Converting Lawn to Meadow

More and more people are becoming environmentally conscious and looking for ways to become greener.  One way we can all make a difference is by decreasing the amount of lawn we have on our property. Our society has created an unsustainable monoculture of grass that requires annual fertilizing and constant watering during the hot summer months. Not to mention the harmful pesticides we use to keep a weed free lawn inhabitable to most insects and the noise and air pollution created by weekly lawn mowing.

Taking this monoculture landscape and transforming it into a diverse native meadow provides many benefits to our environment and local ecosystem. Meadows are low maintenance, needing to be cut only once or twice a year, and require little to no fertilizers or pesticides. Meadows also create a wonderful ecosystem helping to sustain wildlife. Native plant species provide food for insects that then help feed amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds.

The grass varieties we usually see in our perfectly manicured lawns are often a non-native species with a shallow root system. These shallow roots limit the amount of water and nutrients absorbed and why we so often have to throw on the hose to keep our lawns from browning out. Native meadow plants on the other hand have developed extensive root systems allowing them to be drought resistant and able to find the nutrients they need without our help.  These roots are also powerful soil stabilizers that can be used on sloped areas were lawns are difficult to maintain. Below you can compare the different species and their root system. The first plant to the left, Kentucky Bluegrass, is a commonly used grass species.


Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Illinois Native Plant Guide

Meadows can act as pollutant filters unlike the typical lawn that does little to absorb excess fertilizers, pesticides and other contaminants. This excess is instead washed away with the rain and ends up in our waterways destroying aquatic habitats. Wet meadows strategically placed in a storm water system can provide a filtration barrier, absorbing those contaminants that have run off lawns and imperious surfaces, before it reaches our waterways.

To create a sustainable meadow requires planning and time. The need to have a good understanding of the site conditions and to know what type of habitat would thrive best in those conditions is critical to a successful meadowscape. It will take several years to develop a mature meadow, although with the right plant selection one will see beautiful flowering plants within the first season.  The most fantastic part about meadows is their aesthetic diversity. Each season brings with it new color, texture, and movement.

Meadow Fall Colors and Textures


Urban & suburban Meadow by Catherine Zimmerman

Tips on Deicers

Keeping our paths safe for our friends, family and the public is a top priority in the winter months. At points it can be a challenge keeping these areas clear and we often turn to chemical treatments (deicers) for help. The overuse of deicers can increase concrete deterioration, stunt or kill plants, damage surrounding soil, corrode metals and increase pollution in our drinking water and the local watershed.

There are several types of deicers available. Calcium Chloride, Sodium Chloride (Common Salt), Potassium Chloride, Urea, and Calcium Magnesium Acetate (More Info) are typical deicers found in stores. The chart below compares these chemicals.

Chart courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension Service

To minimize the effects of deicers manually remove as much snow and ice as possible before applying product. Adding an abrasive such as kitty litter, sand, sawdust or cracked corn to icy spots adds traction and decreases the amount of deicer needed. Make sure to clean up an spills and excess product to prevent damage to your property and the environment. For more information on the effects deicers may have on your landscape and the environment use the links below.  

Deicing Links:

Winter Salt Damage to Plants by Ron Wimanovich Gardener/salt simanovich.html

Winter Deicing Agents for the Homeowner By Jay B. Fitzgerald

Deicing, Strategies for Safeguarding Both Guest and the Environment by Doug Kievit-Kyar