Getting rid of front lawns in favor of native plants

neodolatelnaMarch 10, 2006

Hello all,

I am writing an article on why you should get rid of your front lawn and plant native plants instead. Can anyone recommend any informational websites or statistics on how much water is wasted and the pollution caused by fertilizers, weed killers, etc. I did a search on this site and couldn't find anything.



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Hi Eileen,
Would you please post your article when you are done?

I don't know if it will help these days but the history of the lawn, where they came from and why America has them, is a great argument against them.
Also your tax dolars paid for this slick full color glossy poster blitz a few years ago that was supposed to guilt/scare us into cleaning up after our dogs and get rid of our old cars because they are polluting the nations waters. No mention of the multi billion dollar lawn chemical corps of course BUT each one cited hard numbers on the amounts.
It is kind of sad the government is better as a foil but the data will all be public domain and trackable.

Good luck and good on you!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 12:22PM
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Flowerkitty(Z6 or Z5 SE MI)

Groundwater websites are good places to star. The link below has some EPA figures for water usage:

This is an interesting educational site:

This is a more technical site:

I get depressed reading this stuff. I read somewhere, but could not find the reference , that the poisons dumped on our soil in the fifties is just now percolating into the ground water. Naturalized plantings avoid pesticides, fertilizers, excess watering (and tap water contains chlorine and floride compounds which add to the soil). You don't have to waste gasoline cutting grass (how much gasoline to cut a lawn for a year?).

Naturalized plantings also, hopefully, make seeds available to be transported by wind and birds. We cut grass before it goes to seed which reduces food for birds. We treat lawns with poisons to kill bugs and insects, which also cuts the food supply. We treat lawns with herbicides to remove weeds, therefore suppressing any native plants that might have a desire to live also.

It is hard to get a modern American to believe that plants going to seed are a good thing.

Here is a link that might be useful: EPA info on water usage

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 7:32PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Neil Diboll at Prairie Nursery has posted several articles on their web page that are very insightful about the history of native/natural landscaping. Much of his information is geared towards the midwestern landscape. But its worth a read for anyone interested in native landscaping.

Here is a portion of one of his articles.

It was not until the late 1960s that the prairie was considered for use in the landscape as an aesthetic alternative to traditional lawns and trees. This transformative development was driven by the convergence of a number of events.

First, it had become clear that some of the pesticides being used in the landscape industry contained chemicals that were extremely toxic, and threatened the health of both humans and animals. Turf had become the single largest agricultural crop in America, and the chemicals that were being used to maintain it were suspected of causing cancer and other maladies. Lawns also require regular watering during dry periods, while the tough prairie plants are perfectly adapted to the rigors of the severe continental climate found in AmericaÂs mid-section. These plants not only require no watering, they can survive extremes of heat, drought, and cold. While the lawn wilts in the heat of summer, the prairie shines in all its glory.

Secondly, America was being swept by a tidal wave of reaction against a generation of conformity. A prime example of the tyranny of this conformity was the unwritten social contract that the only acceptable landscape was a tidy, well-kept lawn. Anything less could only be considered un-American. As the social revolution of the 1960Âs convulsed the country, it became acceptable to be unacceptable. Questioning authority was the watchword of the times. And no authority had the right to dictate that our landscapes must conform to the military-industrial complex that dominated America during the Vietnam era. Growing your hair long was cool, and growing your grass long was cool, too.

Thirdly, the United States was finally coming of age as it approached its 200th birthday as a nation. As a land with primarily European roots, America looked to England, France, Germany, and Italy for its foods, styles, and gardens. We venerated English gardens and French parterres, as we ripped our own beautiful prairie plants from the soil. Finally, four hundred years after the first Europeans had established permanent settlements in the New World, we were discovering our own native plant heritage. Unfortunately, we found that most of what remained of our prairie heritage was growing along old railroad tracks and in abandoned cemeteries.

The drive to create chemical free landscapes combined with the questioning of our social norms to create the opportunity to consider alternatives to the ubiquitous lawn. Using Nature as a model, it became clear that the different flowers and grasses of the native prairie could be planted together to form a stable, low-maintenance landscape. Herbicides were not required to control weeds in the prairie, as the thick prairie sod squeezed out most weedy invaders. The fertilizers used on lawns that polluted our water were not necessary for the health of the adaptable prairie plants. The reduction in maintenance also translated into significant cost savings. Prairies are far cheaper to maintain than traditional, highly-maintained landscapes. Perhaps best of all, the lucky few who replaced their lawns with prairies were liberated from the senseless slavery of mowing the lawn every weekend!

