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Honey, I shrunk the lawn!

Join others around Western Washington and shrink your lawn! Moving toward a more natural landscape reduces your time mowing, raking and watering - and your use of water and chemicals. Replacing lawn area with native plants also attracts native wildlife. Furthermore, a natural landscape retains more water than a lawn - and can recharge groundwater and streams during droughts.

To see a streaming video of real world lawn shrinking, see A Backyard Makeover in Ravenna, a 15 minute long "Yard Talk" episode that will walk you through a real yard makeover.

Remember- you don't have to go "all natural" overnight. Even a few natives will improve your yard's contribution to a healthy watershed. Some simple steps and you're off!

Pick your spot

To benefit most from your new landscape, plant natives next to trees, greenbelts, waterfront, or a neighbor's natural area. Start with the least used areas of your lawn, or places where the lawn is struggling. That shady corner may be better suited to natives than turf.

Choose your plants

Is your yard dry and sunny? Wet and shady? Select plants that will thrive in your yard's unique environment. Native plants are available for just about every condition. Find the right plant for the right place. Four trees and 16 shrubs in a 400 square foot area creates a dense planting; fewer plants will make a big difference too.

Check your soil

Dig a test hole. If your topsoil is less than six inches, add more, but find a weed free source! Build your soil with compost.

PlantFigure of planting specifications

Create a natural appearance by clustering similar species, varying planting distances, and curving borders. Plant your new trees and shrubs between October and April and follow the specific planting instructions for your plants carefully. A general guideline is to place trees 10-15 feet apart and shrubs 3-5 feet apart. Plant directly into the lawn, creating a hole at least twice the width of the potted plant. Remove all grass within a foot of the plant's stem. 


Put clean corrugated cardboard over the grass around your newly planted trees and shrubs. Overlap cardboard sheets six inches and keep the cardboard and mulch four inches from the base of the new plants. Put four inches of compost, topsoil, grass clippings or a combination on top. Over time - voilá! Your grass is gone and your plants are mulched.


Planting natives will not free you of all yard work. (Sorry.) You will need to water your new plants for their first two summers, and you'll have to keep after invasive weeds until the natives are established. Don't worry if your plants don't grow much the first year - they are developing healthy root systems and will eventually take off. Rocks or logs partially buried between grass and natural areas will help keep the grass where you want it.

That's all it takes! In a weekend, you can move toward less maintenance, fewer chemicals, more birds and a healthier watershed. If you want to "go native", but don't have time, contact the King Conservation District at 425-277-5581 x103 for a list of contractors who specialize in naturescaping. KCD also has a great native plant sale (cheap!) each spring.

You can learn more about naturescaping with native plants from our Northwest Native Plant Landscaping Guide or by contacting Greg Rabourn.

Lawn before naturescaping with lots of green grass in a fenced in yard.

Before naturescaping (Photo credit: Bill Priest)

Lawn after naturescaping with native landscaping and a water feature.

After naturescaping (Photo credit: Bill Priest)