woman picking lupine flowers from a garden

No Mow Gardening & How to Start Rewilding

Trimmed, mowed, and manicured lawns with short and neat-edged grasses are what people in many neighborhoods expect to see. Leave your yard unkempt, weedy, long, and bushy, and your next-door neighbors might raise their eyebrows.

This wasn’t always the case until around the 17th century when settlers and farmers started establishing shorter grasses for agriculture. In 1830, the lawn mower was invented, and since then, wild lawns are hard to come by.

Recently, some people are questioning this expectation, joining the No Mow Movement.

What is the No Mow Movement?

More than just a fun excuse for skipping lawn-cutting chores, the No Mow Movement started with a vision to “rewild” spaces and support biodiversity in your own backyard. In 2019, a charity in the UK called Plantlife launched No Mow May, encouraging gardeners to let their yards grow wild. The movement has picked up steam across Canada and North America.

Nina-Marie Lister, ecology and urban planning professor at Ryerson University, has grown a garden rich in biodiversity. Bursting with wildflowers, her garden is a perfect example of the central goal of the now mow movement.

Photo: Johnny C.Y. Lam via CBC News

What are the benefits of wild gardens and lawns?

There are several ways wild spaces help us and the earth:

  • Saving water. Typical lawn grass requires a lot more water than low-maintenance wildflowers and other wild plants. Across the US, lawns suck up about 3 trillion gallons of water.
  • Improving soil health, and stopping erosion.
  • Reducing fossil fuels from gas-powered lawn mowers and chemical pesticides. The average lawn mower emits 48 kilograms of greenhouse gases in a season. Wildflowers and other wild plants don’t usually need any added fertilizers or pesticides to grow.
  • Attracting pollinators and other beneficial bugs and wildlife. According to a study done in Wisconsin, homes with wild lawns had 5 times more bees than other traditional lawns.
  • Preventing common weeds from establishing. For example, mowing doesn’t affect dandelions and ragweed which is why they grow fast in common lawns.
woman picking wildflower stems from a meadow

How to grow a wild garden or lawn

Cultivating wild gardens takes more than leaving your lawn alone to grow long, which might be problematic without planning. There’s a lot to compete with: aggressive weeds, stubborn lawn grass, and more. To help you manage, here’s a guide to get started.

1. Understand your city and jurisdiction bylaws

Many neighborhoods require that residents regularly cut their lawns and keep out known noxious weeds. Do your research on what these guidelines are. Talk to experts in your area on what plants are safe to grow.

2. Start small

The easiest way to start growing wild is in your garden. Getting rid of lawn grass in patches is a long process. A common technique is sheet mulching with newspaper or cardboard. Lay these sheets flat on the grass, then pile 4 inches of mulch on top to keep out the sun and stunt growth. You can do this in the fall when snow can cover it over winter.

You can also dig your grass up, but this is more challenging. Loosen the area by watering the lawn for two to three days, and dig with a hardy shovel or use a sod cutter.

3. Pull out the weeds and competitive plants

Even wild gardens need maintenance. Common weeds to watch for include dandelions, Canada thistle, and clover.

4. Watch for and allow beneficial plants to grow

Do your research on plants in your area that support wildlife. Here are a few examples:

  • Moss absorbs harmful nutrients from the soil and retains water, which benefits surrounding plants by keeping the area clean and humid. Moss also attracts beneficial insects.
  • Milkweed is one of the monarch butterfly’s favorite flowers.
  • Nettles are home to many beneficial insects, including butterflies. They are considered weedy, but there’s no harm in leaving a few to grow.

5. Consider your yard’s planting conditions

Is the area sunny or shady? Dry or wet? How long is your growing season? When are the first and last frost dates? Knowing this will help determine what plants will thrive best in your environment. For example, many wildflowers are hardy and low maintenance, able to grow in shady and dry areas. Use the Plant Hardiness Zone guide from Farmer’s Almanac to help understand your area.

a wildflower blooming from a pot

5. Add plants yourself

Try some plug planting (already sprouted plants from the garden center), broadcast seeding (tossing seeds in an area), or seed paper. These plantable paper sheets from Botanical PaperWorks can grow 6 different species of non-invasive wildflowers. Remember to plant perennials in the fall, and annuals sooner in the spring and early summer. After you’ve planned out your flowers, bring in some natural grasses. In North America, there are several prairie types of prairie grass: big bluestem, switchgrass and wild rye.

6. Maintain the area

Mow twice a year, in early April and in late August. If possible, use a lawn mower with adjustable height, so you don’t cut too low. Always watch for frogs, birds, and other life nesting in your wild garden before you mow.

7. Be patient

Rewilding your yard from lawn to meadow spaces takes time. Annual flowers will grow quicker, while perennials will need 2 seasons to establish. Your wild spaces may go through an ugly duckling stage before turning into the wild garden of your dreams. Nature works n its own time, so give it some room to work its magic!

Tips for gardening with wildflowers

Want to bring whimsical blooms into your wild lawn or garden? Read our post How to Grow a Wildflower Garden for more tips on wild garden starting, and our post on Native and non-native wildflowers — What’s the scoop? for more information on wildflower seed types.

And that’s it! Some beginner’s tips and information on wild gardening to help you get started. We encourage you to keep researching and using planting guides relevant to your growing zone and planting conditions.

You can buy seed paper sheets for eco-friendly papercraft projects from Botanical PaperWorks. We have a variety of seed options, including wildflower, herb and veggie, and over 25 seed paper colors. Join our mailing list to receive emails with freebies, projects, coupons, green living tips, and decor ideas and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest


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