En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

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


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.


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.

More Turf Questions

Native Grasses for Houston, TX
April 06, 2015 - What native grasses can I use for my lawn in Houston, TX? It appears that Habiturf is not recommended for our climate. Is there another variety of seed available yet that I can use to start a small ...
view the full question and answer

Drought-resistant and grub-resistant grass for Smithville TX
October 02, 2012 - I want a drought resistant grass for a sunny area that is also resistant to grubs. I have lots of grubs but want a healthy soil of good microbes. Any ideas? Zoysia, Buffalo? I noticed that Tech Turf r...
view the full question and answer

Small perennials & grasses for a naturalized lawn
October 26, 2009 - I am looking for native perennials and grasses that will grow no more than 8 inches tall that can be used in a naturalized lawn in Michigan. What 5 plants would be your first choice?
view the full question and answer

Evergreen plants for shaded lawn in Austin, Texas
December 31, 2009 - I want to replace three scrawny ligustrums on the shady north front of my house with native plants. I'd like evergreen plants that don't need much maintenance. I'm not looking for a hedge, but some...
view the full question and answer

Lawn care?
May 10, 2009 - I had red yucca planted in my garden last May. They were trimmed back by my lawn care people last winter and currently seem to be slowly growing back. However, the red flower stalk is not growing ba...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center