How to get your yard off grass

Lawn history is rooted in wealth and status.

In 17th century England, only rich landowners had lawns (a monoculture of short, manicured grass). Work once done by sheep increasingly shifted to human labour, especially closer to the house. Before lawnmowers, only a few could afford to hire people to scythe and weed their grass.

A lawn’s purpose? Purely decorative.

Given today’s reality…

…are we ready to question, even ditch, the lawn habit? In Canada there are about 6.2 million lawns. Converting just one-quarter of each lawn would equal around 14,400 hectares of habitat for pollinators. Did you know in the Capital Regional District on Vancouver Island lawn is the most dominant land cover and contributes to the most water wastage?

Join the movement to “rewild” and create more edible landscapes! Make nature your ally. It has delicious consequences.

Beautiful garden with edible plants

A food forest

Food forest are a permaculture practice with a few layers (up to seven!) of plants, including edible trees, shrubs, vines, herbaceous plants and groundcover. (Check out this list of edible perennials!) Plants often mimic what’s in native forests nearby and require no till and often no weeding, fertilizer or irrigation. Plants in food forests can have many uses, from food to medicine. A diversity of plants also allows for a harvest throughout the seasons.

Explore local forests to see what grows naturally. Notice what’s thriving and how things grow in relation to one another (e.g., overstory versus understory) and identify species. Then create a list to seek commercial productive variants of wild plants or the native species themselves.

Tip:

Learn how to prune roots. It could be the reason many of your plants haven’t survived after transplant. When you remove a plant from the container, are the roots shaped like the container? Use your fingers to loosen roots or trim roots with secateurs. It will make it easier for new root hairs to colonize the soil and help the plant establish.

plant rare

Xeriscape

It’s a fancy word for water-wise gardening. Use up to 50 per cent less water by xeriscaping or landscaping with native plants better adapted to your area. Our yards can become a lot more like the nature once was.

Tip:

Where and how you plant a species can help reduce its water needs. Avoid planting when plants are already under drought stress. You may choose to prune 50 per cent of leaves/branches to reduce a plant’s water needs when under stress

Stumps growing in a lush forest

Hugelkultur

It means “hill mound” and it’s created with yard debris like logs, branches, grass clippings, leaves, compost and cardboard or straw. After digging a trench, layer the organics, then plant it! The benefits are a slow release of nutrients as wood decays (up to 20 years), acting like a sponge to hold water, sequestering carbon and more. Learn how to say it and how to do it, including which wood works best.

Tip: Leave stumps. Don’t waste money removing them; leave valuable deadwood on-site. Did you know deadwood can host more life than live trees? Biologists even call them “hot spots!” Plant around, on or in the stump! Have a fresh new stump? Speed up decomposition and cover it in soil. Old stumps or pieces of driftwood can also add eye-pleasing structure to your garden and yard as well as create habitat for wild bees and critters like salamanders and frogs.

Design a rain garden

A rain garden helps minimize the problem of stormwater runoff — hundreds of litres of rainwater streaming off hard surfaces like roofs, roads and driveways. For example, shallow beds 15 to 30 centimetres (six to 12 inches) deep filled with native plants will filter up to 90 per cent of pollutants. Rain gardens also allow water to drain deep enough into the soil to help recharge groundwater supplies.

District of North Vancouver Butterflyway

Meadowscape

Meadowscaping is low-maintenance; only cut back once a year! It’s defined as having no trees or shrubs and about 40 to 60 per cent native grasses. They need full sun and are usually dry but you can have wet meadows too. Plant species will bloom spring, summer and fall. Learn more about layering and converting your lawn to a meadow even bylaw officers will love!

Tip:

Sheet mulch instead of tearing up sod. Simply add about three layers of cardboard (free from tape and staples) to smother lawn. Then add soil, compost or raised beds and get planting! Free arborist wood chips are great for trails between beds. Call a tree-trimming company to ask for a free load or flag down a truck chipping in your neighbourhood.

Wild roses can grow as a hedge

Plant a native hedgerow

Hedgerows are a living, linear barrier of plants — trees, shrubs or even wildflowers. They can border a property (e.g., a fence substitute), create a visual barrier to a road and block the wind. They also provide benefits to wildlife in the form of shelter, pollen and nectar and travel corridors. Try edible plants like rose species, Saskatoon, chokecherry, elderberry or beaked hazelnut. Saanich Native Plants shares a “how to” resource on designing and planting and you can get a plant list from the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Tip:

Hedges can provide travel corridors and hiding places for snakes and other wildlife. Learn more snake-friendly gardening tips!

Monarch butterfly

A pollinator-friendly garden

If you don’t plant for pollinators, who will? Anyone can provide essential habitat for bees (especially wild ones!), butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds and other pollinators. Plus, when you attract more insects you’ll welcome more birds.

Tip:

Provide a few rocks in a sunny location for basking sites for butterflies. (Clumps of rocks can help increase the number of snakes that eat garden slugs)!

trees sugar beach toronto

Plant a tree

A team of researchers found that 10 more trees on a city block has self-reported health benefits comparable to a $10,000 salary raise (so you can feel richer without showing off your lawn), moving to a neighbourhood with a $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger.

The study, conducted in Toronto, also found that people who live on a tree-lined block are less likely to report high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease or diabetes.

Tip:

Try a slow-release watering bag for new trees beginning to establish.

A variety of landscaping options await. Not sure where to start? Hire and consult with a company that specializes in native plants and edible landscapes. Or grab books and online resources, maybe find a local mentor or take a course to help you realize your dream.