Table of Contents

A Guide to Low Impact Front Yard Landscaping

Transforming Your Yard, One Step at a Time

Many of our readers and webinar participants have asked for an update on my native front yard project, and I am happy to oblige. As with every native garden, it had its “ugly duckling” phase, wherein it was more mulch than garden. This is normal, and patience is key to getting past this phase. Given the right conditions and enough time to mature, native plants will thrive and thrill you.

Would you believe that not all gardens are green? I wanted to avoid the use of too many exotics, which take a lot of extra irrigation and often do not provide food for wildlife and insects. My goal two years ago was to decrease the amount of lawn in my landscape and increase quality habitat in my area. Since then, I have been pleased to host buckeye skipper and monarch caterpillars. I have seen many species of birds swooping over my garden to eat the flies and moths that hang around. With very low water needs, this landscape helps keep my household water consumption low.

While we talk a lot about careful planning and design as keys to success with a native garden, a dash of spontaneity keeps the garden fun and fresh. After initial planting, I continued to add plants and deviate from my written plan. That’s okay. Adding lambs ear from my grandmother’s house and strawberry mint from my parents’ greenhouse made the garden more personal and functional. I continue to fill in gaps here and there as I see them appear. I have learned an important lesson from all of this: if a certain plant doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean you failed or that you aren’t a good gardener. It might just mean it wasn’t in the right spot. Fill that space with something else you like and try again.

Embracing a New Paradigm

Something interesting is happening to our front yards – they are slowly shrinking. The typical large expanse of green lawn is being replaced with low-maintenance, drought-tolerant shrubs, perennials, and grasses. Homeowners are realizing that this alternative to a mowed lawn has its advantages. Certainly, this new paradigm will require less water over time, but it can be functional and beautiful as well.

The potential environmental impacts of making this change can be significant. Lawn grasses, such as fescue and bluegrass, require more mowing and watering than native landscapes. Here are some facts about lawns and their impact on the environment:

  • Lawns consume nearly 1/3 of the total household water used in the U.S.
  • Lawn mowers contribute to air pollution, producing as much pollution in one hour as a car driving 100 miles.
  • Traditional lawns provide little to no habitat or food for pollinators and other wildlife.

If you are tired of the traditional front yard and wish to reduce your lawn, a simple landscape design focused on native plants can make a real difference. With their deep roots, native plants can adapt to the regional climate and ecological conditions while also adding diversity, reducing maintenance, and attracting a host of wildlife and pollinators.

Getting Started with Your Native Front Yard

Use these simple steps as a guide to develop a native front yard. I prefer to lay out a garden hose to get the curves and flow that I want. It is a great way to fiddle with the design before tearing anything up.

  1. Start Small: Begin by removing a section of lawn that you can manage. You can convert other areas over the next few years.

  2. Choose Wisely: Think about the type of plants that will grow in your area. I group shrubs, perennials, and grasses to add impact in the landscape. Strategically locating small trees, such as redbuds and disease-resistant crabapples, will give height and take up space in the design. Are there some evergreen trees and shrubs that will give some splashes of green, especially in winter?

  3. Investigate and Plan: Investigate the types of plants you wish to include in your yard. Plan your garden for a succession of bloom to guarantee there are always a few plants flowering throughout the year. These native plants provide nectar and pollen for beneficial insects. A few plants, such as milkweed, can provide food for larvae, and fruits and seeds will feed the birds. A monoculture of lawn can be transformed into a landscape alive with diversity and activity.

  4. Source Your Plants: Find the plants you need for your design by checking with local nurseries or you can use our Native Plant Guide 2019. Steal ideas from nature or visit the Arboretum to gather ideas of combinations and groupings that grow well together. Then, purchase the plants you want at our sale in April or September and get them in the ground.

It will be great to see your front yard transformed into an oasis for pollinators and birds. You will be able to look out your front window at a diverse and functional landscape that has a positive impact on the environment. It will be a landscape that fuels pollinators and supports all sorts of birds and other wildlife. It will be a landscape that is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Finding the Right Balance

I believe lawns will always have a place in our landscapes, but maybe just a smaller place than in the past. It is not a bad thing to replace some of our lawn areas with beautiful and attractive trees, shrubs, and other perennials. Just think about the possibilities.

If you like a larger expanse of lawn but wish to consider drought-tolerant alternatives, consider buffalograss as an option. It requires far less mowing and watering than traditional lawn grasses, making it a more sustainable choice for those who want to maintain a larger grassy area.

The transition to a low-impact, native-focused front yard may seem daunting at first, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Embrace the journey, get your hands dirty, and watch your little oasis come to life. Your local pollinators, birds, and the planet will thank you.

Today’s Garden is Garden and Landscape Company, provides all you need about Garden and Landscape Design to get better garden decorations.

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