The New Dandelion Challenge

The Dandelion Challenge or “Défi pissenlit”, is an initiative carried out in the province of Quebec since 2021 by a couple of beekeepers who own Miel&Co. This campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of pollinating insects. Each spring, cities and citizens of Quebec are invited to delay the mowing of their lawns in order to offer nectar and pollen to bees thanks to the dandelions naturally present in our lawns. This idea was very successful in Quebec in 2022. But the larger goal is to create pollinator-friendly habitats in urban areas by accepting flowering lawns rather than monocultures of Kentucky bluegrass that are still too often treated with fertilizers and pesticides to meet uniformity standards.

The goal of the challenge is to create habitat for pollinators by accepting flowering lawns rather than monocultures. Photo: Edith Smeesters.

Not Mowing the Lawn for a Month?

However, in the aftermath, some media outlets and many people associated this campaign with “NO MOW MAY”: a conservation initiative launched around 2018 by Plantlive, a British-based organization. The idea has begun to spread to the U.S. since 2020 with the same slogan: “no mowing in May.” It’s a laudable goal, but… if you don’t mow your lawn for the entire month of May, it can grow up to a foot tall! It will then be very difficult to mow the lawn and it may be necessary to rent appropriate equipment such as a brushcutter.

Mowing too far apart or too drastically can have negative effects: it will cause shock to the grass and decrease the density of the lawn at a time when a drought can occur any day. And all those grass clippings will have to be collected if you don’t want to smother the lawn with clippings. Also, dandelions bloom later in some areas of Quebec such as the Gaspé Peninsula. For all these reasons, I believe it is important to clarify this project.

Hard to cut the grass after a month! And the grass will have to be picked up.

More Like: Delaying Mowing

In fact, the young couple who started this campaign in Quebec suggest delaying or raising the height of mowing when the dandelions are in bloom, so there is no need to suspend mowing throughout the whole month of May. Last year, this practice caused problems in some municipalities that did not have the staff or equipment to mow a lawn that had become a meadow! Some cities have taken the opportunity to stop mowing certain areas where no one is walking and they have become permanent grasslands.

Several cities have stopped mowing spaces where no one walks. Photo: Edith Smeesters.

There’s nothing to stop you from turning part of your lawn into a more natural space where you might see wildflowers like hawkweed, buttercups or forget-me-nots appear if they’re already around, but don’t expect to get a beautiful flower meadow just by stopping mowing your lawn. It takes a little more preparation (see my wildflower meadow article).

A Beautiful Lawn Is Important, but Why Not One With Flowers All Summer Long?

Let’s face it, regularly mowed lawns play an important role in our family and social life, as we all need spaces to relax and play safely. A well-maintained lawn is resistant to foot traffic and drought. The most important thing is not to cut it too short (not less than 3 inches or 8 cm) and if it falls dormant during a heat wave, rest assured that it will come back to life with the return of rain.

But a beautiful lawn does not mean it should be a monoculture. If this is your case, you can introduce biodiversity with species that tolerate regular cutting and that bloom for most of the summer, such as white clover, thyme, wild strawberry, birdsfoot trefoil, sloe, violets, etc. And if you need to redo or install a new lawn, you should know that there is now rolls of sod with clover or other plants mixed in. Find out more!

A beautiful lawn should not be a monoculture. Photo: Edith Smeesters.

Let’s Attract All the Pollinators!

Bees need pollen and nectar all summer long, not just in May. They will benefit from the contribution of all of us to resist pollution and climate change. Honeybees are important of course, but did you know that there are over 860 species of wild bees in Canada? These do not produce honey and most do not sting, but they are very effective at pollination as well. Consider planting native species to attract them, as some are very specific. Also consider butterflies, such as the monarch butterfly, which needs our native milkweed to reproduce. Other species, like bumblebees, need flowers very early in the season and these are trees like willows and maples that bloom early or shrubs like serviceberry, elderberry and viburnum.

In short, the Dandelion Challenge is a great ecological initiative to make us aware of the importance of pollinators and to encourage us to create diversified landscapes and especially lawns that bloom throughout the year, not just in May.

Bees need pollen and nectar throughout the summer. Photo: Edith Smeesters.

For more information:

A garden for the rusty patched bumblebee, Lorraine Johnson and Sheila Colla, Ontario and Great Lakes edition, 2022;

Edith Smeesters is a biologist and a pioneer in ecological horticulture in Quebec. She has given countless conferences and workshops and written several books on the subject for over 20 years. She founded and has been president of several environmental organizations, such as Nature-Action Québec and the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. She was a key figure in the creation of the Pesticide Management Code of Quebec, which has been in effect since 2003. She has received several awards for her involvement in the environment and is a member of the prestigious "Cercle des Phénix".

12 comments on “The New Dandelion Challenge

  1. Mary L Discuillo

    I think the ugliest thing ever is dandelions that have gone to seed. Makes the whole yard look like complete neglect. Maybe keep them when they are pretty yellow but how bout mow before they seed. Plus the seed blows everywhere so the ugly seeds blow all over the neighborhood

  2. Christine Lemieux

    Well, this article seems to have opened up a bigger discussion. I had no idea dandelions were a problem. I must say, my garden supports a healthy native bee population and I just don’t see them on the dandelions. What I do see is my neighbour’s honey bees arriving in swarms when large numbers of something is in bloom, like heath or milkweed for example. I do feel in those instances they are out competing the bees. Except on cooler or damper days. They stay home and my bees are out! I looked it up and found a good link for anyone who is interested.

