5 Steps to Reducing Your Lawn

I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Evelyn Hadden about her wonderful new book Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives.

When you goal to to create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden, reducing your lawn and replacing it with more native plants is the quickest way to provide more wildlife habitat.

Beautiful No-Mow Yards is chock full of stunning photos to give you inspiration and ideas on ways to reduce your lawn. But I wanted to highlight just 5 to get you started.

1. Start With the Places You Only Go to Mow

Look around your property and make a note of the places in your lawn that the only time you go there is to mow. Obviously, you’re not using those places for recreation or anything else, so this is a great place to remove the turf and plant some native plants to attract wildlife.

Native pollinators are in deep decline, so you’ll get double benefits if you add some pollinator attracting plants that bloom from early spring through autumn.

2. Stop Mowing Slopes

Using a mower on a slope is very dangerous, and sloped areas aren’t any good for kicking around a soccer ball or relaxing in your lawn chair. So these places are an excellent place to create more wildlife habitat in your garden.

These sloped areas may be a great place to plant a wildflower meadow for wildlife, including lots of butterfly host plants and nectar plants for butterflies and native pollinators. Plus, the birds will come in to eat the seeds.

You will have created a place that is full of life, and you will never tire of watching the constant activity of the butterflies and other wildlife.

3. Focus on Your Trees

“Tree Islands” in the middle of your lawn are  places where the tree and the lawn are in direct competition with each other, and neither is really getting what they need. Why not remove the lawn under your trees and replace it with shrubs and perennials to instead create Habitat Islands.

When you add berrying shrubs that fruit throughout the season, you’ll be inviting migratory birds and other wildlife to take up residence  in the habitats you’ve created. These pockets of habitat will become living ecosystems for you to enjoy.

4. Add a Wildlife Pond

Removing a section of your lawn and installing a wildlife pond will create a soothing area for relaxation for you, a spot that is full of light and life, and a place that will attract birds, dragonflies and damselflies, frogs and toads, and so much more.

You will never again need TV because you’ll want to spend all of your time watching the endless parade of visitors to your wildlife pond.

5. Put People in Nature

When we create habitats where nature is welcome, we are not only providing for wildlife, we are giving a gift to ourselves. Spending time in nature is good for our own health, soothing our souls, providing relaxation, lowering our blood pressure, and connecting us to the natural world around us.

Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle, describes the health benefits of spending time in nature quite well. For a summary, please read 10 Reasons Why Children and Adults Need Vitamin N

6. Your Ideas?

I’d love to hear about the ways you are reducing your lawns and creating more habitat for wildlife in your gardens.

Please share your ideas in the comments section below. I can’t wait to hear all about what you’re doing!

Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.

© 2012 – 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    I have this book and love it. I will be studying it again over the winter. Each year I take out more of our lawn. I began in 2008, our first Spring in our new home — we had nothing BUT lawn. I no longer dig my beds but lay down cardboard and newspaper and mulch over it to create new beds. I didn’t intentionally set out to create different areas of my garden, but all areas of my garden have their own name/theme, i.e. the Bird & Butterfly Garden, The Potager, The Woodland Edge, etc. It gives me perimeters in which to design and select plants (mostly native) for those areas. Pretty soon we will no longer have any front lawn. Next year I hope to add a small water feature and continue to add hardscape. I’d much rather sit on a beautiful stone patio or crushed gravel interspersed with natural plantings than a patch of lawn. So much more interesting! I now have more birds and insects to watch. Needless to say I do not have, or need, cable tv even without a pond. I would encourage everyone to consider removing their lawn and planting more. Even in the middle of the village where I live there is nature. I’ve gained more privacy, too. This fall I have beautiful (though the shrub is yet very small) winterberries!
    Kathy Sturr of The Violet Fern recently posted..Eight, Nine, Ten Picks for Diana!

      • says

        And I like that you named your different garden areas, Kathy. I do that too! It seems to help imagine how they should look and feel. Carole’s talk of Habitat Islands added another great name to the possibilities.

        Also thanks so much, both of you, for your compliments.

    • Judi P says

      One of the best aesthetic tips for reducing lawn is to think about its contours, rather than those of your plant beds or any tree islands. In this scenario the lawn is becoming a well-defined smaller island within your sea of natives. That jibes well with the idea of it serving its purpose as a destination/clearing/intentional space, rather than the general backdrop.

  2. says

    Just ordered the book. But I’m conflicted. Are there any others that are planting for birds and other wildlife, but who also have cats? I love my cats; they go in and out of the house. But I’m providing a habitat that attracts birds, and my cats are predators in that habitat.

    • says

      If you are trying to attract birds, it’s not a great idea to have the cats out, unless you know they haven’t killed any. A lot of people are building screened-in cat areas, called “catios,” for their cats so they can be outdoors: http://catioshowcase.com/ plus also http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/17/garden/17catio.html?pagewanted=all. Aside from danger to birds, cats themselves live longer when they are not free-ranging, as wandering outside makes them far more susceptible to feline leukemia and other dangers.

      Up to 500 million birds are killed per year by cats (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/21/science/21birds.html), and even if you are not planting to attract birds, which most people don’t do, your cats are still a threat to our diminishing numbers of songbirds.

    • says

      Sandy, I’m a cat lover and cat owner too. I have given much thought to how unsustainable cat ownership can be, and yet… as an animal lover, would I want to forego that close relationship with a member of another species? That may be my best shot at such a bond, unless I manage to pluck a thorn from a grateful lion’s paw. My current cats live indoors, but I feel they are really missing out on key quality of life that for any of us – human, cat, or other animal – comes from spending time outdoors.

