Why Replacing Your Lawn with Native Plants is a Game-Changer

Nowadays, with drought conditions persisting in the West and water restrictions taking effect in Los Angeles, the idea of replacing lawns with native plants has gained momentum. It has become more than just a trend; it has evolved into a movement. The rationale behind this shift is simple: native plants offer numerous benefits. They provide food and habitat for native species, help sequester carbon, and possess unique adaptations that make them well-suited for their respective regions.

In contrast, lawns are ill-suited to our environment. They contribute to the loss of biodiversity, consume excessive resources, and offer little ecological value. David Newsom, the founder of the Wild Yards Project in Los Angeles, describes lawns as resource-intensive landscapes that have a negligible positive impact. Shockingly, lawns in the United States use a staggering ten billion gallons of fresh water daily and apply approximately 90 million pounds of pesticides each year. Additionally, lawns fail to sequester carbon effectively.

Newsom sheds light on an interesting fact: lawns aren’t utilized as much as we might assume. A study conducted by UC Davis revealed that the average child in Southern California spends only about 40 minutes per week on a residential lawn, and adults use even less time.

The good news is that the ongoing drought presents a significant opportunity for change. So, I reached out to Newsom to gain insights on how and why we should all replace our lawns with native plants, as well as how to get started.

The Power of Native Plants

Newsom emphasizes that using native plants instead of lawns is not only more beneficial but also more enjoyable. It provides individuals with an empowering way to combat global climate change. For those fortunate enough to have a yard, they possess a powerful tool for positive impact.

The Process of Transitioning to Native Plants

When embarking on a native garden journey, the first step is to remove the lawn. Although it sounds daunting, it is a straightforward process. You can either take on the task yourself or hire professionals like Newsom to assist you. Removing the grass, flushing the area with water, and covering it entirely with cardboard are the initial steps. You can use old boxes or purchase roll-out cardboard for this purpose. Next, add a layer of 3 to 5 inches of organic mulch and water it daily to facilitate decomposition. This process not only ensures healthy soil but also provides a clean canvas for your native garden.

The Magic of Cardboard

Newsom highlights the benefits of using cardboard. As it breaks down, it attracts worms and fosters the growth of microfauna in the soil. For those aiming to create a native grassland, laying a drip irrigation grid under the mulch can expedite the decomposition process. Sheet mulching services are available for those seeking assistance with this step.

Designing Your Native Garden

To design your native garden, Newsom suggests starting with a dry erase board. Take some time to envision the unique features you want in your garden. Reflect on how you intend to use the space. Will there be a dog running around? Do your kids need pathways to play? Are you considering an herb or vegetable garden? Perhaps you could create borders of native plants to promote wildlife. Spend a few weeks brainstorming and allow your plan to develop organically.

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Locating Native Plants

When it comes to choosing specific plants for your native garden, the options are diverse since each region has different needs. To find suitable native plants for your area, simply search for “native plant nurseries” in your region. While the search may require some digging, native plant nurseries exist in California, Oregon, Washington, and beyond.

Embrace Your Biome

Creating a garden with indigenous plants not only promotes sustainability but also fosters a profound sense of place. By understanding the unique characteristics of your local biome, you can move away from generic gardens sourced from large retail stores, which often rely on genetic manipulation and pesticides. Designing a garden specific to your location allows you to appreciate and preserve the natural beauty of your surroundings.

Initiating the transition from a lawn to a native plant garden may seem daunting to some. However, understanding the importance of sourcing plants from native nurseries and embracing the process can make it an exciting endeavor. In doing so, you are not only creating an aesthetically pleasing space but also contributing to the larger effort of protecting our environment.

Ames Farm Center

Front yard with native plants
David Newsom

Native plant front yard with bench
David Newsom

Orange flowers in a native plant yard
David Newsom

Yard with native plants
David Newsom