Apr 22, 2024 - News

No-mow lawns are having a moment in Minnesota

A bee friendly lawn with native wildfloewrs and plants

Wild flowers and native plants are filling front lawns across the Twin Cities. Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Hauck

Anthony Hauck spent the first spring in his new Tangletown home tearing the grass out of his front lawn. His goal: "to make a yard better for the birds, bees and other bugs."

The big picture: No (or low) mow lawns are sprouting up across the metro this spring, as Minnesotans embrace landscaping that requires less maintenance and water.

State of the seeds: Interest in drought-resistant fescue grass blends, pollinator-friendly wildflowers, and other native plants is growing, landscaping and gardening pros tell Axios.

  • At Mother Earth Gardens, sales of "Bee Lawn," a "low-grow" grass with flowers added in, have doubled to tripled each year, said Marsha Frey, the center's native and pollinator lawn expert.

Driving the trend: For most converts, climate is a top concern, experts say. In addition to using less water, low-mow grasses and native plants need less fertilizer and fewer chemicals.

  • Plus: Native habitats benefit bugs and critters, and the plants' deeper roots can help soil retain water and fend off erosion.

Zoom in: The environment was the main motivator for Hauck, who works at a conservation-focused organization. He told Axios he's worried about the future of birds, butterflies, and grassland ecosystems.

  • "My lawn – or lack thereof – is now my statement piece on these larger issues," he said.

What he did: Hauck solarized his front lawn to kill the existing vegetation, then filled the 400-square-foot area with native prairie plants, mulch, and raised beds last June.

  • Two months of weeding (and watering to establish the roots) later, the garden was thriving. All in, it cost about $1,000, he said. He plans to start transforming his backyard this summer.
A yard before with dirt and a planted and after with much and native plants
Before and after at Hauck's South Minneapolis home. Photos: Courtesy of Anthony Hauck

Between the lines: Many residents also like spending less time and money on their yard over time β€” though the upfront cost can be a deterrent.

  • "Lawns are an imported concept, we didn't grow mowed lawns back in the day," Frey said. "Adding the pollinator flowers has been just a great thing for many people for the environmental part of it and for the ease."

Case in point: Switching from a traditional Kentucky Bluegrass lawn to fine fescue grass should result in five to 10 fewer mowings a year, Jon Trappe, a turfgrass educator with the University of Minnesota Extension, told Axios.

  • Because the more drought-resistant grasses can go 45 to 50 days without moisture, water use tends to drop by a third, he added.

Zoom out: State policies are also feeding the trend. The "Lawns to Legumes" program, started in 2019, provides grants of up to $400 for people planting pollinator habitats at home. Applications for the next batch are due May 15.

  • And, a law enacted last year seeks to spread the practice even more by prohibiting cities from banning native plant landscaping.

The catch: Low-maintenance lawns aren't right for everyone. Fescue grasses tend to be vulnerable to heavy foot traffic, Trappe notes, so families with children or large dogs may want to maintain an area of traditional grass.

  • The transition can also be costly. A two-pound bag of bee lawn at Mother Earth costs about $25, versus $7 for a bag of traditional grass seed.

How to try it: Frey suggests first-timers start small, planting pollinator-friendly wildflowers or grasses in one section of the yard or plugging native plants like creeping thyme into empty lawn patches.

  • Trappe says that those looking to fully remake their lawn should probably follow Hauck's lead and start from scratch, as healthy grass (and even weeds) can crowd out the new species.

Go deeper: The U of M Extension has tips and resources on planting bee and fine fescue lawns. Hauck also recommends Blue Thumb as a guide.

More coverage: No Mow May grows a fan base in Minnesota

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