  3. marianwhit

    Thanks to a vigorous honey bee lobby (where all those jars in every supermarket come from), we are being encouraged to use an invasive allelopathic pollinator thief of a plant to serve an alien introduced domestic bee when we “could” choose both a less simplistic solution (for us) and a simple solution for ALL animals that rely on plants everywhere…native plants support hundreds of species of specialized native bee species…as well as herbivorous insects that are highly specialized to eat particular kinds of leaves of certain plants they evolved with…you know, like monarchs need milkweeds? Yup MANY insects have these specialized needs. Allowed to seed, dandelions, as we all know do not stay in your yard…they have spread all over the world, in fact, and threaten the very survival of various native plants in the same genus (there is a growing body of Japanese research on how even the pollen of the common dandelion is allelopathic and prevents the reproduction of native plants).

    Introduced plants that are adapted to sunny disturbed in environments have a massive amount more energy to put into reproduction, evolutionary adaptation to new sites, and competition with other plants than native plants that use much of their energy defending against their normal compliment of predators, PLUS habitat destruction, PLUS insects, animals (like slugs), and diseases that have been introduced at a phenomenal rate by planes, trains, and automobiles. I cried when I drove through Ontario when I saw the (unplanted…the plant IS invasive) fields of dandelion as far as the eye could see, knowing the displacement and loss of opportunity for native plants and every animal that depends upon them. This is part of Anthropocene extinction, because we don’t pause to learn more than memes on Facebook. For a real eye opener and a different opinion on why native plants are important, and a mown lawn without further spread of dandelions, clovers, and other pollinator diverting plants (that means in addition to the problems native plants have, their pollinators are drawn away, reducing their opportunity to reproduce at all). We desperately need people like Heather Holm, and people who understand how to heal these wastelands, and who can push back against things that seem like a great idea on the surface but that are long-term ecologically destructive. Other good sources to understand these concepts are, Dr. Douglas Tallamy whose elegant research has demonstrated that 96% of songbirds depend on the thousands of species of lepidopterans eating leaves of native plants that serve as protein rich food for baby birds…a chickadee pair needs 7-9,000 caterpillars to raise a clutch of eggs. So have your honey at the cost of the birds, amphibians, and other creatures that need a diverse ecology of plants for food, shelter, nesting materials etc. I will be in my garden fitting in as many kinds and types of native plants as possible, and making room for them by removing the most invasive species, of which dandelion is one.

    The thing is, honey bees do as well if not better among our native plants, so it is not an “either/or” proposition. We just have to get rid of our romantic attachment to blowing dandelions around and try asters and goldenrod instead. Native peoples referred to these and other introduced weedy plants as “the white man’s footprint”, because they understood very well the changes they saw in their food supply. Look into the “half-earth” propositions of E.O. Wilson, whose audiobook on the subject is available free on line, and hopefully more people will “get it” and we can all work together in our back yards to protect the biodiversity of the planet. Also look at the families of introduced dandelion “look-alikes” (Hieracium, Crepis, Sonchus, etc.) and how each is also dominating ground. Pandoras box was full of invasive plants. It is going to be very, very costly to fix the promotion of these few plants over the native plants on which our ecology is founded…the large dandelions I am finding on my property adapted to shade make me wonder what the next few hundred years will look like if we only look to our sweet tooth for answers. I know this is also being promoted to reduce herbicide use, so know that the only way to deal with them, in my book, is to prevent flowering by hand and dig them out. The more there are the less time I have to try to save many native species from losing their habitat. So growing natives is less likely to piss off your neighbors, both those with grass (would that we had local sources of native grass seed and small native plant mixes), and those with relatively intact land of native plants. It is not necessary to be a purist…all native plants, zero introduced plants, but to pay attention to those plants that aggressively dominate the landscape…and Ontario has a problem.

  4. Ann T Dubas

    Here in Virginia wildflowers are very hard to establish. The deer prefer the native plants so they eat them as fast as they grow. We finally have profusions of resistant flowers. Mountain Mint is very successful in our rocky clay soil. It attracts pollinators like nothing I’ve ever seen! Of course, in the summer, swallowtail butterflies love zinnias and deer don’t eat them. So be very selective in planting or seeding your natives to avoid wasting time and money.

    • marianwhit

      This is true…I always say “if you plant it they will come.” Why? Because that is like putting eclairs out back in some place with a starving human population. Yes, a diversity of native plants is hard to grow, and they have to be both protected from native predators until of substantial numbers and sizes to support those animals. If you are growing native plants in a sea of lawns, that will happen. The deer issue is further complicated by lack of predation keeping numbers in check enough that they also contribute to the problem of native plant depauperation…because, like an American child turning their nose up at sushi, they don’t eat non-native plants by nature…and instead eat what is left of the native plants, making more room for the uneaten introduced species. It is super that you are looking for native species that work to add to your yard…it is often not easy, but what you are seeing is an indication of the magnitude of the problem. Consider fencing a small area so you can get some native plants to maturity and fruiting stage…I can guarantee the bird life will knock your socks off (30 years into the shift to native plants, and delighted by crops of baby birds we never saw when we started the current garden/native land stewardship effort. No form of gardening has ever been both so frustrating, and DEEPLY rewarding. I can’t recommend it more highly…we get satisfaction with the things we put our own real effort into, not buying hyper genetically modified solutions in plastic bags and pots.

  5. Many thanks for your inspiration Edith; especially the link to your very informative personal experience with creating a wildflower meadow. I may have to let Hubby keep his tractor after all LOL!

  6. Margaret

    What are the purple flowers in the last picture?

  7. Thank you for today’s post.

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