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The Localscapes Way: Rethinking the Role of Lawn

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Do you pass on grass? When it comes to current trends in gardening and landscaping, many folks are. With the “kill your lawn” movement gaining momentum in the U.S. along with local governments encouraging and incentivizing lawn reduction, the Great American Lawn is quickly losing its appeal.

The End of Lawn?

There’s no denying traditional lawns can require heavy inputs to look their best. Kentucky bluegrass, arguably the king of cool-season turfgrasses, requires regular irrigation in arid climates, frequent fertilization, and routine maintenance. Lawns don’t do much for pollinators or biodiversity. They can be finicky and can look downright bad if disease, pests, or drought takes hold. With all the cons of lawn ownership it’s easy to understand the trend.

Maybe Not...

But on the other hand, lawns serve a purpose in the landscape perhaps no other plant can do better – traffic tolerance. And they accomplish this while cooling the landscape, preventing erosion, and looking great with those clean stripes and lush green color. For some homeowners, their lawn is a source of joy and its maintenance therapeutic.

Everything in Moderation

Like many things in life, the key is moderation and responsible use. Understanding the role of turfgrass in the landscape and using that knowledge to create an efficient, functional lawn area is the first step toward a more ethical, and practical, landscaping approach. And perhaps no program is teaching this concept better than Localscapes.

Introduction to Localscapes

Localscapes is a landscape design style started in Utah by a team of horticulturists, landscape designers, maintenance pros, irrigation experts, and members of the water industry. The goal was simple: create a landscaping approach that takes all the complex and confusing science behind landscape design and simplify it to create landscapes that thrive in Utah. The result was five basic elements that are easy to understand and apply. While the Localscape approach was developed specifically to reduce water consumption in Utah’s drought-stricken climate, the principles of Localscapes follow landscaping best practices that can be applied to any landscape in any climate in America.

The Central Open Shape

Within the five principles of Localscape, it’s the first element that addresses the role of lawn and sets standards for its use. This first element is known as “central open shape”. The central open shape creates the focal point of the landscape. Visually, it provides a rest for the eyes and helps a yard appear organized and well maintained. It also has an emotional impact. Think about the last time you went walking in a forest or other wooded area. Do you remember emerging from the trees into a grassy meadow or some other open space and how it made you feel? The central open shape provides the same effect in the landscape. Without this central open shape, yards can appear chaotic and disorganized. On the flip side, landscapes with too much open space (100% lawn, 100% gravel, etc.) are boring and provide little ecological benefit.

A Case for Lawn

Besides the visual and emotional aspects of the central open shape, there is a practical reason for having one. It’s where the action is! In other words, it’s the place in your yard that will see the most traffic. Whether it’s from children running around, dogs playing fetch, a game of cornhole or croquet, or even a backyard wedding, the central open shape is the stage for all kinds of recreation. Because of the amount of traffic the central open shape will be subject to, whatever groundcover is used must be able to tolerate it. Localscape guidelines state that many different types of materials can be used. Gravel, pavement, pavers, stones, etc. are all fair game. Of course, these hardscape options all have an obvious downside. Have you ever played a game of soccer in gravel, or walked across pavement barefoot in the summer? What happens if a child falls on pavers? Not to mention the heat reflected back into the landscape from hard, solid surfaces. This is where turfgrass really proves its value in the landscape. A lawn makes the ideal groundcover for the central open shape in most situations.

Keep it Simple

Everyone’s property and situation will be different, but generally you’ll have two central open shapes; one in the front of the house and one behind it. As for the “shape of your shape”, that’s up to you but keep in mind it should be easy to mow, easy to irrigate, and have a clearly defined edge. There should be no awkward narrow strips or extensions. Usually the simpler the shape the better since they are the most efficient to irrigate; requiring the least complex sprinkler set up in areas where landscape irrigation is needed. Simple shapes also provide a single edge to trim and maintain, saving you time on maintenance. I prefer a mix of straight lines and gentle curves. Others gravitate toward circles, squares, or the classic kidney bean. Localscape guidelines say the central open shape should not exceed the greater of 250 sq. ft., or 35% of the total landscaped area.

Additional Lawn Best Practices

Now that we understand the proper role of lawn as the groundcover of choice for the central open shape, there are some additional lawn best practices that should be followed according to Localscapes:

  • Planned Element- Lawn is a planned, designed, element in the landscape, not a default groundcover.
  • Unobstructed- Whenever possible, trees, irrigation boxes, posts, flagpoles, and other obstacles should be located outside the lawn.
  • Not Less Than 8’ Wide- Eliminate awkward bits of lawn that serve no real purpose and occur outside the central open shape.
  • Not a Path- Lawn is not a good surface for a path. Eliminate both work and waste by hardscaping paths.
  • No Lawn on Slopes- Lawn is difficult to maintain, inefficient and serves no recreational purposes on slopes. Slopes with more than 25% grade should not be lawn.

Flip Your Strip

Also, consider “flipping your strip” aka not using turfgrass in your park strip (also called the road verge, berm, curb strip, hellstrip, sidewalk plot, or countless other terms depending on your location). Localscapes has a whole subprogram dealing with best practices for this area of your yard.

Less Really is More

When it comes to the proper role of lawns in the landscape, it’s truly a case of less-is-more. And if you’re going to have less, you might as well make it the best lawn possible. That’s where Nature’s Seed can help. We only use elite, golf-grade turfgrass varieties in our lawn mixes. These varieties have been top-rated by the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP), and have been bred for improved drought tolerance, genetically superior color, pest and disease resistance, and other desirable traits. We also encourage the use of alternative lawns including clover, meadow-type grasses, and native turfgrass species like buffalograss – as well as plenty of wildflowers and ornamental grasses for your park strips and garden beds.

Nature’s Seed is proud to be working with Localscapes as an official retail partner. Don’t hesitate to contact us for recommendations on how you can implement Localscape principles and best practices into your property.


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