[Guest post by Evelyn Hadden, author of Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives]
Shrinking your lawn may be the best way to invite butterflies into your yard. Here are three strategies to convert picture-perfect turf, which provides no habitat for butterflies, into a butterfly-friendly landscape offering opportunities for your family and friends to interact with these winged wonders.
Enclosed Garden Rooms
Convert a too-large lawn into a new garden room by creating a wide planting bed around an appropriately sized lawn. This decreases your mowing but keeps some lawn for use as the floor of your garden room. You can make walls of any height you desire; choose plants that will contribute to your comfort and sensory pleasure while bringing in the butterflies.
Install a mowing edge around the remaining lawn to save yourself a second pass with the trimmer. Sink pavers or bricks to ground level so the mower wheel can roll along them. This tidy edge will balance the wildness of your border even as it keeps lawngrasses from creeping in among your border plants and reduces your need to weed.
Include shrubs and trees in your planting bed, as well as nectar-filled perennials that bloom in all seasons. Shrubs in particular give gardeners a big dose of color with their flowers and/or fall foliage, and they attract butterflies at eye-level, giving you more opportunities to spot and observe your fluttery visitors. They also protect from wind without impeding sun, creating more attractive places for delicate creatures to linger.
For the best habitat, give preference to your regional native plants. Browse a field guide or get in touch with your local native plant society.
Islands In The Sea
Create one or more habitat islands within a sea of lawn. If a tree is currently growing in your lawn, conditions are probably not ideal for either of them. Improve your tree’s health by replacing the lackluster turf under its canopy with understory trees, shrubs, and perennials. This mixed planting will prevent compacted soil, erosion, and desiccation in the tree’s root zone.
For an additional nutritional boost, let fallen leaves lie (and rake them into the island from the adjacent lawn). Not only do they provide places for butterfly larvae to overwinter, but they also attract worms and other soil organisms. The improved soil life will build soil structure and generate more food for the tree. Site your islands strategically to reduce your raking. Revel in using nature’s compost to improve your garden rather than treating it as waste to be bagged and discarded.
Choose plants that will support butterflies and that grow naturally with your particular tree. These native understory plants will be well adapted to your site. If your tree is not native, all the more reason to undertake a little research to ensure that you plant a regionally native understory community.
If you have more than one lawn tree, avoid creating an obstacle course for your mower by incorporating several lawn trees into a larger habitat island or grove. Due to its size, a grove can make a powerful garden feature, of a scale to balance or set off your home.
You can have the best of both worlds — lawn paths for barefoot walking and maximum habitat planting space — if you leave only a wide lawn path swirling around your habitat islands. This will transform a barren sea of lawn into a lively stroll garden for exploring and watching butterflies.
Make a mowing edge around each island to keep maintenance low and to minimize the noise, fumes, and other intrusive qualities of power tools. In the same spirit, note that rakes are much more butterfly-friendly than leaf blowers, which produce heat and force that can destroy larvae and eggs.
Finally, make your remaining lawn safe for butterflies. Stop using pesticides, which harm butterflies as well as other pollinators and soil life. Instead of aiming for a lawn that contains only grass blades, allow nitrogen-fixing clover and other small walkable and mowable plants to coexist with your grass. Violets and pussytoes are butterfly larval foods, and many other common lawn plants produce nectar for pollinators.
Smarter lawns reward people too. A diverse lawn can adapt to changing conditions of site and climate; it may remain green during more of the year when lawngrasses alone may become dormant and brown. As a bonus, children (and playful adults) can enjoy hunting for four-leaf clovers, listening to crickets, and chewing sweet, juicy blades of grass while roaming through your butterfly-friendly landscape.
A national speaker and award-winning author of three garden books, Evelyn Hadden shares strategies to help people create and maintain comfortable, functional, nature-friendly landscapes with less or no lawn. Her most recent book, Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives, has been a Timber Press bestseller since it was published in early 2012. Evelyn founded the informational website LessLawn and is a founding member of the national Lawn Reform Coalition. Her next book, on gardening in hellstrips and other curbside locations, will be published by Timber Press in summer 2014.
Editor’s note: For interviews and reviews of Evelyn Haddens Beautiful No-Mow Yards:
- interview with Evelyn Hadden about more ways to reduce your lawn
- 5 Steps to Reducing Your Lawn
- A Love Letter to Wildlife
*Published with the permission of the editors of Butterfly Gardener, a magazine of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA). This membership-based not-for-profit organization works to increase public enjoyment and conservation of butterflies.
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