10 Tips for Converting Part of Your Lawn to Native Plantings

Mark Dennis, Senior Landscape Designer

We can all make a difference by reducing our lawn space and adding more native plants to our gardens. To convert part of your lawn into a garden full of pollinators, flowers, and beautiful, diverse native plants, start with some of these 10 steps:

  1. Start small: You’ll only need 45 plants to cover just 100 SQ FT of garden using plants that grow to 18” wide.
  2. Preparation: Prepare your bed “the easy way” by smothering your grass with cardboard and woodchips until all turf and weeds underneath have gone – Ask your local big box store for flattened cardboard, ideally without plastic tape that has to be yanked off. Consult a tree company for potentially free wood chips.
  3. Shade vs Sun- Struggling to grow grass in the shade? Don’t even try! Convert to a shade-tolerant perennial garden or sedge lawn. Or, if in the sun, choose sun-loving natives. A good place to start is this list.
  4. Consider stone: Turfgrass is essentially a living path or patio material. Convert to large stepping stones or flagstone to ensure your space is durable and long-lasting.
  5. Know your regulations: Some HOAs uphold certain standards, though that may be changing! And some towns regulate how high plantings can be in your front yard.
  6. Know your drainage patterns: The erosive power of stormwater might not be apparent on an established lawn, but it could soon be revealed in a newly planted garden.
  7. Know your wildlife: Certain plants are more susceptible to deer and rabbit damage. Sedges, grasses and ferns are the ultimate critter-proof plants. Supplement with resistant shrubs and perennials for added structure and blooms.
  8. Watering: While turf can be water intensive, note that new plants do require, as a general rule, at least 1.5” of water per week during their first few years of establishment.
  9. Maintenance: Let it grow! While turfgrass requires almost weekly mowing during the growing season, let your perennial garden do its thing. Keep an eye out for weeds, and don’t cut down any dormant stalks until very early spring so they can provide food and habitat over the winter.
  10. Protection: Consider a DIY rope fence or barricade to keep wayward pups or pedestrians out of the new garden

Resources for Organic Landscapes and Land Care

New Garden Guide
Garden Installation Guide

Our Organic Standards
Backyard Bounty adheres to NOFA’s standards for Organic Land Care. Read about what those standards require here.

Carbon Calculator
Montgomery County Rainscapes
Arlington County Stormwaterwise
DC Riversmart
Prince George’s Rain Check Rebate
Potomac Conservancy
Osborne Organics Lawn Care
Sierra Club of Maryland
Safe Grow Montgomery
NOFA Organic Turf Guide

What’s Good for Harvard Yard is Good for Yours!
In 2008, Harvard University moved from conventional to fully organic care of its 80 acres of turf and plantings. The change conserves water and has led to healthier, safer grounds. Read more about why Harvard changed here.