Ask the Gardener: A clear-cut case for ‘No Mow May’

Plus, what to do (and not do) in the garden and the sad truth about tulips.

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Delay mowing lawns as long as possible during early spring when pollinators awake to find flowers scarce.

(Editor’s note: Carol Stocker’s column will be published in the Globe on a new schedule, at the beginning of each month.)

What to do (and not do) this month April is the busiest month for gardeners — and backyard wildlife. Listen to the birdsong revving up each morning as males of intensifying coloring claim your garden as part of their mating territories. I see my yard as a somewhat messy natural habitat I share with them, rather than a neat outdoor room with rainproof furniture. Many people start their backyard spring cleanup too early. Don’t be afraid to procrastinate and give the soil time to dry out so you don’t leave permanent footprints. Now that we’ve had a string of 50-degree days, there is less risk of hurting the wild bees and butterflies that spend winter hidden in leaf litter and hollow stems. I start clearing the gardens nearest the house by cutting and pulling back mulch, old leaves, and debris where they are covering bulbs and perennials. Over several weeks, I spread out to the farther corners of the yard but leave the leaf cover around trees, the shrub borders, and the meadow, (though never on the lawn). I fork the raw top off the compost pile so the finished soil on the bottom can be layered onto the garden. This creates more room in the bin for new yard waste. I segregate raked leaves into their own pile and recycle them as free mulch for covering the garden once they get crumbly, which takes about a year. I order mulch delivered in bulk as needed to suppress weeds in beds, shoveling it between shrubs and perennials. And I organize seed packets by their dates for planting indoors and out, counting backwards from Memorial Day, which is safely frost-free. I stagger the planting of radish, lettuce, beet, and carrot seeds over several weeks, so they do not mature all at once.


Q. I love reading your columns, and I’m happy they’re back. Can you tell me about “No Mow May”? I believe it started in England. My husband postponed mowing the lawn until June last year as a way to help support pollinators by allowing clover and other flowering species to blossom in our lawns.

M.C., Wakefield

A. Who ever thought gardeners would miss insects? But as krill and plankton are to the ocean, insects are the foundation of the earth’s terrestrial food chain. But thanks to pesticides, habitat loss, and lawn care companies with their leaf blowers, we have entered an “insect apocalypse.” No more need to wipe insects off your car windshield after a summer’s night drive. The car is clean but the baby birds are starving. What to do?

The easiest first step is to delay mowing lawns as long as possible during early spring, when pollinators awake to find flowers scarce. Untreated lawns have weeds and wild plants that can produce flowers before mowing cuts them back. I have meadow areas adjacent to woodland that I actually cut only once a year, in the fall. But I have also tried to reduce my general lawn mowing from weekly to every two weeks, especially when heat slows the growth rate. Lawn companies may want to charge you for mowing early and often, even when there’s no growth during droughts. But I am embracing No Mow April and will start mowing late in May, up to the point when my little home mower can still handle it without getting clogged.


Lawn care is as passionate a topic as politics for many neatniks and nature lovers. If you worry about the neighbors’ reactions to your taller and more natural lawn grass, keep a tidy mowed edge along sidewalks and paths. Visit for more tips and to download educational signage so your more natural lawn looks intentional rather than neglected.

Q. I had a nice display of tulips last year. Will they come back again?

D.S., Milton

A. Most tulips are expensive annuals that bloom one year for a couple of weeks and then never again. Sometimes you get a few smaller flowers the following spring, so it may be worth leaving them in place for a year. But flowerless foliage will tease you every spring after that for many years, raising false hopes. So pull it all out after tulip season to make room for newer plants and to avoid disappointment.

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