Biodiversity starts with a living lawn

Reimagining our lawns is a first step in reversing biodiversity loss, becoming more climate resilient and learning to listen to the land. The perfect lawn is no longer an immaculately mown turfgrass monoculture. Instead, a perfect lawn is a living lawn – a flowering tapestry teeming with a diversity of life – supporting bees, flies, moths, butterflies, wasps, beetles, fireflies and more.

“There are lots of benefits from having a living lawn. There is less management because the lawn is cut at a height that enables a wider variety of plants to grow and flower so there is more time between each mowing. A living lawn will provide local pollen and nectar resources for insects and of course, people love to see flowers.’’

Leonie Alexander, Urban Biodiversity Project Officer for Edinburgh Living Landscapes

Converting your lawn this May

“While florally-enhanced turfgrass lawns are not an alternative to gardens and native plantings, they are a significant improvement to the conventional turf lawn that can function as a food desert for pollinators. In areas where turfgrass is desired, enhancing the turfgrass with low-growing flowers could become the new norm for landscaping as part of a widespread effort to conserve natural resources and protect our at-risk pollinators.”

Floral enhancement of turfgrass lawns benefits wild bees and honey bees, James Wolfin et. al.

You can create a biodiverse, beautiful, climate resilient living lawn starting this May:

  • You can stop mowing entirely or you can mow only when your living lawn is above 10cm (less mowing is better for the environment and for you!)
  • Identify the plants growing in your lawn. If in doubt, send an email with a picture with a description of the plant to and we’ll get back to you.
  • Remove any non-beneficial, aggressive perennial plants. In the hole, replace with these with native plant appropriate for the area.
  • Remove seedheads from unwanted annual plants. Don’t let them go to seed.
  • Let desired plants go to seed to give them a competitive advantage.
  • Add suitable native plants for the site conditions (Nancy’s yard is mostly full sun with sandy, poor, compacted soil).
  • Allow plants to move around, fill gaps, and evolve throughout the season and each year.

Plants to remove from a living lawn

Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is extremely aggressive. Photo: Matt Lavin/flickr

Remove these aggressive spreaders if they show up in your living lawn:

  • Canada thistle*
  • Perennial sow thistle*
  • Creeping bellflower*
  • Curly dock*
  • Dandelion (alleopathic, inferior pollen protein content)
  • Creeping Charlie
  • Quackgrass
  • Crabgrass
  • Bindweed*
  • Stinkweed
  • Prickly lettuce*
  • Burdock*

*Should be cut off at the soil level vigilantly throughout the season, and subsequent seasons if necessary, until they’re gone. Don’t allow them to go to seed, as the seed can remain viable for decades.

Plants to welcome

“As far as weeds go, Self-heal is one of the best. It has a great many benefits to humans and it provides food for many different insect species. It’s great for lawns all the way up to green roofs.”

The Virtuous Weed: Self-Heal, Kelly Brenner

Welcome these plants if they appear or plant them in the hole you create when you remove dandelions, crabgrass or other unwanted plants (please check the conditions these plants prefer before planting them):

  • Clovers: deep flowers, excellent pollinator forage plant
  • Creeping thyme: excellent forage plant
  • Chickweed: edible annual, do not let it self seed unless you are using as an edible
  • Purslane: edible annual, do not let it self seed unless you are using as an edible
  • Self-heal
  • Wild strawberry, Woodland strawberry
  • Yellow wood sorrel, Creeping wood sorrel (aggressive but easy to control)
  • Barren strawberry (Geum fragarioides)
  • Common cinquefoil, Dwarf cinquefoil
  • Canada bluets, Long-leaved bluets
  • Pussytoes: host plant for the American Painted Lady butterfly
  • Lakeside daisy
  • Prairie smoke
  • Sedges
  • Path rush
  • Early buttercup, Prairie buttercup
  • Canada ginger
  • Foamflower
  • Stout blue-eyed grass
  • Canada mayflower
  • Common blue violet, Canada violet- host plant for fritillary butterflies

Mowing your living lawn

Set your lawnmower to its highest setting (around 10 cm) and trim your living lawn when its above 10 cm (depending on time of year and weather, every two to four weeks). If possible, avoid mowing in the middle of the growing season as this is when many native plants are flowering, seeds are ripening and insect-based pollination is at its peak.