How To Convert to Low-Maintenance Landscaping

Lawn Care for Cleaner Air

How do you convert a traditional lawn to a low-maintenance green space that qualifies for the Lawn Care for Cleaner Air award?

  • You may wish to start small: Start with a flower bed or an island that removes some of your yard area from mowing. Then gradually increase the area until you mow just a little, or mow with an electric or reel (non-motorized) mower.[hand mower]
  • While there are numerous websites that provide very specific information, these are the basic steps:

Steps to Convert Grass to Low-Maintenance Green Spaces

  1. Collect snapshots of your landscape and place than on a table top for observation.
  2. Locate those areas where trees and shrubs are close enough in proximity and can be grouped together.
  3. Make these regions into beds by removing grass.  These areas can be mulched or carefully designed into flower, fern and or native plant beds.  When plants are used in a design under trees, care must be taken so that the shallow roots are not injured.
  4. You can slice grass off, roll it and remove it with a spade. You can also kill existing vegetation by covering with many layers of newspaper, but this is a longer process.  Fall is an excellent time for smothering vegetation with newspapers.
  5. Do not add compost or other amendments under existing trees, for this can cause injury to feeder roots.  Research your plant list and select plants that can compete with trees and tolerate lower lighting conditions and drier soils.
  6. Test the soil prior to planting.  This can be done through the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) for a fee of about $7.  For information in Jefferson County, Kentucky call 569-2344.  Follow the CES recommendations for amending the soil.
  7. Plant either seeds or small plants.  When digging underneath trees, be very careful to place plants between tree roots to avoid root damage.
  8. Keep plants well watered for the first 2 years of growth. Water long and deep but less frequently.  Check soil for moisture with a probe.  Water should reach the depth of 6 inches.
  9. When plants are well established, add mulch to help the soil conserve moisture, and to discourage weeds.  Do not mulch more than 3 inches under trees and shrubs; the mulch should not touch the trunks.

The above information was provided by the Jefferson County, Kentucky, Cooperative Extension Service.  For additional horticulture and landscaping information, contact them or the CES in your area.

  • Feature:  How to create a grass-like low-maintenance yard with liriope: One homeowner's project, with step-by-step photos.
  • Your Cooperative Extension Service has a horticulture specialist who will give you information on gardening topics.
  • Local garden clubs have many knowledgeable members who can give you valuable advice on gardening.

Quotes from some of the Lawn Care for Cleaner Air award winners on how they got started, and how they maintain their property:

  • “After spraying herbicide on everything I didn’t want in my garden, I tilled in a couple of truckloads of compost, since the soil was such hard clay. Then I planted seeds and plants, stood back, and watched them grow.”
  • “First I laid out paths and lined them with rocks so I would remember where the paths were. Then I sprayed Roundup™ on all the grass in the fall; a week later, I started to plant the plants that friends had given me from their gardens. In the spring they came up, and I started adding other plants and seeds. Every year it has grown, and after 15 years, I give away hundreds of plants every year.”
  • “Believe it or not, I got the jars of seeds mixed with cellulose from Wal-Mart; spread them, watered well and often, and they grew like crazy.”