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Rethinking the Traditional Front Lawn

Replacing or reducing the size of the front lawn of a home with a landscape of shrubs, trees, and ground covers can beautify a yard while reducing water pollution.

I have written quite a bit lately about lawn care. Early fall, with its warm days and cool nights, is the best time of the year to install a new lawn, reseed an existing lawn, and apply lawn food if it is needed.   

However, there are some people who no longer need to follow this fall lawn care regimen. These folks are part of a growing movement of homeowners that have replaced their traditional front lawn with a landscape consisting of shrubs, trees, ground covers, and a variety of other plants.

This trend makes sense in the arid regions of the southwestern United States. Water is a precious commodity in those areas, and for a number of years homeowners have been replacing lawns that need frequent irrigation with a landscape of native plants that require far less water.

Having an adequate supply of water to sustain lawns is generally not an issue in Severna Park, but how we care for our lawns can have a negative impact on the health of the Severn and Magothy rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, the nutrients and chemicals that are needed to maintain a lawn can frequently run off our yards in storm water and pollute nearby waterways.

In order to help reduce water pollution we can become part of the trend to replace all or part of our lawns with native plants which require less water and maintenance than turf. While this change is usually acceptable for the rear or side yards of our homes, replacing our front lawns with a landscape of native or edible plants may challenge our beliefs that the front yard has to be a lawn.

The Lawn Reform Coalition is a group of writers who promote the practice of replacing lawns with different varieties of plants, shrubs, grasses, and trees which not only require less maintenance but are also attractive in appearance.

While a number of their articles focus on the transformation of yards located on the West Coast, residents in this area can get some good ideas about how to have an attractive front yard without turf grass.

Replacing a front yard lawn with other types of plant material may not be acceptable to neighbors, town officials, or community covenants in some areas.

Local writer Susan Harris  chronicled the ordeal this past summer of Oak Park, MI resident Julie Bass in the blog Garden Rant. After having a sewer line replaced in her front yard, Bass decided to replace her lawn with raised beds for growing vegetables. While the town officials initially disagreed with Bass’ front yard garden, they eventually allowed her to keep the garden and dropped the charges.

I have to admit that Julie Bass’ raised vegetable gardens in her front yard, while practical, lacked an aesthetic appeal that most homeowners would prefer for their front yard. However, I do think her case helped raise awareness of the idea that a front yard does not have to be a traditional lawn.

By relying on your own creativity, engaging the help of a landscape designer, and cooperating with your community’s covenants, you can have an attractive and environmentally responsible front yard without having a lawn.

Jaime Schneider October 03, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Our home in Rolling Knolls is situated on almost an acre of heavy woods, with the open areas filled by pampas grasses, shrubs, bulbs, and ground covers... At the bottom of the hil beyond our property is a natural stream which feeds into the Severn River. We have no lawn mower, just clippers and love the look.... So do all our guests, and when we mention "no lawn mower" people realize that it is also good for the environs. Think about it... if your property permits. So many in our community could not forgo the traditional front lawns like us...
Jim Westlyn October 04, 2011 at 01:58 PM
John: It occured to me, after reading your article and Jaime Schneider's comment, that there might be one more strong reason to go the "No Lawn" front lawn route. Well planned and artfully executed landscaping can add tremendous value to a property. Real estate brokers often talk about "curb appeal" and the kind of upscale upgrade you describe might attractively seperate a property from all the others on the market. Jim Westlyn
John Dawson October 05, 2011 at 12:42 AM
Jim, Good point. Folks today lead very busy lives and if they don't have time to care for a lawn this would be a good idea to help make their place attractive and benefit the environment.

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