Exploring Lawn Alternatives

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Suppose that you're ready to scrap your lawn and do something more sensible. Bravo! That's a smart move, especially considering the wide of variety of low-maintenance alternatives that use much fewer resources after they're established.

Playing with the meadow idea

Everywhere you look, people are taking out their lawns and replacing them with meadows. The transformation has been described as a "revolution," and it's surely one of the bright spots in modern horticulture. Instead of fertilizing and watering to make grass grow and then ruthlessly decapitating it every week with snarling fossil-powered lawn mowers, the meadow owner enjoys a more tousled, natural-looking turf made up of native or climate-compatible nonnative grasses, grass-like sedges, or herbaceous plants such as yarrow. Check out the fine-looking meadow in Figure 19-2.

Meadows have many advantages over grass lawns. Consider the following:

  • Meadows need mowing rarely (or never). A sedge meadow, for example, can be mowed a couple of times a year to freshen it up, or it can be left to its own devices. If you want a clipped look, many meadow plants can take regular mowing.
  • Meadows require much less water and fertilizer than lawns do.

Properly chosen plants that are put in favorable locations have little if any trouble with pests and diseases.

✓ Meadows can be more diverse than lawns. Meadows provide a tough, playable, beautiful surface as well as habitat for beneficial and native insects such as butterflies.

Meadow plants

Meadow plants fall into three basic categories:

  • Grasses: These are chosen for their attractive unmowed appearance and overall low maintenance. These plants can be native or otherwise as long as they're easy to live with.
  • Sedges: Sedges look like grasses but are in a different family of plants. They're fresh looking, tolerant of a wide range of conditions, and easy to live with. A few species can be moderately invasive and should be surrounded by an underground plastic root barrier.
  • Perennials: These flowering plants, such as yarrow, develop a tight turf.

You can (and really should) mix several kinds of plants in your meadow. Diversity makes any meadow a richer habitat that's more adaptable to varying conditions and much more interesting to look at.

How to make a meadow

Creating a meadow isn't much different from putting in a lawn. Soil preparation is the same. Here are the basics:

  1. Kill weeds using the sheet-mulching technique described in Chapter 16.
  2. Rototill the soil (one of the few times this is a good thing to do for your soil), incorporating an inch-thick layer of good quality compost.
  3. Level the area and compact it gently with a lawn roller.
  4. Install your sprinkler system.

Sprinklers are the best way to water a meadow wherever there are long periods of drought during the growing season. Even though watering will be less than with a lawn, it won't be zero.

5. Put in the plants.

Depending on the species you choose, the plants can be planted from seed or small pots. In some regions, certain meadow mixes are available as sod.

Lawn Care For Dummies, by Lance Walheim and the National Gardening Association (Wiley), has all the information you need on putting in a new lawn.

Establishment of some meadow species can involve more work than a lawn because the plants are slower to mature, meaning that you'll have to pull weeds for a while longer than usual. But that's a small price to pay for years of easy care and low impact.

Meadow management

Living with a meadow is pretty easy, given that the plants in a meadow don't care whether you pay much attention to them. Mowing can be challenging if the plants are very overgrown; a weed whacker or hand shears can work better than a mower in some cases.

As for watering meadows, try letting it go until you see signs of stress (slowing of growth, change in color, droopiness). I'll bet the intervals between waterings will be longer than you think.

Fertilize once or twice a year, but only if growth is slow. That's really about it. A meadow is supposed to be easy to maintain — and it is.

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