Susan Jackson had a dilemma when it came to dealing with her South Hill yard. Not only was mowing it every week becoming a chore but the old lawn in her backyard had been reduced to little more than roots, rocks and dirt by the shade of some old trees. However, she didn’t want to put in the same boring expanse of grass. It was time for a real change
With that in mind, Jackson, a WSU Spokane County Extension Master Gardener, began researching alternatives to a standard lawn in 2009. She wanted a turf that didn’t need to be mowed very often and that had some flowers mixed in for color – in other words, a meadow. She worked with WSU horticulturist Chris Hilgert to identify a mix of low growing grasses, legumes, wildflowers and herbs called an ecology lawn mix. The perennial rye and fine fescue grasses would only need to be mowed every few weeks through the year. The strawberry and Dutch white clover would fix all the nitrogen the mix would need for food. The English daisies, Roman chamomile, yarrow and baby blue eyes would add color and a fragrance when it was walked on or mowed.
“Buying the seed was the easy part,” Jackson said. “Preparing the ground took some serious work.”
Jackson said that they could have simply roughed up the surface of the existing lawn and raked in the seed but she wanted to give it the best chance to flourish.
So they sprayed the old lawn with glysophate to kill it. Then they brought in some good compost and dug it in to give the seed a good start. It also helped level out the low spots and the root humps. Then they scattered the seed, raked it in and rolled it with a lawn roller to make sure the seed had good contact with the soil.
The results were worth the effort. The planting reached maturity this spring and provided Jackson with a dark green meadow with tiny daisies and giant clover leaves to walk through. “It draws all kinds of insects including bees, which I like in the garden,” she said. They mowed it for the first time around Memorial Day and will only mow it every few weeks through the summer. It is irrigated regularly not because Jackson wants to water it but because that is the way the existing sprinkler system is set up. “I’d love to see what it looks like without the extra water.”
Beyond the obvious advantages of reduced mowing and an attractive appearance, the ecology mix also reduces the need for fertilizers and thatching. It is drought tolerant and does well in full sun and shade and can be planted in the spring or the fall. “It was a lot of work to put it in but now it takes very little work to maintain it,” she said. “We just walk out to the lawn chairs and enjoy it.”