The entire article can be read here:

a link to other of his articles is here:

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 5:58PM
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birdgardner(NJ/ 6b)

Don't be too dogmatically anti-lawn. You could point out that one can have a lawn and never water it - depending on the climate or the kind of grass - how about buffalo grass in dry climates. That proper cutting height reduces weed growth. That you can use corn gluten to inhibit weed germination, and provide nitrogen. Using a mulching mower and having some clover in the lawn also provides nitrogen.

Grubs can be contolled by nematodes, if you wait a few years. I suspect bugs are an over-rated problem - routine pesticide treatment would be like someone taking antibiotics all the time.

There's a lot to be said for a lawn - it's a safe, cool, durable surface for children to run and play on. It's fun to lie in the grass and watch the bugs at eye level and to look up at the sky with the grass blades fringing your vision like a jungle. If my yard was all meadow or forest, my children would be covered with ticks and get Lyme disease every year.

I'd even say there's something to be said for a whole neighborhood of lawns - mind you, I'm picturing an older neighborhood with trees - a sense of community and commonality, which I hope would be tolerant of variations and eccentricities.

Gardens require skill to maintain. Lawns don't. Lots of people don't have the time or skill. My lawn takes less maintenance time than my gardens, and they are low maintenance. Don't forget that native plants have their pests and diseases, and some people will be out spraying.

Rather than telling people "why you should do" something, which tends to rub them the wrong way, - why not describe the pleasures and benefits and beauties of a garden of natives - or compatible non-invasive non-natives. Mention birds and butterflies. Acknowledge what's good about lawns and then suggest ways to make them safer for the environment.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 12:15AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Certainly an organic lawn care program is better than a non-organic lawn. But in many parts of the country you cannot achieve even an organic lawn, without a significant amount of additional watering. And many people, at least in the midwest, are unwilling to let their lawns go dormant in the summer.

I agree that an organic lawn is okay, if you want to be boring and just like everyone else. :-)

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 8:05AM
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How about indoor/outdoor carpet?
You could even have it an off beat color like purple!
Would that confuse the neighbor's dog looking for a spot
to pooh!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2006 at 10:07PM
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lakedallasmary(8 - North Central TX)

we let our lawn go dormant. It is natural.

We also let our lawn go dormant all winter too.

dormant means - NO mowing

    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 8:28PM
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We have a mixture of grasses, I think we have barn grass, bluegrass and others, this lawn was here when we moved here. I do not use chemicals on my lawns, in fact I don't water them, I don't feel it is justified ever to water lawns, in fact about 12 years ago we had a bad drought, and the authorities said to water only trees and large bushes because they hold the ground together and provide shade. do not however water your lawns. good advice even when there is no drought.

What is funny the yard takes care of itself, if it can't deal with the stressors put on it it dies and those that can take over. no muss no fuss. And the chemicals are terrible, they kill not just targeted species. but birds, moles, voles, and such who eat such crittors. I have tons of moles and voles, and I have no problem with grubs in my yard O occassionally see some when I am digging up loose soil but only one or two and I kill them. I mow once in a while since I don't like to walk through tall grass, but most of the time I don't mow all of it, just pathways (I have three acres).

I am in the process however to converting alot of my yead to native wildflowers, plants and beautiful plants that require no or very little spraying. I plan on planting crape myrtles, roses that are no spray varieites only, if I get a rose bush or climber that gets sick then it gets pulled up. if it is a few pests I will use a little pyrenthin, but only a small amount. I will be planting food producing plants (I have alot of strawberries which I do not spray ever) raspberries, blueberries, grapes since my hubby likes grape vines, and some honey suckles, and possible some others after I do some more research.

Every time I see a chem lawn truck go by I cringe. When I see a manicured lawn, especially being watered, I cringe. And when I see someone putting on chemicals I really cringe.

use mostly soaps garlic concotions I made up, Also people treat their lawns for grubs and other pests, and kill the moles and voles, what is funny, is these same animals they are killing will eat those grubs and insects, encouraging birds and butterflies is what I try to do, which is difficult because since devloping some of the land into cul de sacs around me they spray alot more for mosquitos, and as a result I don't see as many butterflies and dragonflies like I used to or as many bats and whatnot. if they would concentrate the money on preventive treatments for mosquitos, only treat waters that are stagnent and nothing lives there or draining mosquito water or covering large areas of water that is used by mosquitos with a net or something, then they could save all the other beneficial crittors.

