Since the launch of “No-Mow Month” campaigns, which experts seem to agree may do more harm than good, I was happy to see a more science-based and realistic meme appear. From the plant and seed-seller American Meadows and my friend, the groundcover author Kathy Jentz, the campaign is “Reduce Your Lawn Day.”  (May 20.) Its mission is “to educate, inspire, and convert the underutilized spaces in our yards for a better world.”

This campaign is unlike most of the current anti-lawn/lawn reduction messaging, which tells us to make extreme changes – removing all the turfgrass and replacing it with some kind of meadow or “just plant natives.” Meadows aren’t for everyone or everywhere, and the “just plant natives” is sadly more frustrating than helpful.

Suggestions from the “Reduce Your Lawn” webpage.

 These 10 ways ways to reduce lawn are neither daunting nor likely to cause troubles with HOAs and city ordinances. And the garden would still be a garden! 

I was happy to see a company partnering with a garden writer and teacher, because her input will surely broaden the campaign’s impact.

Creating a New Island

I especially like number 4, “Carve out a flower bed to create a pollinator pit stop in your yard,” though I’d broaden it to say “Create a bed, border or island for shrubs and perennials.” That’s what I suggested to neighbors who recently asked me about replacing their large front lawn with a meadow.  I conveyed the necessary bad news – that our city doesn’t allow it in a front yard, meadows don’t look great all year, and they’re a major undertaking for beginners (or anyone, really).

Instead, I suggested starting with a smaller, easier and more acceptable step – creating an island bed they could fill with a mix of natives (the husband’s hope) and full-grown plants from the crowded back-yard garden that had come with the house they bought. The island I suggested for them using marking paint is crescent-shaped and would fully enclose the trees that are currently surrounded by turfgrass, growing right up to the trunk. (Bad for trees!) I recommended my favorite method of removing grass – dig it up – and making a natural edge between the lawn and the island bed.

Not only would the island replace a good amount of turfgrass; the plants in it would do a better job of retaining stormwater on that downhill site.  And the plants wouldn’t be just the usual perennials-for-pollinators but shrubs, too; I suggested ninebark, oakleaf hydrangea and our gorgeous native azaleas. It would be far more interesting to look at from any direction.

To my surprise and delight, just a week later I walked by their house and found the couple and one of their mothers digging up the lawn in their new bed, which is even larger than the one I’d suggested, and ready to install a slew of plants they’d bought or moved from the crowded back garden, with a mulch delivery coming soon.

Back when I did garden-coaching for money, I rarely found out if clients actually took my advice.  Now that I’m a volunteer garden coach (for friends and neighbors) I get to see the results and this one of the most gratifying ever!

I took “before” shots like this one from the street and encouraged them to take some from inside the house – for their own reference and bragging rights but also for mine.  Update coming.

Still the Best Source for Lawn Reduction/Replacement!


Published in 2012, Evelyn Hadden’s Beautiful No-Mow Yards is an outstanding source for lawn-reducers and -replacers, and I say that NOT because that’s my former back yard on the cover or because Evelyn is a friend and GardenRanter Emeritus. It’s because she shows and describes 50 “amazing lawn alternatives” that LOOK GOOD, maybe even all year long. They’re living carpets, shade gardens, meadows, rain gardens, patios, lay areas, ponds, xeric gardens, edible gardens, and stroll gardens.

She includes a chapter about “smarter lawns” of blue grama, fine fescue, dwarf mondo, or sedges, and “freedom lawns” with clover, violets and more.  And of course, how to remove lawn.

Also included is something missing in most anti-lawn messaging – how to DESIGN an “eco-friendly garden.” That’s important because most people care about beauty – for their own enjoyment and that of their community – and will continue to care about beauty no  matter how often they’re told they shouldn’t.

Evelyn also covers maintenance, and profiles lots of groundcovers and taller plants to consider.

Her next book is a deep dive into a particularly manageable and gratifying lawn-replacement project – “Flip the strip!”  I’ve found creating gardens out of boring hellstrips to be smaller, do-able projects with tons of pay-off – for me and the many passersby who express their appreciation. 

So for Reduce Your Lawn Day (May 20), know that you have lots of OPTIONS. 

My parting shot is this photo of my former front garden, which reminds us that not all groundcovers can really be stepped on, or be expected to thrive in any climate. The current owners of this mosaic of groundcovers have replaced it with – can you guess? – turfgrass.