Why mow medians?

Mrs. Newscut and I drove down to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Tuesday and somewhere along Highway 52 — it might’ve been just south of Rosemount — we saw the usual line of tractors mowing the median strip. “There’s something they could do without if the state was looking to save a few bucks,” I said. There doesn’t really seem to be any sense in mowing the medians, especially since we’ve become more appreciative of wild flowers and are getting away from the notion that if it’s grass, it has to look like a Scott’s grass seed commercial.

It turns out, according to the Wadena Pioneer Journal, that maybe they shouldn’t be mowing at all. An article this afternoon quotes a Department of Natural Resources official.


“State law prohibits road authorities from mowing an entire right-of-way until July 31,” Nelson said. “Private landowners may mow or hay the roadside adjacent to their property at any time, but they can help wildlife by waiting.”

A nesting pheasant hen lays eggs at a rate of about one per day, resulting in nests that contain an average of 12 eggs. The incubation period of 23 days starts after all eggs have been laid. The hen remains on the nest during incubation, leaving only briefly to feed. If the nest is destroyed, the hen will repeatedly nest until she is successful in hatching a clutch, although re-nesting clutches have fewer eggs.

There’s a difference, of course, between a median and an adjacent right-of-way. MnDOT says mowing is necessary to improve visibility for motorists but that’s only true near intersections, perhaps.

This weekend, thousands of people are heading for the wilderness. Would it really bother us if we had to look at some along the way?

In Wisconsin, the state is paying counties for only one mowing a season, leaving the counties to pay for the rest. Some tried using jail prisoners, but the state employee union objected. Wisconsin, like Minnesota, shifted funds from transportation to other accounts, prompting an official to ask for a constitutional amendment, prohibiting the shifting of funds. “We have a grass-growing problem,” he said last week.

He said Wisconsinites don’t want median strips looking like hayfields. Why not?

Besides, the tall wildflowers — you can call them weeds if you wish — hide all the litter that gets tossed out.

  • Mary

    That Wadena Pioneer Journal article reads like a parody, where well-groomed highways are a higher priority than schools, hospitals, cops, libraries, public universities, parks and preserves… Seriously?

    Yes, let us rise up in support of our right to neatly-manicured roadside ditches, and let those greedy little children go without their school lunches! If that were published in The Onion, I’d think it a little too broad of a satire — nobody’s really like that, are they?

  • Joshua

    Skip the mowing!!! Save the cash. Reduce oil consumption. Reduce runofff. Protect widelife. A win, win, win, win!

  • Joshua

    damn… always preview b4 posting.

  • Mary

    Oops, I mixed up the links. I meant the Journal Times article was ridiculous, in case you couldn’t tell..

  • http://www.strayhawkeye.com Kearn

    I always assumed they mowed the medians and ditches exactly because it discourages wildlife from nesting / grazing / living right next to the road – to help prevent excess roadkill and traffic accidents caused by people swerving to avoid something jumping out in front of them. In particular, deer are much easier to spot and slow down for if you can see them while they’re still 20 feet from the road, instead of already on it.

    That said, maybe it would make the most sense to let the medians grow until mid-summer to allow the birds to nest, and then mowing them once in late summer to avoid them getting tall enough to hide deer, which seem to come out on the roads much more in the fall?

  • Momkat

    I noticed last week driving south on I35 how nice the clover and the wild flowers looked. I always hate to see those huge expanses of Kentucky blue grass watered and mowed to perfection where there could be wild flowers with deep roots. And deep roots would help address the runoff problem. It just goes on and on, doesn’t it?

  • mulad

    I think Mn/DOT mows less than they used to when I was a kid — I remember there was some discussion about it roughly 15 years ago, and I started seeing taller grass and prairie plants show up. However, I’ve been noticing more mowed areas in recent years, so either they’ve started mowing more or I’ve just been getting used to it. It looks like they could get by with mowing even less than they do now, but there’s a limit to how long you should let the grass grow without any interaction. Native grasses should probably be cleared by burning every five years or so to retain an optimum habitat for wildfowl, though I bet communities are reluctant to actually burn since it could get out of control. Mowing is unlikely to go haywire, and has a lot of the same effects (though I’m sure burning would be better in a lot of cases).

    I agree it’s good to keep things relatively clear near intersections for visibility. The late-summer/early-autumn mowing should typically just be in a fairly narrow band along the road. Having tall grass in the vicinity of the road helps reduce blowing and drifting snow in the winter, but the band of short-cut grass is an attempt to keep the drifts that do form from extending too far into the main roadway. I think Mn/DOT used to put up a lot more snow fences in the past than they do now, in part because of the taller grass along the road we have these days.