Are you considering turfing the turf? Are you aiming at a pollinator friendly, native plant matrix, ‘No Mow’ or natural look? You’re definitely not alone, although you may be the first on your block.

Many of my landscape consultations start with clients requesting how to start ‘losing their lawn’. Here, in part one, of two articles, I’ll share the basics of what I’ve learned in 20 years of converting lawns to gardens.

  • Have a final plan on paper. This allows you to work in phases, it means you’ll know how many plants you’ll need for every few feet of sod you remove, won’t get overwhelmed at the garden centre and be able to work at your own pace. Don’t forget to include any plants you’d like to keep and or divide, also give away the plants that don’t work in your new plan. Incorporate hardscaping such as pathways, walls, stepping stones, boulders or bird baths. Consider plants that combined, create a 3-4 season palette of bloom & foliage interest (more on this in part 2)
  • Don’t use a rototiller; often it plants more crabgrass or weed seeds than it removes, leaves you with a lumpy planting bed that needs hours of raking out, and an overly large project to take on. Large areas of cleared grass means large areas that immediately need to be planted and covered with mulch, just so it doesn’t grow a crop of invasive weeds. Only remove as much sod, with a sod lifter or flat ended spade, as you’re prepared to plant at a time. Work in Phases
  • Add manure, I repeat, you don’t need a rototiller, simply allow worms and water to percolate the manures’ nutrients into the soil for you. Turning the soil (as many landscape maintenance companies do) is actually detrimental, it disturbs the roots of trees, existing perennials, and the highly beneficial nematodes, fungi, and insects necessary for optimal ‘living’ earth. Mulch around new plants (unless they are groundcovers) to conserve moisture and keep out weeds.
  • It doesn’t all have to go! The lawn has come under a lot of criticism but it remains a living, breathing, permeable and cooling surface – unlike concrete, plastic ‘faux’ lawns or acres of black mulch. A lawn can be a place to play, almost anyone can care for it, skip the pesticides & herbicides and it can be ecological too. Incorporating small spring bulbs, clover and ‘gasp’, the occasional weed is OK & actually encouraged. (sometimes called ‘tapestry lawns’) If you intend to keep some of your lawn, try ‘Grasscycling,’ Recently featured on CBC radio (search their site for the audio file); it involves mowing a dry lawn to prevent clumps of clippings, only cutting off an inch or so, and letting the clippings fall in place as a ready source of nitrogen and a natural mulch to keep out weeds.
  • An innovative and dependable sod alternative; Eco-lawn is drought tolerant, requires less fertilizing and can be mown like regular grass or left un-mown for a free-flowing ‘shag carpet effect’. (rescuing you from the tyranny of buying, storing, fixing, gassing and starting a mower)The FAQ’s page on their website has lots of info.

And there we have it, don’t mow the grass too much, don’t clear more space than you’re ready to fill with plants. Try even one of the suggested tips, and count the benefits of your ‘lacklabour’ rewards towards a more ecological garden. More about plans and plants in our next edition!