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Nothing sets off your home and gardens like a freshly mown lawn. But lawns now cover more than 25 million acres of America. They have crowded out native plants and wildlife habitat, and the noise and exhaust from mowers and string trimmers fills the summer air.
Why not consider reducing the size of your lawn this year? With some thoughtful plant selection and placement, you can reduce the amount of lawn that you maintain by at least 25 percent, and enjoy a lower maintenance yard that still looks neat and well cared for.
By reducing your lawn by even 20 percent, you'll be providing a more diverse habitat for birds and pollinators. In addition, you will create a beautiful, low-maintenance landscape.
Start by taking a good look at your lawn. The most obvious lawn areas to eliminate are places where the grass doesn't thrive in the first placeshaded areas under trees, wet sections in the yard, and rocky outcroppings. And don't forget the steep bank where you risk your life mowing every weekend. These are all perfect candidates for alternative plantings.
Ask yourself how much lawn you really need:
Once you've determined what your yard is used for, you may find that you can dramatically decrease your lawn. But don't make any big changes — not right away. Do a little research before you start. Start small and replant over a period of months or even years. Begin with problem areas, such as a steep slope or a shady or wet zone. Here are five principles to keep in mind for non-lawn areas:
A formal yard has lots of open space with plants strategically placed on edges of the lawn. The "natural" yard incorporates more native plantstrees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and flowering perennialsgrouped in free-flowing swaths around the property.
By adding native plants, you can reestablish some of the natural ecosystems that your lawn replaced. In an Arizona yard, for example, you might consider reintroducing cactus and adding nectar-rich native flowers that will lure hummingbirds. More and more nurseries and garden centers offer a good selection of native plants. Being naturally well-suited to your area and casual rather than fussy, they make a good, low-maintenance lawn alternative.
Growing a large number of different plant varieties is tempting, but it requires constant attention to keep them in their place. As tall varieties mature, they can block out the sun for short plants, and fast-spreading perennials will encroach on slower-growing plants. For easy care, keep your plantings simple. Select two or three varieties and group the plants together, giving them enough space to grow for many years without competition. You'll find that the shrubs and perennials will merge into one large planting that helps suppress weeds and creates a safe haven for toads, birds, and other small creatures.
Although it takes some front-end attention to get ground covers well-established, they'll eventually form a ground-hugging mat that helps keep weeds at bay. For shady areas, try planting vinca (Vinca minor) under your trees or incorporate ferns, lily-of-the-valley and pachysandra in shaded corners. For spring color, plant flowering bulbs, Solomon's seal, and bleeding heart between the ground covers.
In sunny, dry areas, daylilies are one of the fastest-spreading perennial ground covers you can grow. The low, spreading forms of thyme, juniper, euonymus and phlox also make a nice carpet.
Mulch your beds with 3-4" of shredded leaves, bark or wood chips. Mulch retains soil moisture and improves the quality of your soil. Water with drip-irrigation or soaker hoses to get water directly to the root zone and avoid wasteful runoff and loss through evaporation. Set up a rain barrel to capture rainfall from your roof.
Installing low-maintenance surfaces and edging makes it easy to define a neat line along walkways and borders between lawn and garden. If you have a worn footpath in the lawn from the deck to the tool shed, or between the back door and compost pile, consider creating a fieldstone or gravel path between the two areas. You might also install a band of edging to keep turf from invading your plantings. Gravel beds also can be a very attractive way to define a border or lead you to another section of the yard.
Here are some things you can do to save even more work and grow a better looking, more earth-friendly lawn:
Last updated: 2/27/19
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