Speaking of Nature: Selective mowing: Finding the right balance of how much and how often to cut back the grass

Growing unnoticed in a patch of vegetation that had been spared the mower, this beautiful group of wild black raspberries may be the beginning of a managed berry patch in the future.

Growing unnoticed in a patch of vegetation that had been spared the mower, this beautiful group of wild black raspberries may be the beginning of a managed berry patch in the future. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON


For the Recorder

Published: 07-08-2024 6:01 AM

I think it is safe to say that most everyone is familiar with the notion of something called “No Mow May.” Basically, the concept promotes the idea that all mowing be put on hold during the month of May in order to allow our pollinators to get the best possible start at the beginning of the growing season. This is something that I have actually tried for the past two years and I have had mixed results.

One benefit to this approach to landscape management is, indeed, the appearance of all manner of wildflowers. This, after all, is the entire goal of No Mow May and it actually does work. Give the plants a chance to grow more than three inches tall and some wonderful things can happen. However, this sort of success can be tempered with some difficult results later in the month. This is especially true if the weather is uncooperative.

This spring was particularly rainy. A No Mow May was almost difficult to avoid because those of us who have to work found it difficult to squeeze in some mowing time between the raindrops. My personal calendar also conspired to keep me away from home on every weekend in May, which meant that the unmowed areas in my yard really got out of control. This is the problem with a complete month with no lawn maintenance. You can go from lawn to field pretty quickly.

Thus, I find myself still contending with the results of this year’s No Mow May. There are still sections of my side yard that have not been hit with the mower and this is because the grass is so tall that I can only hack away at it a little at a time. What I really need is a hay cutter, but Susan would kill me if I went out and bought one. I could probably make three bales of hay at best. Reality can be such a buzz kill sometimes.

So I have resolved to modify my approach to the No Mow May concept next year. I am going to implement a selective cutting program that leaves certain smaller portions of the yard unmowed while still hitting the big area that is currently giving me so much trouble. Reduced mowing around the edges can still have some great benefits and I discovered an example of this just last week.

Growing in a swath of unmowed vegetation on the edge of my yard I discovered a very young black raspberry plant. This thing had a mint-green stem and everything about it was young and fresh. The leaves were gorgeous and the stems were beautiful, but what really caught my eye was the small cluster of raspberries that had miraculously gone unnoticed by the local birds. I didn’t have the correct lens with me, but I knew that this wouldn’t last for long, so I took several photos with my 600mm lens until I got a good photo. The next day the ripe berries were gone!

This particular swath of vegetation could easily be handled by my mower and had I run it all over in the beginning of the year I would never have given the raspberry bush a chance to grow. In fact, I might have killed it outright, which would have been a shame. Now my plan is to transplant this particular plant into a better spot where I can set up some wire fencing to keep the rabbits away from it during the winter. With any luck I will have an entire raspberry patch in a few years and then I can share the harvest with the birds. One batch of homemade black raspberry muffins would be worth it!

And now the event that you have all been waiting for: The unveiling of the squirrel names! Based on pure numbers alone I am going to have to select the names “Luc” and “Frosty.” There were several variants on the spelling of these names and I struggled with the name “Luc.” I was really leaning toward “Luke,” as in Luke Skywalker, but I can also embrace “Luc” because it works with the name Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D (and E). So, spell it whatever way makes you the happiest!

Frosty is the name for the squirrel that is almost completely white and Luke/Luc is the name for the squirrel with the white tail. The squirrel that is half white (as if it had been relaxing in a hot tub filled with white paint) is going to be named “Blanche.” She soaked in the tub too long and her fur got blanched. Finally, the squirrel that shows remarkable lateral symmetry in the pattern of leucism is going to be named Rorschach. What do I see in the pattern on his coat? A mischievous demon squirrel. Darwin, give me strength. Thanks to everyone who sent in a name!

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 27 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.