How to Replace Your Lawn With Native Plants

How to Replace Your Lawn With Native Plants

How to Replace Your Lawn With Native Plants

Why replace your lawn with native plants?

Traditional lawns require a lot of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance to stay green and lush. This comes at a cost to the environment. Native plants are already adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. Replacing a conventional lawn with native plants provides many benefits:

  • Native plants require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides once established. This saves time, money, and protects the local watershed.

  • Native plants attract butterflies, bees, birds, and other desirable wildlife by providing food and habitat. A lawn is essentially a food desert for local fauna.

  • With deep root systems, native plants help filter water and prevent erosion and runoff. Their roots store more carbon than turfgrass.

  • A patchwork of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees is more visually interesting than a flat green carpet of turfgrass. It adds unique character to your landscape.

  • You’ll spend less time mowing, edging, aerating, and fretting over bald spots or weeds. Replace tedious lawn care with relaxing time spent enjoying your native plant oasis!

How to select the right native plants

Choosing native plants suited to your region and site conditions is key to success. Here are some tips:

  • Consult with local native plant societies or Extension services for recommendations of native species that will thrive in your area.

  • Consider your site conditions – soil type, sun exposure, moisture, slope, etc. Select native plants adapted to these specific conditions.

  • Decide the types of native plants you want – grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, trees. Choose a diverse mix for multi-season interest.

  • Look for native species that support local wildlife. Plants that provide nectar, seeds, nuts, berries, and nesting sites are especially valuable.

  • Think about texture and height. Incorporate plants of various sizes, leaf shapes, and growth habits to create an attractive composition.

How to remove an existing lawn

Removing grass and preparing the underlying soil is labor intensive but worth the effort. Here are two options:

Sheet mulching

This involves smothering the grass under layers of newspaper or cardboard topped with compost and mulch. Over several months, the lawn decomposes, leaving you with rich, fertile soil for planting. The benefits include avoiding herbicide use. The drawback is waiting several months before planting.


This involves mowing the lawn very short, then watering thoroughly. Next, cover the lawn with clear plastic sheeting for 4-6 weeks over summer. The heat and moisture kill the grass and weeds. You can then plant directly into the bare soil. The benefits include effectiveness and speed. The drawback is using plastic sheeting.

How to plant and establish native plants

The right planting techniques and follow-up care ensures your native plants thrive:

  • Group plants with similar water and sun needs together. Dig holes twice the width of the root ball.

  • Thoroughly water each plant immediately after planting and as needed while establishing. Most will need 1 inch of water per week.

  • Spread a 2-3 inch layer of mulch around plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Leave space between mulch and stems to avoid rot.

  • Provide temporary shade structures if planting in full sun. Remove after plants are established.

  • Be diligent about weeding, especially in the first two years. Do not let weeds take over.

  • Most plants will require 2-3 years to fully establish their root systems. Avoid fertilizers which encourage weed growth.

Ongoing maintenance

While native plants are lower maintenance than lawns, they still require care:

  • Ongoing spot weeding is important, especially as plants establish themselves. Target any invasive weeds right away.

  • Most native plants require occasional thinning or division every 3-5 years. This prevents overcrowding and encourages healthy growth.

  • Prune back dead growth on wildflowers and grasses in late winter.

  • Supplement water during droughts, about 1 inch per month. Established plants are quite drought tolerant though.

  • Watch for pests and diseases and address any issues promptly. Maintain plant health through proper care.

The benefits are well worth the effort

Converting turf grass into a naturalized landscape with native plants requires work upfront. But the payoff is big in terms of reduced maintenance, help for the local ecology, and pure aesthetic appeal. Enjoy your new native plant oasis!