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Lawn Conversion

In Pennsylvania, there are two million acres of lawn.

Maintaining a lawn takes work. Grass needs to be treated with fertilizer because the soil is not right (not to mention how those fertilizers run off into streams when it rains).

Turf wants water when the weather doesn’t provide it. Mowing requires time and takes energy; and pollinators disappear because they no longer have food to eat.

Share Your Backyard with Nature

One way to reduce your environmental footprint, help provide clean water, and welcome birds and beneficial insects is to let go of all that grass!

Converting some or all of your lawn to woods or meadow:

  • Shows you are a good steward of the land
  • Adds natural diversity and interest to your backyard
  • Reduces the time you spend mowing.

A diverse array of native trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, and warm season grasses are much better than turf grass for keeping soil and nutrients in place.

Benefits of Backyard Meadows and Woods

Converting lawn to meadows and woods provides many environmental benefits, including:

  • Clean Water: The shallow roots of turf grass and compacted soils of lawns limit water absorption when it rains. Runoff picks up fertilizers and other pollutants from your yard and street and transfers them into nearby streams. Meadows and woods are more effective than lawns at absorbing stormwater and preventing flooding because they have deep root systems that help the water infiltrate.

  • Home for Pollinators and Birds: Wildflower meadows and native trees offer food and cover for pollinators, butterflies, and songbirds; and reduce the need for the pesticides that impact them.

  • Increase Biodiversity: While not as neat and clean as a traditional lawn, meadows can contain up to 100 species of plants and are beautiful!

  • No Green Thumb Needed: Meadows and woods are lower maintenance, require little watering -- as they are more drought tolerant, and don’t take a green thumb to keep them appealing -- although good planning and preparation is a must.

Lawn Conversion Assistance

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Lawn Conversion Program is available statewide and aims to support those who wish to convert excess acres of lawn to wood or meadow.

The department can provide technical assistance and resources, support partnership development and projects, and fund eligible plantings.

Many conservation partners are involved in these efforts, including non-profit organizations, local governments, and private landscape professionals; and there may be local assistance available.

Learn more about how you can get involved:

  • Lawn owners: Anyone with a lawn can plant woods or meadows, but you may need help choosing species, figuring out the steps involved, or talking with your neighbors. Contact the department’s Lawn Conversion Program staff to request more information about the types of assistance DCNR can provide. Keep mowing your property until you’re ready to begin site preparation.

  • Landscape professionals: The department has limited opportunities to direct contract with pre-qualified vendors to plant acres of lawn conversion projects. Learn more about the department’s Ecological Restoration Services Invitation-to-Qualify (PDF) and register to become an approved vendor. All Commonwealth contracts are awarded through a competitive bidding process.

  • Conservation professionals: The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Community and Watershed Forestry grants opportunity is available to non-profits, local governments, and academic institutions looking to implement lawn conversion projects and build local lawn conversion programs. The department also can help conservation organizations by providing technical resources, networking and training opportunities, and program development guidance.

What About the Neighbors?

Perspectives are changing about the traditional lawn.

Among other issues, dramatic declines in pollinators and the need to respond to climate change require different thinking about managing our yards.

There are beautiful options for residential landscapes that provide additional benefits.

Penn State Extension offers a number of suggestions for talking with neighbors in its fact sheet on Neighborly Natural Landscaping.

Maintaining a swath of mowed turf around the edge of a meadow or posting an explanatory sign can let others know that the area is intentional, well-managed, and desirable.

Pennsylvania’s Watershed Forestry Initiative

Restoring and maintaining woods and meadows across the Commonwealth is a key strategy for improving water quality and habitat.

As part of the Watershed Forestry effort, the Commonwealth has a goal of planting 5,000 acres of meadows by 2025 to improve watersheds and waterways in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay -- with a side benefit of habitat for wildlife and pollinators.