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What’s in a lawn?

By February 9, 2021Beet February 2021

By Sherri Morgan

Master Gardener 2008

Do you have a large, mowed green space around your home? That space is an artifact of landscape design imported from the British Isles, where rain is plentiful and large estates were set off by acres of green lawn. We need to ask ourselves if this is appropriate or useful for us in this time.

In the U.S., lawns cover a total area that is larger than New England and that area is increasing every year. Some developments and homeowners’ associations require lawns in the front of houses. In our time of climate change and ecosystem stress, we need to ask ourselves if this use of our landscape is appropriate.

Douglas Tallamy, Professor of Entomology from the University of Delaware, has long been concerned about the widespread use of non-native plant species, of which lawn grasses are one. Non-native trees, shrubs and grasses provide little in terms of food for native insects and the birds who feed on them. Dr. Tallamy’s current project is Homegrown National Park, in which he asks private homeowners to choose plantings that support their local ecosystems. He asks that folks with lawns consider removing half of the lawn area and replacing that with native trees, shrubs and perennials. He explains that we cannot depend on parks or natural areas to fulfill all ecosystem services. As homeowners, we can participate by providing food, shelter, and nesting sites using plants with which native insects have co-evolved.

Bird and insect species are in decline worldwide due to loss of habitat and food sources. In his latest book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, Dr. Tallamy explains the importance of native plants, especially as hosts for insects whose caterpillars are the main food source for baby birds.

If you have a lawn and would like to reduce its size and replant that area with natives, there are many resources you can use. Google “sheet mulching” to discover how to begin to reduce the lawn area. Check out the National Wildlife Federation website and look through their plant finder section. You will find complete lists of trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses native to your zip code. Local nurseries and the Siskiyou County Native Plant Society are also resources. Another great website is where you will find lots of information about plants native to our area.

To enjoy gardens in our area that feature native plants, plan on attending the Jackson County Master Gardeners Native Plant Garden Tour. The virtual tour is coming in mid-April and an in-person tour in mid-May. Check out our website at