) leaving a much bigger cut. This would result in leaving swaths of grass to either be left on the lawn to smother and possibly kill the lawn, or raking up the clippings that would result in nutrient deficits. It also assumes everyone has a mower powerful enough to do such a high mowing. This drastic cutting would be just before the start of summer, leaving no time for the grass to recuperate. It would also destroy whatever habitats the insects had been able to build in that month. Additionally, the main “wild” plants in most yards are dandelions. Although bees do visit them, it has been found that their pollen is lacking in some necessary amino acids to be fully appropriate for their feeding.

Mowing is best done at the highest level your lawn mower will allow, generally about three inches. The scientific recommendations for increasing pollinators are to plant early blooming native trees and shrubs. Pollinator gardens of native plants will augment the trees and shrubs and carry out the blooming season until late fall. With each of us striving to plant more natives while we pare down our lawn areas, we will all be working together to save the pollinators and the ecology that keeps us alive.

—Sharon Gresk on behalf of the Sustainable Living Committee.




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