Lessening the Lawn

by Susan McCanless

One of my household projects the last few years has been reducing the size of my lawn. My modest home sits on one-half acre of property. That's a lot of grass to mow. Gasoline and lawn mower repairs are expensive. And if you water and fertilize your lawn, the expenses just mount.

The first place I eliminated the lawn was in the very shady places where grass did not grow well anyway. I am fortunate to have one side of my yard abutting a patch of woods. It was a simple matter of letting the leaves and pine needles lie just where they fell in the section of the yard next to the woods for a couple of years. I pulled up any stray clumps of grass that emerged. I planted some ferns and sweet shrub in the area. I had a happy surprise when a native wild orchid decided to take up residence near the sweet shrub. The total cost of eliminating the lawn in that part of my yard was almost zero, since I obtained my plants from family and from native plant digs.

The next place I eliminated the lawn was between the stands of trees in my front and back yards. I have mostly pine trees, but the principal is the same whatever type of tree you have. Rake all of the leaves or pine straw into the area between the trees, be prepared to pull grass the first couple of years, and plant with shade-tolerant plants, preferably native perennials. Once again I obtained many of the plants I used from native plant digs. The biggest expense I had was the half dozen blueberry bushes I planted near the border of the mulched area in the front lawn. Last year I extended the mulched area in the back yard to beyond the trees to include an area that stayed shady almost all day. And I will be extending the mulched area in the front yard even more this fall.

Next were raised beds in both the front and back yards. I have four raised beds in the front yard and six in the back yard. I plan to add several more in the front yard, since that is where I get the most sun. I grow vegetables, herbs, and strawberries in these beds. I also planted a fig tree in the front yard behind the raised beds. It will not only provide us with luscious fruit, but also will shade our front porch when it is grown. Some of the raised beds were more costly than others, since we used landscaping timbers and purchased soil amendments for them. However, it was a one time expense. The other raised beds were created with materials we already had on hand.

Last fall, I planted a large patch of Jerusalem artichokes in the back yard. When I planted them, I only dug a hole for each one in the existing lawn. This spring, after each of the tubers had sprouted, I put newspaper down between the plants and covered it with a thick mulch of pine needles. They thrived this summer, despite heat and drought, and will probably spread further in that section of the yard.

Daylilies are also a good choice to plant in this way, as they will quickly spread and take over an area and are quite hardy. In addition to being decorative, their tubers and flowers are edible.

Downhill from the Jerusalem artichokes is a patch of wild blackberries. It wasn't hard to get them to grow in the yard. The trick would have been to prevent them from growing there. If you like blackberries, you should get a few plants or ask a neighbor for root cuttings of their berry plants. The vines grow quickly and will eventually smother any grass in the area. They tolerate drought and some shade, unlike many other fruit-producing plants. Put newspapers and mulch down between the young vines to help the process of smothering the grass.

Early this summer my husband tilled up a large patch of the lawn in the back yard and planted a mixture of clover and wild flower seed. The clover seed only cost us about $20 at a farm supply store and was enough to plant the whole yard. The wildflower seed was only a few dollars from our favorite seed catalog. The patch is coming along quite well and I expect many blooms next year.

So far I have managed to reduce the lawn to about a quarter of what it was originally. I am slowly working on replacing the remaining lawn with clover, wildflowers, and more edible landscaping. I may never be able to entirely do away with the lawn, but I'll come as close as I can.

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