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  • KentuckianaSCI

Recreational Mowing Syndrone

By Clay Smitson

Private Lands Wildlife Biologist

Have you ever felt an unexplainable, deep-seated need to

“clean up” tall grass, weeds, or brush on your property without

really understanding why? Do you worry that your neighbors will

think you’re lazy if your property doesn’t look just like the nearest

golf course fairway? If so, then you too may be suffering from

RMS or Recreational Mowing Syndrome. RMS can lead folks to

believe that the freshly manicured look of their lawn should be

expanded to take in all of their open fields and woodland edges.

Folks who live in urban or suburban areas and purchase parcels

of land in the country often just don’t know how to properly manage

larger open spaces. They mistakenly think they need to do

something right away, and since they’ve mown their lawns their

entire adult life they think mowing and clearing is automatically

the way to go.

Years ago, farmers didn’t have the modern equipment and

luxury of excess time and money for fuel to keep their farms

mown cleanly to the fences or forests. During that time, many

grassland wildlife species, such as bobwhite quail, rabbit, and

grassland songbirds were thriving. Land cover and wildlife populations

have changed drastically since then. The introduction of

KY 31 tall fescue and the notion that the only good farm is a

clean farm have led to dramatic reductions in the numbers of

these animals across the Kentucky landscape. However, many

folks who want to use their rural properties for home sites, recreation

and even agricultural production often view the enjoyment

of wildlife as an essential goal for country living.

So is there a cure for this widespread disorder? A fresh look

at land management from a new perspective is a highly effective

initial treatment. What may look to us like a weedy or brushy

mess may actually be the only safe haven many smaller critters

have to survive, thrive and reproduce. An overgrown fencerow,

or a tall grass field may look a lot more like home to animals like

quail and rabbit. Aside from letting these field borders thicken

up a bit, larger open fields often also could use some treatment

themselves. While a neatly mown fescue field may have a green

and vibrant appearance, it may actually end up being a nearly

sterile environment—a biological “desert.” Through the careful

use of herbicides, and possibly reseeding, these sites can be

transformed to more natural, healthy habitats of native grasses

and wildflowers that may only need to be maintained every couple

years instead of several times a year. Not only will wildlife

appreciate and enjoy it, so will your bank account. Land clearing

and frequent mowing can result in expensive equipment purchases,

labor expenses, and fuel costs, giving those afflicted with

RMS reason to evaluate their symptoms and consider remedial


For more information, visit and search for

your county’s private lands biologist. You can fight RMS, free up

more time and money to spend with the grandkids or other pursuits,

and help restore wildlife on your property, all with the same


Habitat Improvement Checklist

“Spring Checklist”


___ Prescribe burn in preparation to eradicate fescue

___ Strip disk to promote bare ground & new forb growth

___ Sow Clover or lespedeza

___ Sow cool season grasses

___ Apply lime & fertilizer per soil test to wildlife food plots


___ Begin preparation of dove fields

___ Plant tree & shrub seedlings

___ Spray herbicide to eradicate fescue

___ Conduct timber stand improvement & Create brush piles

___ Establish wildlife mineral licks


___ Plant annual grain food plots/dove fields

(Do not plant in same location as last year)

___ Sow warm season grasses & wildflowers

___ Hinge-cut cedar trees for living brush piles

[For more info, call KDFWR (800) 858-1549]


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