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Put away the mower! Environmentalists say let your lawn go wild to help the planet for 'No Mow May'

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Max Schulte
Cheryl Frank, president of Color Brighton Green, is asking homeowners to consider not mowing or only partially mowing their lawns during the month of May. Vegetation like dandelions, clover, and wild onions and taller grass are beacons for pollinators and other insects that help to enhance a heathy ecosystem.

At first glance, Cheryl Frank's lawn looks like any suburban yard. A stretch of grass is bordered by shrubs and some flowering plants that are still waking up.

But once she starts pointing out what grows there, it's more diverse than you might think.

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Max Schulte
Cheryl Frank, president of Color Brighton Green, points out the natural groundcover in her backyard on Winton Road.

"I have arugula growing in my front yard, and it's because the birds and squirrels put seeds there," she said.

In back are random patches of wild onions, which look like silky ornamental grass. Clover and dandelions and various kinds of native groundcover also dot the lawn.

"It's just interesting to see what grows," said Frank, who is the president of Color Brighton Green, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the interest of natural plant growth, she's asking homeowners to make a pledge to not mow their lawns for the month of May.

"No Mow May" is a conservation movement that began in the United Kingdom and appears to be gaining traction among environmentalists in North America.

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Max Schulte
Wildflowers grow in the front yard of Cheryl Frank's Winton Road home. Frank is president of Color Brighton Green, a nonprofit advocating for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

A 2016 study published in the journal Environmental Management found over 40 million acres of land in the continental U.S. have some form of grass on it.

“Even if we all turned part of that into natural habitat for wildlife," Frank said, "think of the carbon emissions that would save and think of the animals that would be saved.”

Most cities and towns have ordinances limiting how high grass and weeds can grow, usually 10 to 12 inches. It would probably take longer than a month for them to get that high.

Nevertheless, Frank said she emailed Brighton Supervisor Bill Moehle to ask that the town's ordinances be suspended for the month of May. (People don't have to be residents of Brighton to make the pledge, of course.)

While many homeowners take pride in their weed-free, manicured lawns, Frank hopes they can be persuaded to rethink this.

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Max Schulte
Cheryl Frank, president of Color Brighton Green, walks into her backyard on Winton Road. Frank is urging homeowners to let their lawns grow freely in the month of May to reduce carbon emissions and provide sustenance for wildlife.

In addition to frequent mowing and watering, she said the use of chemical pesticides kills the rich diversity of life growing in the grass.

“Would you like to live in an all-white neighborhood or a neighborhood that has all kinds of different people in it?" Frank asked. "Same for your lawn. Do you want all one kind of grass or do you want different things in your lawn?”

If an entire month of no mowing is a bridge too far for some, Frank urges people to not worry. She said she may not even make it that long herself.

“My electric mower doesn’t have a lot of high settings, so I’m gonna have to mow when I realize that I’ll get stuck," she explained. "So I might cheat and start May 20 or something. We’ll just have to see how much it rains.”

Or homeowners can dedicate just a part of their lawn to the project. Frank suggested leaving a mown border around a section of yard that will be allowed to grow freely.

"(Or) maybe putting up a sign that says 'pollinator habitat' so that the neighbors know that it's intentional and that you're not just being lazy," she added. "I could also just do the backyard so no one could see it."

Even if her neighbors notice, Frank said she isn't too worried what they'll say.

"They already know I'm a bit of a tree-hugger, so they'll figure it out," she said.