I mean they can send a self regulating robot to mars surly they can find enviromentally freindly ways of doing things.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2006 at 6:04PM
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geoffc(z5b MA)

You might find some helpful information at the National Wildlife Federation:

    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 11:34AM
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I would look into the UC Davis web site, and maybe C.D.F.A. Lots of studies and info from the UCs.

I'm in Truckee, all of the golf courses and lawns are almost takes a lot of chemicals/weed control/feeding (not often done organically), etc. The soil here (obvious to me) is not made for grasses...but, I guess folks have to golf somewhere.

Good luck on your paper, and I would like to take a look too, if you can post it when you're done.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 11:30PM
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Birdsong72(7/Northshore NJ)

My lawn (don't laugh) gets no attention. It's full of moss (in the shady front) and plantain, and dandelions, chickweed, etc in the back. The backyard is used for active recreation (long tossing a baseball and with that, attendant dirt because of pitching the ball or for bbq's at the house).

My front lawn is nearly converted (from full lawn to native woodlands). Next year should find it all gone from the front. Funny thing is that all my neighbors who have front lawns DO NOTHING on theirs!!!!!!!!!!! No kids playing, .....NO NOTHING. Everything's happening in their backyards, which AGAIN are all lawn.

I'm in my yard (mainly front) everyday. I have bench seating to contemplate or read; I can birdwatch or do photography. The comment in this thread relative to the level of expertise needed in maintaining a GARDEN vs LAWN is a bit overstated and incorrect. Most people spend WAY too much $$$$ and effort in maintaining their lawns. And when it just isn't exactly perfect, they contract it out....again at a cost and with virtually nothing in return, except for "keeping up with the Jones' lawn".
You can learn gardening from the library, on line and from visual experience. No black magic involved. Hell, I'm an ex jock, benefit's consultant, with no Horticulture or Landscape Architecture degrees. Just an interest that turned into a passion.

My property is LOW, LOW MAINTENANCE. Almost NO maintenance, other than the occasional raking of debris back into the beds (after a wind storm, or overzealous catbirds, etc. raking the beds looking for grubs, etc.). I'm contributing very little to the compost pile in town as all of my oak leaves serves as mulch in my gardens. I have done not one bit of lawn maintenance since I moved in 8 years ago. Well, I may have to seed as my 16' skiff sitting in the back yard caused my putting green lawn to brown and die off :)))


Ahead the curve. This is the future of landscaping; except those landscapers charading as "experts" (actually grasscutters) haven't a clue about plants (other than what they can get cheaply and use in most every job that they're able to finagle). Just say NO to pedestrian foundation plantings, and unused front lawns. Their time is come and gone.

Water is becoming a precious resource that should not and cannot be wasted. That more than anything is the basis for 'natural landscapes' in the home and further, 'residential/neighborhood greenscapes' for cities and towns.

End of story. Honestly.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2006 at 10:22AM
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arvind(San Jose, CA)


    Bookmark   July 5, 2006 at 4:22PM
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check to be sure that it's ok with your city first.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 11:15AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

You can check with your city, but I wouldn't worry about it too much. There are existing court precedents that state laws that limit vegetation strictly on the basis of height are a violation of constitutional property rights.

Homeowners Association By laws are different because you agree to them when you buy the property... so they can be more restrictive on vegetation in landscapes.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 11:36AM
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dragonfly_dance(z7 SENJ)

I lost my once beautiful lawn in favor of a natiive plant garden. No regrets. One the sahdy side I have a lawn of moss, what a blessing. stays green all the time, don't have to mow it, easy to rake leaves up and don't have to water it fertilized it or put chems on it. The rest of my yard has been dug up for a garden with a winding path throughout.Next idea is a bog garden, ifI can still find me one of them plastic kids swimming pools, I am looking for one at a yard sale or somebody's garbage pile becoz they whole idea is to keep something out of the landfill. Recycle is my middle name! I have some ostrich fern goats beard and marsh marigold just waiting, but if I dont find one soon, I might just have to buy one anyway. I am also planning to add carnivoours plants like sundew and pitcher plant.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 11:56AM
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dragonfly, plastic kids swimming pools are real cheap at Walmart. You might even be able to find some discounted since it is getting far along in the summer.

