Lawn Considerations: Converting Your Yard
Lawn conversions are a popular way to create a space within a yard that is more conducive to wildlife, while also contributing to a variety of other environmental benefits. There are many alternatives to traditional turf grass available for your lawn, such as: native grasses, wildflowers, clovers, and mosses. Each bring their own benefits and concerns, but all tend to be lower maintenance once established and implemented correctly.
Mosses are great for shaded areas that have difficulty drying, but are less resilient to foot traffic compared to other alternatives. Clovers are excellent because they do not get too high and are pest resistant (especially Dutch clover), but are fast spreading so creating a buffer to combat this is advised. Native grasses and wildflowers do well when mixed, providing many soil and wildlife benefits, but care should be taken in selecting varieties that work well where you live. If planting native grasses in town, shorter grasses may be favorable, such as: Buffalo Grass, Little Blue Stem, Sideoats Grama, Blue Grama, Prairie June Grass, and Virginia Wildrye.
Once finished making the decision on what will be used for a lawn conversion, it is also important to properly prepare the area to be planted. All unwanted plant material (grasses, weeds, etc.) that will possibly compete with what is being planted need to be removed. Chemical means is often chosen due to its effectiveness and it taking less time than other methods, as you typically: spray, monitor for two weeks (pulling any weeds, or re-spraying if necessary), till, and then plant. However, always follow proper safety precautions when applying, be aware of carryover, and apply when pollinators may not be as active.
When wanting to refrain from chemicals, it is most effective to cut the area short, and then bake the ground (placing plastic over the area and allowing the sun to kill what is below) over a period of several months. Afterwards, two rounds of tilling the ground should occur (waiting several days in between). Then, pull any weeds and cut the grass again before tilling several more times. Once that is completed, planting can begin.
Depending on what is being converted to, it can take a couple years to become established and regular maintenance should be done. Make sure to water when the area is first planted, as well as during dry periods throughout the warmer months. Additionally, watch out for weeds so they do not outcompete the grasses/lawn alternatives. If this is followed, it will not be long before the lawn is successful.
Picture from: Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)