Riverside elected officials on March 16 voted to temporarily suspend issuing property maintenance citations to those who let their lawns grow wild this spring in order to participate in No Mow May, a growing trend in the U.S. seeking to protect emerging spring pollinators and encourage biodiversity.

But, they’re taking a more cautious approach than proposed by the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission, which suggested allowing homeowners to not mow lawns until June 1.

After discussing the subject at their March 16 meeting, trustees appear to have settled on Mother’s Day – May 14 – as the end of No Mow May in Riverside.

The main reason? Well, no one wants the front lawns of a mainly manicured place like Riverside covered in dandelions – or the avalanche of complaints it’s bound to generate.

“When dandelions go to seed, the seed doesn’t just fall down,” said Village President Joseph Ballerine. “It spreads with the wind, so your ‘no-mow’ becomes my ‘mow.’ The problem is twofold: It spreads to multiple neighbors may, in turn, make them use pesticides, which is then defeating what we’re trying to do.”

The village of Riverside itself has been trying to strike a balance the past several years with respect to the use of herbicides and mowing to protect merging native pollinators in spring. 

For example, in Swan Pond Park – once mowed regularly to maintain it as an expanse of lawn – is now left largely unmown, save for walking paths allowing people to wander through what has become a haven for native and non-native wildflowers and other plants. Last year, in an attempt to limit the spread of non-natives in the wetland area of the park, the village conducted a controlled burn.

The village abandoned the use of herbicides on public lands in 2016, and today only use pesticides on hardscape, like sidewalks, in the central business district.

But, this year is the first time the village has considered letting private property owners let their lawns go wild, i.e., letting grass grow taller than 8 inches without getting a maintenance code citation.

The Landscape Advisory Commission pitched No Mow May following a discussion of the subject at their meeting in February. Commissioner David Rubin outlined the purpose of No Mow May at the May 16 village board meeting, emphasizing the importance of protecting early pollinators.

“Not mowing our lawn and other plants growing in your lawn will be beneficial for newly emerging bees by giving them more food sources,” Rubin said. “There’s been a decline in native bee populations in Illinois and all over the country. Bees are the most effective pollinators of native plants and are also very important as pollinators in agriculture.”

As native bee populations have declined, said Rubin, more people and municipalities have become involved in bee conservation, joining the Bee City USA movement, a national initiative launched in North Carolina in 2012.

Bee City USA has more than 330 city and campus affiliates, including a few in the Chicago suburbs, such as Hawthorn Woods, Port Barrington and Barrington Hills.

In addition to supporting No Mow May, the Landscape Advisory Commission will be launching an initiative to educate Riverside residents about the importance of pollinators and promote native plants.

“This is part of a long-term plan we have in encouraging the use of native plants, especially native spring bloomers,” Rubin said.

The Landscape Advisory Commission, said Rubin, could provide signs to those households participating in No Mow May to spotlight the initiative.

While village trustees generally supported the concept of No Mow May, they were reluctant, at least for now, to extend the citation moratorium all the way until June 1.

A Landscape Advisory Commission pilot “no mow” area near the Riverside Public Library didn’t provide any conclusive benefits, other than more blooming plants, said Rubin because of the weather last year in May.

Trustee Edward Hannon said he’s heard concerns from residents about No Mow May, largely related to the fact that many Riverside front lawns connect seamlessly with their neighbors.

“The concern with not mowing in a full month is, does that allow weeds and other things you don’t want on your lawn take root,” Hannon said. “If you have a neighbor that’s doing “no mow,” does that cause you as the neighbor who’s not doing No Mow May to have to deal with weeds that you might not otherwise have?”

The village of Riverside is itself not participating in No Mow May. According to Public Works Director Dan Tabb, because the village has so much public greenspace, letting it grow wild for a full month would result in crews never being able to catch up.