Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Put the mower in the shed and forget about it. Lazy lawn care is a boon to invertebrate and plant diversity, according to new research.
As part of a new meta-analysis study, scientists amalgamated the findings from dozens of studies on lawn management and biodiversity.
"Even though the studies were often very different (i.e. measured different organisms, were conducted in different countries, etc.), we still saw quite dominant effects," Chris Watson, lead researcher and a professor at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières, told UPI in an email.
The studies showed broadly that biodiversity benefits from a hands-off approach to lawn management.
Watson and his colleagues also found that intensive mowing increased the odds of invasion by herbivorous beetle larvae and allergenic plants.
The results of the meta-analysis, published Thursday in the Journal of Applied Ecology, showed ragweed tended proliferate in lawns that were intensively mowed.
There were outliers. The data showed a few helpful species benefit from intensive mowing, including the earthworm. But overall, biodiversity benefited most from less mowing.
Previous studies have shown that monarch butterflies thrive when milkweed patches are half cut and half uncut.
"Conditions that are best for one might not be best for all," Watson said. "I think the key for the greater good is habitat heterogeneity ... and given that there will always be short mowed urban grasses -- for parks, sporting activities, road safety, etc. -- an unmanaged approach is great for some areas to achieve that heterogeneity."
Authors of the new study hope both homeowners and decision-makers in charge of greenspaces will consider a less-is-more approach to lawn care moving forward.
"The main message is that cutting lawns slightly less frequently, or leaving them a bit longer can have a host of advantages -- from an ecological perspective, but also from an economic and a socio-medical one too (through reduction of allergenic weeds)," Watson said.
The researchers are planning to take their own advice and apply their findings to lawn management at a number of test sites.
"Next year we will be working in partnership with the City of Trois-Rivieres to conduct large-scale trials of low-maintenance mowing, and measuring different variables," Watson said. "In particular, we are looking to research more nuisance organisms, e.g. ticks, rodents, weeds."
"These are often believed to be more abundant in longer lawns and can be motivating for managers to keep lawns short -- however a lot of evidence suggests that this is not the case, and we would like to enhance this body of knowledge," he said.