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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - March 17, 2006

From: Mendham, NJ
Region: Northeast
Topic: Turf
Title: Process of converting from lawn to wildflower meadow in New Jersey
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Dean Garrett

QUESTION:

I live in northern New Jersey and have an acre of property which is currently a grassy lawn. I would like to make a meadow where the lawn is. What is the process to convert from a lawn to a meadow? Thank you.

ANSWER:

The basic steps to converting a lawn to a meadow are:

1. Remove the lawn grass, which can involve letting it die through neglect, solarizing it, or mechanically/manually removing it en masse.
2. Assemble the native plant species by seed or plug, or allow native species to come in on their own.
3. Remove unwanted plants as they appear.

There seems to be consensus only on Step 3, which, unless there is a mass weed invasion, involves only hand or mechanical removal. There are several procedures for accomplishing steps 1 and 2, with particular disagreement over how much to disturb the soil.

Here are some internet resources that should help get you started:

The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center's Clearinghouse Publications Wildflower Meadow Gardening,” “Native Lawns,” and “Large Scale Wildflower Planting.”,

o The Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York, offers a “Sunny Mini-Meadow Plant List with Advice on Planting”

o Native American Seed provides “Planting Tips For Native Grasses” and “How to Grow Native Wildflowers”.


And helpful books:

o Noah's Garden and Planting Noah's Garden, by Sara Stein, a New York gardener who created both an upland and a lowland meadow on her property. Chapter 16 of the second book contains specific instructions on “How To Kill a Lawn.”

o Gardening With Prairie Plants, by Sally Wasowski, covers an array of lawn-to-meadow projects.


For help with finding plants and seeds, contact the Native Plant Society of New Jersey and a nearby chapter of the Wild Ones, a largely northeastern organization dedicated to conserving and restoring the native landscape. It doesn't look like they have a New Jersey chapter at present, but there are active groups in Pennsylvania and New York. Some of their chapters get together to do group plantings and restorations, which could be useful for as large an area as yours.

As for what core species to use in your meadow, the grass most frequently mentioned for the Northeast is Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus). Sara Stein planted only Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) to start one of her New York meadows, but several other native grasses and wildflowers came in later on their own. In Requiem for a Lawnmower, Sally and Andy Wasowski recommend that Northeasterners start with Broomsedge and various regional species of fleabane (Erigeron), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), milkweed (Asclepias), beebalm (Monarda), coneflower (Echinacea), and Joe pye weed (Eupatorium).

Wild Bird Oasis in Medford, New Jersey, has an exciting variety of regionally native plants for sale and also offers an “environmental restoration” service. If you click on the “Native Plants” link on the left of their site, a list of different plant categories should appear. Click on “Herbaceous Plants for Medium to Dry Sites” to see what grasses, sedges, and wildflowers they carry.

You can also find more nurseries and seed companies that specialize in native plants of your area in the National Suppliers Directory.
 

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