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How to Convert a Lawn to Native Plants

So you want to take out some water intensive lawn,
Water-intensive Lawn

and establish waterwise native plants?
Parking strip at Pocatello City Hall

Parking strip at Pocatello City Hall.

Converting from turfgrass to native plant landscaping usually involves killing the turfgrass first.  How you might kill the turfgrass is dependent largely on what species of grass it is.

Three Options to Kill or Remove Turfgrass

  1. Sod Cutter Removal
    • Killing Turf-type tall fescue, fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass can be as simple and easy as cutting and removing the sod by renting a sod cutter.  (Just make sure you cut below the crown of the grass plant.)
      Kentucky bluegrass, because it spreads by creeping roots (rhizomes) that grow below the lowest setting of the sod cutter knife, probably will not be killed  adequately by sod removal.  Bermudagrass will definitely not be killed by sod removal.
  2. Mulch Smother
    • You can kill lawn by excluding all light.  Cover your lawn area with newspapers and a layer of mulch in the fall and in the spring it will be dead.  Or you could lay down used construction materials like sheetrock or plywood.  You can also use black plastic.  Excluding all light is necessary.
      Smothering will not work on Bermudagrass.
  3. Glyphosate Herbicide (aka Roundup®, Touchdown®, Zap-It Ultimate, others)
    • Glyphosate is effective on all types of turfgrass, but the grass needs to be actively green and growing for the herbicide to work.  This is the only method we know of to successfully remove Bermudagrass.  You can spray one day and usually can proceed to the next step of landscaping within about 10-20 days.  See Removing Lawn With Herbicide.
    • When the grass is dead you could dig holes and plant directly into the old sod!
    • If you do not want to look at the dead turf, cover it with mulch.

Installing a Naturescape

Using a sod cutter, cut 1/2 inch below the soil level. This is how we installed one naturescape:  rent a sod cutter and cutting about ½” below the soil level (this should be below the crown of the grass plant) cut the sod into strips.
Remove or flip the sod
If you want, flip the sod over.  It will form the first layer of mulch for your native planting weed control.  Or you could remove the sod for use somewhere else.
Mark a number code on your flags. Mark on your flags a number code (such as 1 through 30) or a species code such as RHTR for Rhus trilobata Oakleaf Sumac.
Place your flags where you want your plants. Place your flags where you want the plants to be to make sure you like the spacing and arrangement – then dig holes and plant your waterwise native plants!  For More Detail Click - How-To Plant

Up to this point you will have only spent about 6 person-hours to convert 1000 square feet of turf into a naturescape of 30 native plants!  Rugged Country Plants Premium RootMaker™ pots and Estate Plugs™ are fast and easy to work with.
Sprinkle irrigate the new plants. Sprinkle irrigate enough to soak in the new plants 1-2 inches of water (collect water in tin can to measure and learn how long to irrigate.  If your soil is sandy, do not water so much, but you may need to water more frequently.  Keeping the roots moist until they get established is critical.
If you like, scatter the mulch of your choice to help conserve moisture and reduce weed encroachment and you are done with your native plant installation!  Weed barrier material under the decorative mulch improves weed control even more. Weed Barrier
Four months later. Four months later.  That was easy!

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