Sustainable Garden Tips

Article by Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen, Horticulture Educator, Kenosha and Racine Counties
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

Question:   I’m trying to be sustainable with my yard and allow non-grass plants to grow among the grass in my lawn.  Should I be eliminating the non-natives plants to reduce the risk of competing with the native types? Any tips on caring for this type of lawn?   L.S

Flowering lawns, those that are comprised of both turf grasses and flowering plants,  are an alternative to traditional, manicured lawns. Along with adding a bit of color and texture to the green backdrop of the turf grasses, flowering lawns add diversity to a landscape.  They benefit the environment by offering food and habitat for wildlife and decreasing the risks associated with a monoculture.

Personal preference will dictate what types of plants you may want to include in your flowering lawn.  Some of the plants that tend to grow well in flowering lawns are non-natives, such as dandelions and white clover, which may be unwanted by some people in their traditional lawns but prized by others who praise the positive attributes they bring to plantings.  White clover is a legume, and legumes have the ability to capture atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into nitrogen compounds in the soil which are useful for plant processes.  Both favored by pollinators, dandelions provide nectar with high concentrations of sugar while white clover offers pollen with a high level of protein.

Native plant selections for flowering lawns include Lance self-heal (Prunella vulgaris spp. lanceolata).  Lance self-heal is in the mint family, which is known for its aggressive growth habit.  It has a short  growth habit as well as a quick germination rate making it good for overseeding into established lawns.  The straight species of self-heal is native to Europe but the subspecies lanceolata is reportedly native to North America.  Calico aster, (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum), normally grows up to 3’ tall, but when mowed, it forms short rosettes that flower despite the reduction in height. Its rapid growth and high germination rate make it a good addition to a maintained flowering lawn.  Sweat bees, miner bees, and bumble bees are attracted to the blooms of these North American natives.

Flowering lawns require less maintenance than traditional lawns.  Maintain a flowering lawn by mowing to a height between 3.5 and 4 inches to be sure the plants flower to produce nectar and pollen for pollinators.  Mowing frequency can be determined by using the one third rule, meaning to only remove one third of the plant at each mowing.   Allow clippings to remain to add nutrients to the soil.  Two to three inches of water supplied each month is suggested.  If needed, hand pull unwanted plants.

No matter what types of plants you decide to include in your flowering lawn, make sure they can withstand the existing site conditions.  Some broadleaf plants may actually grow better in certain sites than turf and will offer a soil cover along with erosion control.  The amount of time you have to maintain the flowering lawn should also be considered during plant selection.

 

Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen is the UW-Extension Interim Horticulture Educator for Kenosha and Racine Counties. Upcoming events are listed on:  kenosha.uwex.edu.   Submit plant care questions to the Master Gardeners Plant Health Advisors.  Phone: 262-857-1942 or email:  master.gardeners@kenoshacounty.org