How to Turn Your Lawn Into a Natural Habitat

How to Turn Your Lawn Into a Natural Habitat

How to Turn Your Lawn Into a Natural Habitat

Why Convert Your Lawn?

Converting your lawn into a natural habitat provides many benefits for local wildlife, the environment, and even yourself. Here are some of the top reasons to consider making the switch:

  • Promotes biodiversity. Lawns are essentially biological deserts, offering little in terms of food or shelter for wildlife. Converting to native plants and wildflowers attracts a wide variety of birds, bees, butterflies, and other animals by providing diverse natural food sources and places to raise young. This increases the biodiversity in your area.

  • Saves water. Traditional lawns require significant amounts of watering to stay green and lush. However, native plants are already adapted to local rainfall patterns, requiring little to no extra water once established. This saves fresh water for other needs.

  • Reduces pollution. Traditional lawns need regular mowing, fertilizing, pesticides and herbicides to look pristine. However, these practices all lead to air, water and soil pollution. Native plants need little to no chemical inputs once planted.

  • Saves time and money. Maintaining a manicured lawn is incredibly labor and resource intensive. Native plantings cut down dramatically on mowing, weeding and other tasks. They also eliminate the need for purchasing fertilizers, pesticides and more.

  • Aesthetic appeal. While neat turfgrass offers its own beauty, a well-designed native habitat can provide visual interest and a relaxing sanctuary right in your own yard. Watching wildlife up close is also rewarding.

How to Convert Your Lawn

Converting a traditional lawn into a native plant habitat does take some work. But the benefits are well worth the initial investment of time and effort. Follow these key steps for a successful transition:

Phase Out the Existing Lawn

Simply planting native species into your current turfgrass will not work. The lawn will choke out most new plants. Begin preparing the site at least a full growing season in advance:

  • Stop mowing and allow grass to grow longer to stress and thin it out.
  • Cover areas with cardboard or layers of newspaper to block sunlight and kill the lawn. Wetting it down helps hold it in place.
  • Solarize areas by covering with clear plastic sheeting for several weeks to kill grass via heat.
  • Once dead, remove grass with a sod cutter or by hand. Dig down 4-6 inches to remove as many roots as possible.

Choose the Right Plants

Select native flowers, grasses, shrubs and groundcovers well-suited to the sunlight, soil and moisture levels in your yard. Aim for a diversity of plants with different heights, bloom times and colors. Some excellent options include:

  • Wildflowers: coneflowers, blazing stars, goldenrod, asters, milkweed, bee balm, black-eyed susans
  • Grasses: little bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass
  • Shrubs and trees: elderberry, serviceberry, buttonbush, juniper, hazelnut

Check with local native plant societies or conservation groups for specifics on native species in your area. An ecological landscape designer can also help plan out plant placement and diversity.

Prepare and Plant

Once existing turf is removed, take time to improve the underlying soil before planting:

  • Till or dig in 2-4 inches of compost to improve fertility and drainage.
  • Create mounded planting beds for added visual interest.
  • Lay out plants and plant at proper spacing and depths per their needs.
  • Consider drip irrigation or rain barrels to help establish plants.
  • Apply 2-3 inches of natural mulch like wood chips to suppress weeds and retain moisture.

Ongoing Care

Native habitats are lower maintenance than lawns, but do still require some annual care:

  • Water when needed until plants establish deeper roots.
  • Weed as needed until plants fill in. This becomes minimal over time.
  • Prune and divide plants as they outgrow their space.
  • Leave seed heads over winter for birds and insect habitats.
  • Cut back dead growth as needed in spring to allow new growth.

Enjoy Your Native Oasis

Converting your traditional lawn into a vibrant native plant habitat provides cascading benefits for nature, the planet and yourself. The initial effort pays off for years to come with a beautiful, biodiverse and low-maintenance sanctuary right in your own yard that you can enjoy and take pride in.