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Weed it and Reap | Less Lawn, Greater Value

By: Elizabeth Dickey, Education and Visitor Engagement Director | 10/28/2020

There are 50 million acres of turfgrass in the United States. For perspective—Idaho is 53 million acres.

Home lawns provide a place for children to play and pets to roam, but they consume water, insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and our time and money, while providing very little ecological value, color or interest to our homes. Some lawns can be a pain to mow due to their shape or size. Others serve no real purpose, or are difficult to keep looking good. It might be time to replace your grass with water-conserving, perennial flowering plants! Fall is the perfect season to kill a portion of your lawn for replanting in the spring.

Grass is tenacious, so you’ll want to kill it before replanting.  The quickest way, although the least environmentally-friendly one, is to use an herbicide. If you choose this method, use an herbicide specific to grasses, read and follow the label, and watch the weather report for rain. Another quick, albeit labor-intensive, method is to use a sod cutter to slice the lawn into pieces, and then pull up sections.  Afterwards, add a few inches of top soil to replace what’s pulled up with the grass.

Smothering your lawn takes time, but it’s easier, and friendlier to your soil. Essentially you need to deprive the grass of sunlight until it dies. Cover it with cardboard or six layers of newspaper, and then place a layer of compost, topsoil, or wood mulch on top. You can also cover it with a foot of wood chips. Using wood chips is better for soil health as they allow air and water through to the soil microorganisms underneath that are critical for plant health. You can get a massive amount of arborist chips through the company ChipDrop for little or no money. If you start smothering in the fall, by spring, most of the grass and weeds should be dead and you can plant through the decomposing materials. Sit back with a cup of cocoa and let nature do they work for you!

How you develop your new yard next depends upon its intended use, and the look you are trying to achieve.  Here are a few questions to run through as you dream about your new landscape:

What do you want to use this spot for? For gatherings, consider a flagstone patio. If you walk across your lawn frequently now, consider a chat/gravel, woodchip, paver or flagstone pathway.

🌱  What permanent features, if any, will you want? (boulders, water features, art)

🌱  Do you want to build up with a berm, or install a dry streambed in a low spot?

🌱  What look or function do you wish to achieve with your new plants? Drought-tolerant plants can serve as everything from a colorful and well-structured backdrop to a haven for native wildlife.

🌱  Will your current irrigation system work well for your new plants, or do you need to install something different? (e.g. converting sprinklers to drip)

There are SO many native and regionally appropriate plants that require minimal care. It’s important to be aware of the needs of your new plant babies, such as their preferred soil type and sun requirements, before you plant. And remember, even drought tolerant plants need additional water during their first couple of years to get them off to a good start.  Visit the Idaho Botanical Garden to see firsthand how plants look when newly installed and fully mature (especially in our new Dry Garden!). In addition, an Internet search for “landscaping with native plants Idaho” brings up a plethora of resources.

Happy renovation!