How to Replace Your Lawn with Native Plants
Replacing your lawn with native plants can seem daunting, but it is an extremely rewarding project that will benefit the environment. Here is an in-depth guide on how to convert your lawn into a native plant garden.
Why Replace Your Lawn
There are many benefits to replacing traditional grass lawns with native plants:
Lawns are essentially biological deserts, offering little habitat for native wildlife. Native plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators by providing diverse sources of food and shelter. A native garden supports the local ecosystem.
Most turf grasses are thirsty and require frequent watering, especially during hot, dry periods. Native plants are adapted to local rainfall patterns, requiring little to no irrigation once established.
A lawn needs regular mowing, fertilizing, pesticide applications, and other care. Native plants do not require these inputs after the initial planting phase. A native garden is lower maintenance than a traditional lawn.
Improves Soil Health
Monoculture lawns deplete soil nutrients. The deep roots of native plants improve soil structure, moisture retention, and nutrient cycling. Healthy soil supports microbial life and sequesters carbon.
How to Convert Your Lawn
Transforming all or part of your lawn into native plantings requires planning and work, but the payoff is immense. Follow these key steps:
Choose Native Plants
Select plants native to your geographic ecoregion. Visit local native plant nurseries and botanic gardens for inspiration. Favor native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees that:
- Are adapted to local climate and soil conditions
- Provide wildlife habitat
- Fit the sunlight, drainage and space available
- Match your aesthetic preferences
Prepare the Site
Eliminating the existing lawn is the hardest part. Options include:
- Sheet mulching with cardboard and mulch
- Solarizing the lawn by covering it with clear plastic for several weeks
- Herbicide application
- Digging up the sod by hand or with power equipment
Prepare the underlying soil by tilling in aged compost to improve fertility and drainage.
Develop a Layout
Group plants with similar needs together. Place trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses based on their mature sizes. Sketch out zones on paper or use landscape design software.
Plant according to Plan
It is tempting to cram in too many plants initially. Be disciplined and follow your plan, spacing plants properly. Plant in spring or fall, watering new plantings until they establish.
Provide Ongoing Care
Weed regularly until plants fill in. Spot treat invasive weeds. Provide supplemental water during extended droughts. Monitor for pests and diseases. Enjoy watching your native oasis grow!
Key Benefits of Converting to Native Plants
Creating a native garden in place of a lawn offers many advantages:
Native plants attract more species of birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife than lawn areas. You’ll enjoy watching birds splashing in a birdbath surrounded by native flowers and butterflies flitting from bloom to bloom.
Lower Water Usage
Once established, most native plants require little to no irrigation beyond normal rainfall, saving significant water compared to thirsty lawns.
A native garden requires far less time-consuming mowing, fertilizing, pesticide use and other lawn upkeep. Maintenance is mainly weeding until plants fill in.
Improved Soil Health
The deep roots of native plants loosen and enrich soil. They increase microbial activity, nutrient cycling and water retention compared to lawns.
Adapted to local conditions over thousands of years, native plants are less stressed by climate fluctuations than exotic species. They have greater drought tolerance and disease resistance.
Potential Challenges to Address
Switching to native plants presents some potential hurdles to consider:
- Initial cost can be higher than sod, but is offset long-term by lower maintenance.
- It may look sparse at first before plants spread out and self-seed.
- Neighbors may perceive it as messy or unkept. Communication helps.
- Some municipalities have turfgrass requirements. Seek alternatives.
- Consider critter-proof fencing if deer, rabbits or small rodents are problematic.
With proper planning and care, these issues can be overcome. The benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.
Enjoy Your Native Plant Oasis
Replacing high-maintenance turf grass with diverse, wildlife-friendly native plants brings many rewards. With planning and preparation, you can convert your lawn into a relaxed native plant oasis that benefits the local ecosystem. The end result will be greater biodiversity and a sanctuary for you and local fauna right in your own yard.