Tips for planting an alternative lawn on the East End

meadows lawn alternatives

Suzanne Ruggles in a meadow she created in Southampton. (Credit: The Barefoot Gardener courtesy photo)

It takes a lot of fertilizer and pesticides to maintain a lush lawn.

And in addition to putting a dent in a homeowner’s wallet, the process of applying these products can be time-consuming. Worse, the harmful chemicals can even affect the health of local residents and wildlife if they happen to leach into nearby streams, ponds, lakes and bays.

As homeowners become more environmentally conscious, many are turning away from the concept of a traditionally green lawn. Instead, they’re planting alternative ground covers such as meadows and vegetable gardens.

James Glover, owner of Glover Perennials in Cutchogue, is one such person who would prefer to see fewer fertilized lawns and more indigenous plants.

“Every homeowner should assess their property to critically look at and ask, ‘Do I need this lawn?’ And if you don’t, why would you want to continue maintaining it?” said Glover, whose company specializes in native plant species and a wide variety of other perennials. “Lawns are high-maintenance — they cost so much to maintain in time and money. Aside from play areas, everything else should be converted over to alternative ground covers.”

According to Glover, homeowners can do this by planting flowers like creeping phlox or taller plants like shrubs.

“I think people are realizing that formal gardening is a lot of work,” he said. “The trend now is lower-maintenance gardening with plants that reduce weeds, mowing, fertilizer and pruning.”

To make ground covers effective and low-maintenance, it’s important to fill your lawn completely, Glover said. After all, weeds love empty spaces.

James Glover Cutchogue

James Glover of Glover Perennials insdie one of his Cutchogue greenhouses. (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)

“You won’t have to mow the lawn every week, and with that time you get to enjoy your garden more,” he said. “There will be weeding, but from an environmental standing this type of gardening requires less fertilizing. And you’re also creating a more diverse ecology for attracting wildlife, from butterflies to honey bees to native bees.”

For landscaper and gardener Suzanne Ruggles of Westhampton, creating an alternative lawn can be as easy as doing nothing at all.

Ruggles’ landscaping company, The Barefoot Gardener, uses an organic and restorative approach to gardening that promotes diversity and harmony with nature.

“With some of my clients we just stopped mowing the lawn and a lot of native plants just came back,” said Ruggles, whose company specializes in lawn reclamation using native trees, flowers, grasses and more. “A lawn is kind of a useless enterprise and food, of course, is something everyone needs. It’s not just food for people, but food for wildlife.”

Ruggles’ services are in high demand, including at the property of Cutchogue residents Barbara Butterworth and her husband, Michael Gill.

“I wasn’t giving up a beautiful lawn,” Butterworth said. “But we thought it would be good to have a place that attracted wildlife and had one third of the lawn converted to meadow. It’s been great and much more interesting than before. The meadow takes on a life of its own, letting nature take its course.”

Planting vegetable gardens in place of lawns is another growing trend taking place across the country, Ruggles said. For instance, she planted a vegetable garden in the front yard of Westhampton homeowner Iris Keitel, and is also working to phase out Keitel’s back yard.

Credit:

Credit: The Barefoot Gardener courtesy photo

“Little by little I kept getting rid of the lawn, putting in more trees and growing an herb garden,” Keitel said. “Now it’s sort of a hybrid — I have raspberry bushes, asparagus, fig trees. Half my tennis court is now a vegetable garden and the other half is wild. It’s nicer having vegetables than a lawn that just sits there.”

Maria Daddino of East Quogue is also a fan of Ruggles’ “Do less, get more” approach.

“What we did was not do anything,” Daddino said. “We planted a lot of native plants around the perimeter of the woods and then let it go.”

Since Daddino wanted to attract wildlife to her garden, Ruggles planted berry-producing plants, along with milkweed for butterflies.

“We’ve been doing this for years and the birds come back every year,” Daddino said. “It looks fine and the animals are enjoying it.”

You don’t have to sacrifice aesthetics when switching to an alternative ground cover or landscape. Ruggles and Glover believe yards can be both beautiful and beneficial.

“Sometimes people think ‘native’ means weedy or boring — not at all,” Glover said. “We’re really blessed in the Northeast. Here on the East Coast we have an amazing native plant palate. Every color in the rainbow and blooms for every time of year.

“Our gardens can do double duty now,” he added. “They can still be beautiful, but with a little more thought they can also be really beneficial to sustaining wildlife that needs our help.”

Where to purchase native plants on the North Fork:

Clarke’s Garden

416 Main St., Greenport, (631) 477-6770

clarkesgarden.com

Peconic River Herb Farm

2749 River Road, Calverton, (631) 369-0058

prherbfarm.com

Chick’s Southold Agway

1705 Youngs Ave., Southold, (631) 675-3432

chicksagway.com

Below is a list of ground covers, including plants, flowers and grasses, recommended by Glover Perennials.

For sunny ground covers:

snow flurry or heath aster

little blue stem

orange butterfly weed

creeping phlox

cone flowers or echinacea

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For shady ground covers:

ferns

hardy gingers

pachysandra

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For sunny and shady ground covers:

ice dance grass

sedge grasses

sedums

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For dry and/or sandy soil:

beach grass

beach plums

native golden rod

golden aster

sedums

little blue stems

succulents