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This native lawn demonstration project aims to create a shift in how we design and landscape our homes and public greenspaces, and ultimately advance sustainability itself.  This project converted a non-native grass (and weed) lawn to a low-maintenance, low energy input, and high biodiversity, sustainable native lawn. 
Our goals were simple, and focused on maintaining or even enhancing the traditional aesthetics of a turf lawn.  We wanted it to be able to tolerate a moderate amount of tramping, and wanted to minimize watering, eliminate fertilizer and pesticide inputs, and require minimal hand weeding. We also wanted to significantly curtail carbon dioxide emissions by only mowing it once to twice a year. One primary measure of success was to cover at least 85% of the area with native plant species, which increases the overall biodiversity of pollinators and other fauna.
Ten species of forbs and eleven species of grasses and sedges were originally planted in 2009, and some woodland and meadow herbs have been added. Plant species were selected that are suitable for both full sun and shady as well as wet and dry conditions. Danthonia spicata and Danthonia compressa (poverty oat grass) are dominant in the planting. Penstemon hirsutus is also widely planted. Twenty nine native species have established spontaneously from the adjoining natural area or seedbank, including a number of violet species, several woodland asters including calico, heart-leaved, and frost asters, and Lobelia siphilitica, or great blue lobelia, which is a very attractive valuable pollinator species.

Learn how we created the native lawn in this 45-minute video, originally presented on August 9, 2022 as part of the GreenNY Council Lunchtime Learning series of webinars.

What Makes it Sustainable?

Compared to traditional turf grass lawns they:

  • Require no fertilizer, which uses energy and emits a significant amount of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, during its production
  • Require no pesticides
  • Provide a diversity of native plants that supports increased biodiversity for pollinators and other invertebrates
  • Require minimal mowing, which reduces the amount of gas used and greenhouse emissions from lawnmowers.
  • Require minimal to no watering
  • Used as a teaching landscape for University classes and the public
  • Serves as a demonstration for encouraging the implementation of a native lawn in a home landscape

Why this is important?

Annually in the U.S:

  • $750 million is spent on grass seed
  • 100 million tons of fertilizer is used
  • 80 million pounds of pesticides are used
  • 40 hours are spent on average mowing a home lawn. In order to offset the CO2 emissions from the average 10 gallons of gas required, eight 2” diameter sugar maple trees would need to be planted here in the northeast.
  • 25%- 40% of landfill space is taken up by grass clippings from mowed lawns
  • Per hour of operation, small gas-powered engines used for lawn care emit more hydrocarbon than a typical automobile.
  • 10,000 ft2 of turf requires 10,000 gallons of water each summer to stay green.
  • 30% of the water consumed on the East Coast goes to watering lawns

source: Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping Chesapeake Bay Watershed, USDA Climate Change Resource Center Tree Carbon Calculator