What part of the lawn should I keep, and what part might I convert to native plants?
Think about how you use your lawn. Is there an area where the kids play, or where you like to walk, or where for other reasons you need a fairly durable vegetated surface? Turf grasses are unexcelled at this. But if your yard is like most suburban yards, there’s a lot of grass that isn’t walked on much; some of those areas are good candidates for conversion.
Another area to consider is underneath trees. Grass growing right up to the trunk isn’t particularly good for the tree; one arborist we know has a saying, “healthy lawn = unhealthy tree” because of their differing needs for fertilizer, water, and pH. Many arborists suggest mulching out to the tree’s drip line. One concept that has been gaining traction, known asSoft Landings, is the planting of native plants underneath native trees, particularly those like oaks that support a lot of insect species. Many of the insects that feed on trees drop to the ground to complete their life cycles in the soil and leaf litter, and often perish on the compacted, mown surface of lawns. (It will be important to leave the leaves for them to survive).
How do I remove the grass?
There are multiple options: cutting and removing the sod by hand (which requires lots of time and effort, but is fast), using sheet mulching to smother the grass plants (easy, but not fast), pesticides (not preferred!), and using clear plastic during hot sunny weather to bake the grass (with collateral damage for soil microorganisms). To read more about your options, see thisquick overview by the nonprofit Healthy Yards.
If you’re interested in a more complex landscape for part of your lawn, the sky is the limit (literally!). Consider starting with one or more native trees, particularly so-called “keystone species” that support large numbers of insect species and provide ahost of other benefits. See the resources on ourWhat to Plant page; in particular, try the National Wildlife Society’sNative Plant Finder, which quickly identifies keystone tree, shrub and perennial species in your area.
If you’re looking for a meadow-like appearance, get a copy ofLawns into Meadows by Owen Wormser, just out in a second edition in November 2022.