Prairie Restoration

Why I Converted Suburban Lawn to Native Prairie

by Brian Walsh
1967, my parents packed up their six reluctant kids and moved from the city of Waukesha to their “dream home” on seven acres in the rural suburbs of western Waukesha County. At 5-years-old, I already had a strong interest in science, which came complete with crossed eyes, bifocals, and missing front teeth (my cousins from Chicago called me “professor”).

Our new home was more field than lawn. This was also true for acres and acres of the surrounding area. It didn’t take long for me to claim this territory and beyond as my own personal wildlife laboratory. I would disappear for hours to explore the land and discover new critters – garter snakes and monarch butterflies and spotted salamanders and yellow garden spiders. A kid could get away with that in the late 60s.

Eventually, the same thing that brought our family to the country brought others. The fields got smaller and the lawns got bigger. Of course, I got older too.

Now I have my own home in a western Waukesha County suburb and recently converted about 2,500 square feet of perfectly manicured lawn to native prairie. While I am aware of all the rational reasons to make the conversion, it wasn’t until writing this piece that my true motivation came to me – nostalgia.
 
The bifocals were replaced with readers, but walking past the reclaimed patch of wildflowers and grasses takes me back. And if you must have a rational reason, I don't have to mow it. 

Mow Less.  Enjoy More. 
Native plant gardens can attract songbirds, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your property.  They can also attract beneficial insects that help control garden pests
 
With a bit of work on the front-end, you can establish a natural landscape that will return year after year for your enjoyment. And you don’t need fertilizers, pesticides or regular watering to maintain them.
  
Take a look at your yard.  Is there an area that has no good reason for being mowed turf?  You can find seeds, plants and designs for almost any situation – sun, shade, rain, butterflies, birds, healing, and even children’s gardens.
 
 
Reasons to Convert Some of Your Lawn to Native Plant Garden:
 Save time, money, and carbon emissions by mowing less.
 Create habitat for birds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife.
 Beautify your land and neighborhood.
 Create a relaxing area for reflection.  
 Reduce fertilizer and pesticide use. 
 Reduce water run-off into storm drains
 Control erosion
 Teach kids and grandkids about biodiversity.  
 Re-create a landscape that reminds you of the way things used to be.
 
 
 
 
Get Started: Basic Steps to Converting Your Lawn to Prairie: 
1. Select a site.
2. Research native seeds, plants, and garden designs that are available for sale (see Helpful Links below for ideas).
3. Prepare the site.  Remove turf by smothering, sod cutting, or tilling.
4. Plant in early spring, late spring, or fall.
5. Maintain as instructed for years one, two, and beyond.  This is easier than you might think. 
6. Watch nature return to your yard!
 

Helpful Links:
Blooming dates of native wildflowers (Friends of Retzer Nature Center):
Detailed Prairie Establishment Guide