Frankly I wouldn't want one from a yard sale since it might leak or have damage to it.

Here is my cattail bog garden.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2006 at 3:42PM
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Barbaraga(GA 7a)

Is your article on lawn alternatives complete?

I have a heavily shaded lawn where turf grass can't grow. Trees are mostly oak, maple, sweetgum, and ash. There are mossy areas, and I'm slowly transplanting creeping foamflower into the lawn (from overflowing flower beds) to fill in the bare places for when the non-native, invasive quack grass dies back and leaves bare dirt in winter. Basically the lawn is winter weeds and summer weeds both of which I'm hoping the foamflower can shade out and provide year round ground cover.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 3:43PM
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Hi! This was emailed to me by my Mom, because she knows I've said many times that I'd like a wildflower lawn. I thought others might enjoy it as much as I did :)

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 6:48PM
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I don't know if "wood sorrel" (oxalis) is native to the Pacific Northwest or not, but it's one wild plant that proliferates easily, looks good - even when it flowers - and doesn't grow very high. So if I could replace my grass with this, I would hardly have to mow at all.

The bigger problem is keeping both the other "weeds" (e.g., plantain, thistles, dandelions, etc.) and the GRASS out of the yard!

I could use a herbicide that's supposed to specifically kill grass, but I don't know how well they work and how harmful they are to the environment and to nearby vegetable gardens.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2006 at 3:00PM
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knottyceltic(S/W Ontario 5b)

I live in the subburbs of a small city where everyone has the green green manicured lawns and everyone's keeping up with the Jones'. I once mentioned I'd like a more naturalized front yard like the one I had at my previous home and the neighbours told me straight out that it would "ruin the look of the neighbourhood". I really don't care what they think but at the time we had just moved here and I didn't want to start something with them upon just meeting them.

To remedy this I made a 9' x 9' kidney shaped garden on my front lawn down near the sidewalk and each year by some strange occurance, that kidney shaped garden just keeps getting bigger and bigger. This hasn't escaped the notice of my bossy neighbours though... they didn't see my early morning digging in the garden and I skillfully smoothed the mulch over the enlarged portion so that it was not noticable but they still came to my house to ask if I had made the garden larger. *sigh*. Never the less, the kidney shape is more like 12' x 12' now and is taking up most of my postage sized piece of front lawn.

We also have a sidewalk on our side of the street that cuts through our lawn and makes a grassy boullevard next to the street. I'd like to plant the boullevard but come to find the city only allows boullevard plantings that are in keeping with the desires of the city. You must petition the city for any single plant you want to place on a boullevard and the city is at liberty of veto'ing your requests.

The greatest IRONY in all of this is that our subdivision is built INSIDE an old farm woodlot! Everyone in this neighborhood has woods in their backyards and to me it only makes sense to start replacing all the trees that were bulldozed down in order to make the streets and building lots. My next door neighbor's comment to me when I said I'd like to naturalize my front lawn was "Ewwwww! That would look awful!!! Trees belong in the WOODS!" I just shook my head and walked away. No offense to any true blondes reading this but I believe that my neighbor who said that was having one of the TRUELY GREAT BLONDE MOMENTS IN HISTORY. *double sigh*

In all honesty, I don't want to be the neighbourhood pariah. I looked at the photo gallery at "Lose the Lawn" and still wonder how those people (gorgeous naturalized properties BTW) deal with their neighbours. I don't care really what they feel about naturalized "looks" of a property but I also don't want to make enemies with my neighbours either. I think by building the natural look slowly, I'm fueling the fire a bit less but it really is hard to keep everyone happy when you are trying to do a good thing like naturalizing your property when you live in a subburban setting where everyone else has the perfect cookie cutter lawns and ornamental shrubs.

I guess one other problem I have is that my front lawn is attached directly to my neighbour's front lawn because our driveways are each on the far left and far right of both properties. It 'does' look odd to have an almost full grass lawn butting up against a more naturalized lawn.

I'm curious how others create their naturalized front lawns despite the neighbours' views.

southern Ontario, CANADA

    Bookmark   August 24, 2006 at 2:49PM
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