      I have considered different ways to provide a safe outdoor area for my cats that would keep them separate from visiting/resident wildlife. Catios, what a cool concept!

      This topic deserves a separate article.

    • says

      Sandy, many of us struggle with the issue of cats and wildlife gardens. I wrote about it last year when we got a new cat: http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com/a-predator-in-our-midst.html

      This year I have been trying out something called a “BirdsbeSafe” collar, made by a small company in Vermont. The collar is a brightly patterned ruff that fits around a breakaway collar. Birds have exceptional vision for bright colors and can spot the collar much more easily than the predator itself – the idea is it makes the cat hunter much more visible to birds and they will fly away. I’ve been trying it on my cat this summer and it reduced my cat’s bird predation almost to zero. He did get one warbler this fall though, so it’s not 100% foolproof. I’m thinking of writing something about it. It may be a partial solution for people whose cats cannot always live indoors.

      Apart from that, keeping cats indoors during the bird nesting season is crucial – nestling birds have no defense against a cat that climbs a tree to raid a nest.
      Ellen Sousa recently posted..Comment on Japanese Beetles, Chickens and the Habitat Farm

      • says

        Ellen, you offer a couple of good suggestions. There are also cat bibs, which cut down on predation: http://www.catgoods.com/. Other people compromise by only letting their cats out at night. I’m fine with that for the most part, but I did have a cat once preying on our flying squirrels at night, which I did not like.

        I love cats, and used to have them as indoor pets before I married an allergic man. That being said, though, I don’t necessarily appreciate other peoples’ cats on my property, stalking my beloved frogs and birds. A cat with a bib would be less objectionable to me. I do think the bibs keep them from roaming as far, too.

    • says

      Kathy, you reinforce two excellent points about terracing. Not only does it catch runoff and decrease erosion, but it can give you flat paths so you can be IN your garden, not just viewing it from above or below.

      Also, note that you can make your paths into slight depressions, trapping and soaking up even more runoff, giving your hillside plants an extra reservoir of drinking water to make them more self-sustaining. Win-win!

  3. Sheri says

    What a great post Carole! So glad to hear more people are opening up to the idea of ‘no more lawns’, lol. I started removing areas of my lawn little by little simply because it was such a chore & expense to constantly maintain it. If our neighbors had a weedy yard, we had a weedy yard. Plus all the chemicals in fertilizers & ‘weed & feed’ products just went right into the drain, literally, since we have a city street drain in our front swale, lol. We are in a ‘scrub land’ part of Florida which naturally get’s really hot, dry & drains quickly. Plus who wants to spend their weekend moving the lawn, yuck! So having a yard here in the coastal area of S. Florida didn’t make any sense. First I removed the grass in our front island to plant perennial peanuts on the front half and mulched the back half with native shrubs and groundcovers. Part of our backyard was turned into a nice paver patio (no poured concrete) and more peanuts. This weekend we are putting in a few stone step & peagravel walkways to finish off the rest of the backyard. Which leaves me only one area of quasi sod-yard to replace. This has left me stumped since the trees give too much shade for peanuts. So I am placing this lovely book on my Christmas wish list where I am sure to find inspiration there! :)

    Happy Gardening & Best Wishes,


  4. Cora Howlett says

    I love the idea of island gardens and have been doing this for several years. “Plant it and they will come” applies here. As for outdoor cats, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but they are relentless hunters and will kill practically anything that moves. I know because we had outdoor cats. Several times I rescued chipmunks only to find that that same outdoor cat not only recaught the chipmunk but also baby rabbits and countless numbers of birds. I had to learn the hard way. After that, our cats remained indoors. They both lived to the ripe old age of 16. We now have a dog but we always walk her on a leash. I feel it is disrespectful to my neighbors to let our pet go into someone else’s yard.

  5. Sherry Mason says

    Just a word of warning about building tree islands. Do not raise the soil level more than an inch or two because you may kill the tree(s). Two homeowners on my block made tree islands around mature oak trees in their front yards. They circled the island with bricks and raised the soil level accordingly. While it took five to ten years, these lovely oaks slowly died due to rot around the base of the trees. The bark tissue is different than the below-soil level tissue. Soil up against the bark will keep moisture in and allow insects and fungus to enter the tree. Keeping the soil level the same (ie not raising the soil level at the base of the tree) will keep your established trees safe.

  6. Mark Blaze says

    Good morning,
    I live on a acre parcel in southeast Michigan. I have a pond and a few slopes on my property. I started off this past fall considering a wildlife garden as i thought about all the time spent trying to mow the bank of the pond. I thought, what a great place for a wildflower garden. So I did some research and found a place that sold me enough to do a 1500 sq foot garden. I am planting a meadow mix on most of it with a wetland mix down where the pond level rises and falls. This garden only borders about a third of the pond, so I plan to expand.
    I also have alot of lawn, so am in the begining stages…but am hoping to cut it down to half or maybe 2/3 and go mostly native and wild. This spring I intend to take photos, get soil tests, and send in clipppings of bushes and trees to identify invasive species in my long project. What a fun and exciting adventure this will be.

  7. Brad Weatherbie says

    I have a question about #3: If I put perennials & shrubs under my trees, won’t these new plants be in competition with the trees, maybe more so than the grass? Is there a way to deal with this?


  1. […] Now of course, if you are looking at a wide expanse of lawn, it may seem a little daunting because it’s too big and you don’t know where to start. Evelyn Hadden teaches us 5 Easy Ways to Start Reducing Your Lawn. […]

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