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For Cleaner Water, Convert Some Lawn

August 19, 2020 12:00 AM

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​There are 2 million acres of lawn in Pennsylvania -- that’s a lot of turf grass!

The idea that homes be surrounded by expanses of lawn is older than America itself.

Stately manors of the Old World had a common attribute -- grassy, expansive buffers.

Associated with the upper class and firmly engrained in settlers’ land use ideology, grassy lawns also became the thing to have in the New World.

Perspectives are changing about the traditional lawn.

Dramatic declines in pollinators, the need for clean water, and to respond to climate change require different thinking about managing our yards.

Lawns Add to Your Environmental Footprint


Maintaining your lawn is 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.

Conversion of forests to lawns results in a net loss of carbon-capturing capacity, biodiversity, and habitat for animals.

A movement is underway to reverse the process, converting turf to meadows or trees.

Benefits of Backyard Meadows and Woods


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 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.

How to Get Started Converting Your Lawn


If you’re ready to do your part by converting turf grass to trees or meadow, DCNR offers technical assistance throughout the state.

If you (or you and your neighbors collectively) have more than a quarter acre of lawn, you might also be eligible for funding that can pay for some or all the costs of tree planting and meadow establishment -- from planning to planting to maintenance.

There are hundreds of options for planting native shrubs and trees, perennials, wildflower mixes, and low (or no) maintenance grasses and groundcovers.

Native perennials and wildflowers also aid vital pollinators like butterflies and bees. Check landscaping with native plants on the DCNR website for more benefits of native plants.

Consider starting small and adding on year by year. Before too long, you’ll have a plant oasis that seamlessly ties in with the native ecosystem!

Contact DCNR to learn more about how we can help you care convert your lawn.

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