A beautiful, green lawn has long been thought of as the preferred look for homeowners, but that opinion seems to be shifting. Many are looking at the time, expense, upkeep and ecological aspects of their lawns and are considering making some changes.
According to Forbes.com, more homeowners are moving toward smaller yards or low-maintenance yards and ecofriendly practices including turning more lawn space into natural areas or utilizing native plants.
Eric French, president of Eisler Landscapes, has seen the trend moving toward smaller lawns and natural lawns incorporating native plants for the last few years. “People want to stop mowing four acres and move toward native, natural areas—let Mother Nature take care of it,” he said.
He added that this trend has caught on “fairly well,” but that some folks still have a hard time with letting go of that image of the perfect, manicured yard.
Homeowners who want to allow their yards to go back to nature will “pull the edges in,” according to French. “You can cut less grass and then overseed with native and wildflower seeds, and let the leaves compost to be used as mulch—most people clean up too many leaves,” he said.
The advantages of turning a lawn into a natural space include more than just lower maintenance. “You aren’t mowing, trimming, and spraying fertilizer, so this type of landscaping is much friendlier to nature and better for the environment,” said French. “It gives birds, bees, deer, and field mice places to eat and live, and it also helps our watersheds and reduces flooding.”
Those with smaller yards are also finding ways to reduce their yard care responsibilities. “We’re seeing some folks installing artificial turf on smaller lawns,” French said, “because they don’t want to be bothered with mowing, watering and maintenance.”
Eisler Landscaping is a distributor of Synlawn, a synthetic lawn. “While it is not inexpensive, there is no maintenance—no mowing, weed control, etc., and there is a 20-year plus life expectancy,” he said. The number of homeowners with smaller lawns and outdoor living spaces having artificial lawns installed is increasing, according to French.
Joie DeWolf began planting more native trees and other plants when her family moved to their Hampton Township home four years ago. “Our plot of land is probably three-quarters of an acre with a lot of lawn,” she said, adding that the gardens that were there when they moved in were all Japanese plantings.
As she and her husband began walking in North Park and at Beechwood, DeWolf became more interested in native plantings, which motivated her to turn part of their lawn into a natural area.
“The all-native area I have is about 500 square feet in the front area adjacent to the road. I picked this area as it is away from the ‘manicured’ gardens that surround the house,” DeWolf said.
Each growing season, DeWolf transforms more of their yard. “We’ve also planted trees in our yard that we obtained from Tree Pittsburgh to give cover to the birds as well as to produce berries. In the ‘manicured’ gardens, I removed barberry bushes and planted false indigo in their place,” she said. “Slowly I am interspersing native flowers in the already-planted Japanese garden while trying to keep it a little more pleasing to those who love a less wild garden.”
DeWolf participated in the Lawn to Nature program introduced by the North Area Environmental Council and Latodami Nature Center last year and plans to keep adding to her native gardens. “We planted shrubs in the back that are all native and will plant flowers surrounding the shrubs at a later date. I also have another 500 square foot area planned for this spring where I already planted shrubs and plan to put in natives,” she said.
The Lawn to Nature program will be held again this year. Participants receive a nature kit with seeds for native wildflowers and instructions to help convert 100 square feet of lawn into a habitat of native plants to support local wildlife. For more information, visit https://www.naecwpa.org.
DeWolf also turned to Arcadia Natives nursery for assistance in planning her native gardens. “Kelly (the owner) is amazing. She is a wealth of knowledge and can help with everything you want to know,” DeWolf said.
Kelly Strope, the owner of Arcadia Natives, offers a wealth of resources online and in print, and of course, plants to purchase at her Washington nursery. Strope opened Arcadia in June of 2021, unsure if she would even be able to sell a dozen plants.
“I couldn’t keep up with demand,” she said of the growing trend for native plants. “I more than doubled last year and still couldn’t keep up.”
Like French, Strope said there are many advantages of moving toward less manicured lawns and more natural and native areas. “There is the sustainability factor—it takes less gas-powered machines and less mowing, but it is also nice to be able to sit or walk in your lawn and be part of nature versus just going out and mowing a huge swath of your yard,” she said, “You can create an oasis for yourself while creating a space for nature.”
Strope doesn’t see the native plant trend slowing anytime soon. “People are becoming more aware of the mistakes that we have made and the loss of habitat. Even a small effort can make a huge difference. If you don’t have a yard, you can put plants on your patio or balcony,” she said.
Strope recommends that homeowners interested in moving toward a more natural lawn take manageable steps. ”Start small. Consider replacing nonnative plants with native species that will serve as hosts for butterflies and moths,” she said. “If you have an area that needs rejuvenation, you can add keystone native plants that fit into your landscaping style. Keystone plants host the most species of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).”
Whether you have formal gardens or wild borders, there are native plant species that can meet your unique needs. Diverse plantings along walkways or in an existing raised bed can create beneficial habitat even in a small space.
In addition to keystone species, Strope said that sedges—grass-like plants—are seeing great interest in 2023. ”Sedges can play different roles in landscaping and can also be used as lawn replacement. I think that interest in these versatile natives will continue to grow,” she said.