A growing number of Minnesota cities — and Minnesotans — took part in No Mow May as a way to protect the habitat and food sources of pollinators such as bees and butterflies. But Ron Struss of St. Paul wanted to know how he should resume mowing come June 1.
"How many passes and at what heights are recommended to get from 12 inches to [the recommended] 3 inches? And when in the process should the clippings be removed, and when can they be left mulched in place?" Struss asked.
While it may be tempting to give your tall grass a buzz cut, experts advise just the opposite. Easing into a shorter grass length is key.
Eric Watkins, professor of Horticultural Science and turfgrass management expert at the University of Minnesota, offered these tips for getting your grass in tip-top shape:
Mow no more than a third of turf height.
"If your lawn is 6 inches on June 1, then you don't want to mow off more than 2 inches in that first mowing," Watkins said. This helps avoids stressing plants. Plus, you don't want to rid your lawn of too much leaf material, which synthesizes and helps plants grow.
Mow more often at the beginning of the season. To get your grass to your desired length (the University of Minnesota Extension service recommends a height of 3 inches or higher for a typical residential Midwest lawn), cut grass more frequently rather than less. If you typically mow your lawn about every two weeks, mow once a week at the beginning of the season.
Remove long grass clippings. Leaving grass clippings is typically recommended because your lawn benefits from the decomposition of clippings, but No Mow May participants should take a different tack.
"The only time you should remove them is if there are too many of them and things get clumpy. That's true with No Mow May," Watkins said. "They cover up the grass and if the grass can't get the sunlight it needs to photosynthesize, there could be problems with disease if there's too much moisture underneath."
Consider fertilizer. Mowing grass plants stimulates the production of new plants. "I expect if you didn't mow the whole month of May and let the grass grow, you might lose some of that density," said Watkins. "So to recover that density you want to make sure there's enough fertilizer."
Consider a "mostly" No Mow May future. Once pollinators have left their winter habitats and flowers have started blooming, they become a primary food source. So you don't necessarily have to wait until the end of May to mow.
"A better way to think of this, rather than just No Mow May, is reducing how much you're mowing," Watkins said. "And the less you mow, the less management you have to do to your lawn. You don't have to water and control weeds as much. People tend to be much happier."
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