Steele: Saying goodbye to some lawn

Gwen Steele’s  garden under a honey locust tree. Lamium, lamb’s ears, red coral bells, violas, bergenia, sedum, and hen and chicks all compete well with tree roots in the dry shade. - Contributed
Gwen Steele’s garden under a honey locust tree. Lamium, lamb’s ears, red coral bells, violas, bergenia, sedum, and hen and chicks all compete well with tree roots in the dry shade.
— image credit: Contributed

I’m a lazy gardener. Lawn is too high-maintenance for me.

Besides, I want that space to grow other plants so I can enjoy lots of bloom that will entice birds and butterflies to come to my garden.

Here’s how I got rid of my lawn.

From spring, when I moved into my house, I didn’t water it.

By the end of June, the lawn had gone brown.

It was growing on almost pure sand, so I was sure I had killed it, but a week of rain at summer’s end turned it lush and green again.

So, I moved on to plan B—sheet mulching.

My friend, who lives just two blocks away, had done this successfully on her water-retentive soil.

In two to six months her lawn was rotted and the ground was ready to plant.

I cut a small area of grass very short, soaked the ground well and covered it with a quarter-inch-thick, overlapping-layer of wet newspaper. (Cardboard works even better.)

This was topped with four inches of steer manure, and watered in heavily.

I checked at two months, then six months.

After 18 months I gave up. No rotting had occurred. I could still read the newspaper under the mulch.

This method obviously did not work on sandy, fast-draining soil and my problem was compounded by thirsty tree roots.

Next came plan C—turf removal. I hired a strong man to operate a rented turf cutter.

He quickly removed all the turf from the front and sides of my corner lot.

Next he rototilled four inches of steer manure into the bare soil and it was ready to plant.

To avoid nicking tree roots, which causes suckering, I cut the lawn very short under the trees and covered it with flipped-over turf to kill it.

My yard now requires much less time to maintain than tending a manicured lawn.

It includes gardens for dry sunny spots, with Mediterranean plants, native plants, and butterfly plants; a dry shade garden under a tree; and a mixed area of shrubs, ornamental grasses, perennials and self seeding annuals.

The only place I regularly water is in three raised vegetable beds.

Gardening in my front yard has been a great way to meet my neighbours. I call this ‘creating community one front yard at a time.’

To estimate how much water your lawn uses, ways to improve the lawn and suggestions for alternative plantings go to for the new Landscape Assessment Tool.

Also check out the plant database with photos and detailed information on 400 water-wise plants.

Next Xeriscape classes begin April 20 and May 4.

Gwen Steele is executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association. Learn more about Gardening with Nature and plants for the Okanagan on the website at:




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