Sustainable Urban Design: Educator’s Toolkit for Project-Based Learning, page 14 of 20

A LEAF intern holding a pot of native grasses about to be planted
A LEAF intern getting ready to plant native grasses at Carpenter Ranch in Colorado. © Erika Nortemann/TNC

Changes in Grounds Management: Installing a Native Lawn

A lush green lawn may be lovely to look at, but in many cases lawns are, at best, ecological deserts. A manicured lawn is often a monoculture—a single species is often more vulnerable to disease or environmental problems—and a typical lawn requires chemical solutions, including pesticides and fertilizers, to maintain. In addition, lawns, while more permeable than asphalt or concrete, absorb and filter less rainwater than gardens or native grasses.

There are a variety of native grasses to choose from in different parts of the country. These can be planted and maintained much like a traditional lawn or can be allowed to grow more wildly.

Get Started

  1. Identify a location for your native lawn.
    • While native grasses usually require less water once established, you will initially have to water the lawn, so you will need access to water.
    • You might initially choose a test site, especially if you need to convince others of the value of going native.
  2. Investigate and select what species of grass you want to plant. Think about what the lawn will be used for: Is it for sitting, walking, or playing on? Is it mostly ornamental? Also, note how much sun the location receives.
  3. Determine the equipment and supplies you’ll need. Use a budget calculator to help determine expenses.
  4. Determine what permissions you’ll need for planting or other landscaping and notify parents so that students can dress appropriately. Consider any safety precautions you should take on planting day.
  5. Determine if you’ll need volunteers to help with preparation and planting.
  6. Clear and prepare the area as needed. If you have or can purchase compost, mix it in to the cleared soil. However, one of the benefits of native plants is that they often thrive in the native soil and you may not need to amend it.
  7. Once it's established, have a picnic on your new truly green lawn!

Common Challenges

  • You may need to convince school personnel and maintenance staff of the virtues of a native lawn. Many people like the look of a perfectly manicured, uniform, green lawn and associate it with a well-maintained property.

Maintenance Schedule and Other Notes

  • The lawn will initially need to be watered often until established (possibly up to 1 year). After that, as noted, native lawns typically need less water than traditional lawns and may not need more than the rain.
  • Like traditional lawns, native lawns may need to be mowed, most frequently in spring, but occasionally over the summer (depending on the climate).
  • How often you mow is also determined by the use of the lawn.

Related Lessons and Classroom Integration

Additional Project Resources