Wait Until After October 1 to Mow Fields and Meadows to Protect Pollinator Habitat!
By Kelly Kennedy
Late summer may be a popular time to mow fields and meadows, but because many pollinator populations are shrinking to the point of extinction, it’s important to be “slow to mow” and wait to until after the first frost to mow fields, meadows and roadsides.
Pollinators – including bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, moths, beetles, flies and wasps – are dying off in alarming numbers in Connecticut and around the world because of habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and exposure to pathogens and viruses. A 2016 United Nations report concludes that about 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species (such as bees and butterflies) are facing extinction. That’s bad news for humans, because pollinators are essential to agriculture. Roughly 75% of all our human food crops rely on pollinators to produce their full yield, and roughly 87% of flowering plants in natural systems rely on pollinators.
Connecticut took a step toward protecting pollinators with 2016 legislation that addressed creating model pollinator habitat. But it didn’t address the equally important topic of best practices for mowing. Fields and meadows, with their goldenrod, milkweed, wild bee balm, and other plants, support pollinators well into fall, so it’s important to wait until at least the first hard frost to mow. In the northeast, that usually means after October 1. Unfortunately, fields and roadsides across Connecticut continue to be mowed down too soon, like those at the MDC properties that repeatedly get mowed down in summer (see photos below).
Mowing Practices to Help Pollinators
Habitat is everything for pollinators, so the timing of mowing is critical.
- In general, the best practice for pollinators is to mow after the first frost in the fall, or before plant growth begins in late winter or early spring. For the northeast, the best time to mow fields and flowering meadows is after October 1 and before May 1.
- Better yet, mow a path or only one-third to one-half the habitat each time, and on a rotational schedule.
- Mow roadside vegetation as little as possible.
- Do not mow more than twice a growing season.
- Fields and meadows of five acres or more are prime areas for pollinator conservation, but preserving habitat in collections of smaller fields near each other is helpful to pollinators too.
Governments, businesses and other owners of these prime acreage areas should wait to mow until after October 1.
For more information:
Mowing for Monarchs from the Monarch Joint Venture project; CT Agricultural Experiment Station, Pollinator Information at http://bit.ly/2bybGFR; Pollinators in Connecticut: Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, at http://bit.ly/2bycJ8U; Managing Habitat for Pollinators from the USDA; Pollinators and Roadsides: Best Management Practices for Managers and Decision Makers from the Federal Highway Administration; Connecticut Public Act 16-17, An Act Concerning Pollinator Health, at http://bit.ly/2bychrk.