No Mow May creates buzz across Wisconsin

New ordinances consider health of pollinators to help with health of food supply

VERONA, Wis. — It’s a movement that’s taking hold across Wisconsin. As the greenery starts to emerge around the state this spring, some folks are content to let it grow. And grow. And grow.

No Mow May is a practice that got attention across the nation when it started in Appleton in 2020. Residents were allowed to simply let their lawns go, ignoring regularly-enforced city ordinances regarding the height of their lawn so that pollinating insects like bees, flies and butterflies could have that important first meal of spring.

The decline of bees has been well-documented in recent years, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that pollinating insects have an $18 billion annual impact on crops.

Alder Kate Cronin first put forth the idea in Verona last year, where a handful of residents took part in a test run. This year, the city council voted to make the concept permanent by an 8-1 vote in January.

“No Mow May isn’t actually about the grass, it’s about the flowering plants that grow in the grass,” says Cronin, “and about a third of the food Americans eat is actually pollinated by bees, so it’s really important that we support a healthy bee population.”

Such rules don’t mandate that you let your weeds and grass go shaggy in May, but municipalities simply won’t punish residents who choose to let their lawns go. By June 1, enforcement of lawn length generally resumes, and residents will be required to keep those lawns nice and tidy once again.

P.J. Liesch, an entomologist with and the director of the UW-Madison Insect Diagnostic Lab, says it’s all about a healthy first meal for emerging insects.

“The thought behind this concept of No Mow May is to leave some of these plants out there,” says Liesch, “so that the pollen and nectar from those weedy plants can serve as food resources for the pollinators around us.”

For the many Wisconsin residents who annually treat their lawns and don’t have any flowering weeds, Liesch says there are plenty of things you can do to help pollinators enjoy a healthy start to their spring — and also summer.

“We have pollinators active in May but also in April… June, June, July, August and into the fall,” says Liesch. “We can help them out in this window in May, but if you want to maximize the benefits to bees and other pollinators, you really have to think about concepts like this over longer periods of time throughout the growing season.”

Verona and Appleton aren’t alone in adopting No Mow May policies in their municipal governments. The Village of Shorewood Hills started its program last spring and currently offers signs to residents interested in participating. Cross Plains is doing a one-year No Mow May pilot program. Sun Prairie is giving it a go for the first time this year.

Other places around the state including Oshkosh, Wisconsin Rapids and La Crosse are weighing similar proposals.

READ MORE: La Crosse Parks Department encourages ‘No Mo May!’ to help pollinators such as bees

Admittedly, Cronin says, letting people know such policy exists hasn’t been without its challenges.

“We need to do a little bit better job publicizing it because there were some people who said, ‘My neighbors just thought I was being lazy,'” she said. “So this year we are going to have yard signs that people can post to say I’m doing this for the bees.”

Verona plans to have more information about how residents can get those signs at this link.

Click to learn more about programs in Shorewood Hills and Cross Plains.

And in Sun Prairie, yard signs are now available for pickup at the Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department office at 2598 W Main St #2. You can pick them up during business hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Beginning in May, the department will have late hours on Friday that extend until 7 p.m. for individuals who need more time to pick up signs (Fridays only).