How to ‘wild’ your lawn

  • Steve McDonough and Cat Thomson turned the front yard of their home in Leeds into a meadow with native wildflowers. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 9/20/2019 11:00:45 AM
Modified: 9/20/2019 11:00:32 AM

If you’d like to mow less and create animal habitat more, then consider these possibilities.

1. Go meadow. First, make sure that you’re allowed to turn turf to a rustic meadow — municipalities and homeowner’s associations sometimes have rules about how your property needs to look. Then you can start big or small.

One option, said Todd Lynch, the owner of the landscape design studio Ecotropy, is to choose an area and simply stop mowing it and plant some native wildflower seeds — and if you like it, you can expand that area over time. Other people till the soil or slice away lawn before seeding. “Your results might not be as robust as what you see on the seed packet,” Lynch said. “But keep an open mind to what’s there.”

Once you start to get some growth, ask someone who knows plants to tell you what invasive weeds to pull and what to cultivate. It can take years to get a meadow that’s bursting with just the right mix of flowers and grasses. “But if you’re up for the time commitment,” Lynch said, “it can be a really wonderful thing over 10 years to see what kind of plants start appearing.”

2. Create a garden. Try a native, low-maintenance garden. “There are ways to emulate the low-maintenance look that happens in nature that at the same time doesn’t look too rustic,” said Owen Wormser, owner of Abound Design, a sustainable landscaping company. “That approach can be a happy compromise,” he said. “You can still provide a happy habitat.” Talk to a landscaper or visit Nasami Farm Nursery Native Plant Trust in Whately, which specializes in native plants.

3. Sow your lawn. Some homeowners are turning their front yards into mini-farms. This can create habitat, improve soil health, and provide human food without packaging. Just be sure to get your soil checked first. “If people are planning to grow things for human consumption,” Lynch said, “it’s important that they get their soil tested for lead and other contaminants.” The University of Massachusetts has a soil-testing service for a modest fee. Then you can look to things like blueberry plants, vegetables, and even medicinal plants like the native elderberry.

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