Know Thy ТNo-Mow ZonesУ

Islands of bright, native wildflowers add beauty, butterflies and wildlife in remote sections of public parks. Variegated bands of tall grasses provide privacy and contrast around carefully manicured golf course greens. No matter what shape or character, “no-mow zones” are springing up in parks, golf courses and along freeways.

However, before you decide to throw out that gas-guzzling, repair-laden lawn mower and fire the kid who never shows up on Saturdays … here are a few things to consider.

Know Thy Park

Observing how your site is used is the best way to determine if it’s ripe for “no-mow zones.” For example, a heavily used playground may not be the place for wildlife and high grass. However, consider areas just off the beaten path. These underused areas might be ideal for reduced maintenance, lawn mower-free zones. After all, consider the benefits of “no-mow zones”:

* Save money, time and water resources

* Reduce pesticide use

* Decrease pollution

* Increase wildlife habitat

* Add character and texture

* Cover problem areas

Although no-mow zones are ideal in some cases, it is important to know when to use them. For instance, no-mow zones should not be considered for high-traffic areas such as park entrances, playground areas and golf tees and holes. Natural high grass or beds of flowers--however pretty--are inconvenient if they block important views.

Use Thy Judgment

1. Since 2005, the Kalamazoo County Parks, located in southwest Michigan about an hour south of Grand Rapids, have actively explored the possibility of expanding their no-mow areas. The county operates six parks totaling 1,300 acres. David Rachowicz, director of the parks, is always looking at expanding their no-mow areas for two reasons:

* Budgetary concerns

* Re-establishing a natural habitat for wildlife and plants

”The big thing for us is the budget component, reducing operation expenses and still keeping that quality look,” Rachowicz says.

A no-mow area re-establishes open space and a natural feel. Choosing not to mow specific areas increases the parks’ “Native Prairie Restoration,” which also builds and diversifies the wildlife habitat.

2. The Joint Military facility at Fort Eustis in Virginia is located on the James River in Chesapeake Bay. The army operates the 450-acre golf course at the facility. No-mow zones on the golf course have increased to 50 acres over the last 10 years. No-mow buffer areas around two lakes on the course discourage geese, and allow frog, snake and turtle populations to rebound.

Fort Eustis’ golf course conservation program formally began in 1993 as a response to budget and manpower constraints. By working with natural ecosystems, a smaller grounds crew maintains the golf course, using less water, pesticides and herbicides.

3. The city of Minneapolis, Minn., owns 170 park properties totaling 6,400 acres. The parks are divided into three districts--Lake, River and Mini Ha Ha. John Oyanagi, who manages the River district section, states Minneapolis cut back on the budget several years ago and decided not to mow large areas within the park system. The public reaction to this one-year experiment was not altogether positive. Today the no-mow areas are restricted to small, undeveloped areas.

Difficult-to-mow areas with steep slopes are perfect no-mow zones, Oyanagi says. Odd-shaped, triangular and undeveloped areas are what he coins “no-mow” or “low-mow” areas. No-mows are totally left alone, and low-mows are mowed once or twice a year to control noxious weeds. Some shoreline, restored with native plants, keeps geese away naturally as plants become well established.

Another benefit of no-mow zones can be found in “rain gardens,” which are created in ground depressions, natural collectors of storm water. The flowers and grasses allowed to grow undisturbed in these depressions automatically filter out pollutants before they have a chance to reach other water sources.

The Eloise Butler Widlflower Garden, the oldest public wildflower garden in the United States, is in Minneapolis.

No-Mow, No Less

Even in “no-mow zones,” an annual mowing is often necessary. Otherwise, seedling trees will turn the natural flower and/or grassy area into woods.

Joy To Share

Labeling beautiful flowers and grasses in your no-mow zone is a great way to deepen the enjoyment and the education of the public. Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson once said, “Beauty in nature nourishes us and brings joy to the human spirit; it also is one of the deep needs of people everywhere.”

Adding no-mow zones to parks and recreation centers is a great way to benefit both the consumer and the caretaker. If done properly, adding beautiful natural grasses, gardens and wildflowers can save time, water and money.

Melanie Minch is a freelance writer in Medina, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at


Ladybird Wildflower Center

David Rachowicz

Director of Kalamazoo County Parks

Southwestern Michigan

Joint Military Services

Chesapeake Bay Area

Army Golf Courses

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and John Oyanagi, River District Manager

Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board