Converting Lawn to Wildlife Habitat: Strategy #1

My current garden focus is to find alternatives to mowing that don’t involve my neighbors poking pins in my effigy. Rather too bluntly, I have already expressed that protecting wildlife is the reason why I am committed to this goal. Now, the task remains to research and experiment to find the easiest and fastest solutions.

Here is a summary of one of my experimental strategies:

A 10-foot swatch of rich soil runs along a usually dry creek bed that borders our property. As you can see from this photo, after I stopped mowing it, lush growth took over that includes milkweed volunteers.

Before

Unfortunately, obnoxious invasive grasses, mile-a-minute weed (Persicaria perfoliata), and other unwelcome plants are crowding out the natives.

For this area, I’m experimenting with two approaches:

  • Brown paper and compost mulch for areas with less aggressive weeds
  • Plastic and compost mulch for areas with rhizomatous grasses (that is, grasses that send roots and shoots out from its nodes)

Before laying the paper or plastic down, I hand pulled easy-to-pull weeds and whacked tenacious ones. Here is a close-up of the paper laid down and ready to be covered with compost:

3-method1-2stages

Next, I cut circles out of the paper or plastic and planted two kinds of plants:

  • Hardy ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum)
  • Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)

The sunflowers will get tall so I placed them in the center of the bed. Here the plants are right after planting:

4-method1-planted

Now, here they are about six weeks later:

????

We had a tempestuous wind storm several days ago that knocked the sunflowers over, but you get the idea. The main area of mulch that you see was the section covered with paper and it has remained surprisingly weed-free.

To sum up the process, here is a photo that shows the steps:

 

My current garden focus is to find alternatives to mowing that don’t involve my neighbors poking pins in my effigy. Rather too bluntly, I have already expressed that protecting wildlife is the reason why I am committed to this goal. Now, the task remains to research and experiment to find the easiest and fastest solutions.

Here is a summary of one of my experiments:

A 10-foot swatch of rich soil runs along a usually dry creek bed that borders our property. As you can see from this photo, after I stopped mowing it, lush growth took over that includes milkweed volunteers.

Before

Unfortunately, obnoxious invasive grasses, mile-a-minute weed (Persicaria perfoliata), and other unwelcome plants are crowding out the natives.

For this area, I’m experimenting with two approaches:

  • Brown paper and compost mulch for areas with less aggressive weeds
  • Plastic and compost mulch for areas with rhizomatous grasses (that is, grasses that send roots and shoots out from its nodes)

Before laying the paper or plastic down, I hand pulled easy-to-pull weeds and whacked tenacious ones. Here is a close-up of the paper laid down and ready to be covered with compost:

3-method1-2stages

Next, I cut circles out of the paper or plastic and planted two kinds of plants:

  • Hardy ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum)
  • Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)

The sunflowers will get tall so I placed them in the center of the bed. Here the plants are right after planting:

4-method1-planted

Now, here they are about six weeks later:

????

We had a tempestuous wind storm several days ago that knocked the sunflowers over, but you get the idea. The main area of mulch that you see was the section covered with paper and it has remained surprisingly weed-free.

To sum up the process, here is a photo that shows the steps:

 

2-method1-3stages

 

 

  1. Weed or whack area (being careful to scare away all wildlife first).
  2. Lay down paper or plastic.
  3. Cover with 2 to 4 inches of compost mulch.
  4. Cut circles in the paper or plastic and plant plants.
  5. If you use plastic, there is a fifth step: In above six months, or longer, verify that the invasive weeds are dead, and remove the plastic. Resettle the mulch and possibly add more.)

I'll let you know how this lawn alternative stacks up against other methods. Honestly, I'm hoping to find something a lot faster and easier!

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