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Recreational Mowing Syndrome: What is it and how to treat it?

July 17, 2019

Do you have a sudden urge to jump in the tractor and mow your fields, field borders or road ditches?
You might have RMS.

Do you enjoy spending your weekend in the cab of the tractor with a mower in tow in search of places to mow across your property?
You might have RMS.

Do you get queasy at the sight of a “weedy” unkempt field?
You might have RMS.

What is RMS you ask? RMS stands for Recreational Mowing Syndrome, a condition that afflicts many rural landowners during the summer months. And if you answered yes to any or all of the questions above, then you have RMS.

What is it?
RMS is the sudden urge many landowners get to ‘clean’ up their property by mowing the ideal fields, field borders, and road ditches around the farm during the summer months. While a mowed field may look attractive in the eyes of a landowner, in the eyes of wildlife, this is a serious problem.

These prime mowing spots provide habitat for a suite of birds, mammals, herpetofuana, and pollinating insects that inhabit our rural landscapes. Many of these species are actively nesting or raising young in these areas during peak mowing season – April through September. And the weeds coming up in these fields like common milkweed, tall ironweed, common ragweed, and many others provide food and cover for wildlife.

How to treat it?
The easiest way to treat RMS is by going cold-turkey – park the tractor for the summer. If you are not ready to give up mowing all together, then restrict your mowing to just the lanes around the fields, instead of the whole field. If you are ready to give up mowing, but still want to enjoy time in the tractor, try these options.

Instead of hooking up the mower, hook up the sprayer and go control some invasive species on the property, like bush honeysuckle, autumn olive, or sericea lespedeza. Or try hooking up the disk and disking around the field to prepare firebreaks for a late summer or fall prescribed fire.

You can still spend time on the tractor during the summer months without eliminating wildlife habitat through mowing. In fact, you can improve it!

Next time you look at your window and see a “weedy” field, don’t cringe and give into the urge to mow it. Instead, just smile and listen to all the quail whistling, songbirds singing, and bees buzzing in the habitat you improved by not mowing.

Resources
Renovating native warm-season grass stands for wildlife: A Land Manager’s Guide, The Education Store, Purdue Extension Resource Center
Effective Firebreaks for Safe Use of Prescribed Fire, Got Nature?, Purdue Extension - FNR
Sericea Lespedeza: Plague on the Prairie, Got Nature?, Purdue Extension - FNR

Jarred Brooke, Wildlife Extension Specialist
Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources

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