How to get rid of your lawn
If you were at all convinced by my prior screed
After reading my latest missive, my thoughtful colleague asked me recently, “If I want to get rid of my lawn, where should I start?”
From my limited experience, here’s what I’d advise.
1. Identify what you already have.
Most likely, you already have a handful of natives in your yard. Start familiarizing yourself with the native plants, shrubs, and trees in your region. You probably are surrounded by a decent number of them.
As a starting place, I love the Seek app (a recommendation from another thoughtful colleague, an actual farmer who is far more knowledgeable than I am). It’s not always right, but it’s often pretty successful at identifying flowers, foliage, shrubs, and even trees. It’s my favorite phone app, by a long shot.
2. Redefine “weeds.”
Those of us who have been conditioned to grow lawns view anything that’s not turfgrass as a “weed.” This is weird and wrong. Clover, for example, is a very beneficial plant that lawn-lowers regard as a noxious weed. Plantain is another one with useful properties. Sure, many plants (like crabgrass) are very frustrating to tidy gardeners, but they’re not necessarily damaging your ecosystem. In many cases, “weeds” deserve to live and not be sprayed with poison. If you want to move in this landscaping direction, you’ll need to scrap your previous mental models about weeds and instead…
3. Remove invasives and protect natives.
“Invasives” and “natives” are the words to add to your landscaping vocabulary rather than “weed” and “not a weed.”
In my region, we are fighting a difficult (and it seems, losing) battle against the invasives tree of heaven, porcelain berry, and kudzu, among others, which are choking out the biodiversity in our landscapes. I’ve found all of them and other invasives (such as English ivy) in my yard, and I attack and remove them with regular vengeance. In this way, I continue to make room for the beneficial native plants I’ve added or that have volunteered themselves.
4. Observe the sun and shade.
If you haven’t already, familiarize yourself with the sun and shade patterns in your yard. What areas receive full sun? Which are in deep shade all day? This will help you with the next, fun step.
5. Start planting natives.
Re-wild your backyard and colonize your grass! Start the takeover by digging it up and planting native flowers, shrubs, and trees. In sunny areas, low-maintenance but high-reward natives like purple coneflower, goldenrod, asters, coreopsis, and black-eyed susans are a great place to start. In the shade, I love adding wild geranium, wood poppy, native anemones, and native ferns (Christmas fern is especially easy).
There are dozens of great sites to identify native plants for your region, such as:
*Hot tip: A great way to kill grass with minimal effort is to cover it with all those Amazon boxes you have lying around, pile on some mulch, leave it for a season, and voila: You’ve got a plant-able space!
6. Play the long game.
Repeat step 5—for years. It’s taken me about eight years to get my front yard to the state that it’s in. Every spring and fall, I add a plant or two. And I divide those that have multiplied on their own and put them elsewhere, as space allows. Year after year, your garden will do most of the hard work for you. You just have to wait and pay attention.
Up next: How gardening in this fashion requires a new aesthetics of landscaping.