ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation


10.01.13 by Lance Woolsey
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It’s August in Oklahoma; hot, sticky and you still have the lawn mowing to look forward to this weekend. It can’t be helped, right? Well, not necessarily…

While not for everyone, the “No Mo’ Mow” approach replaces the traditional sod lawn with regionally appropriate landscaping. It’s “green”, uses less water, fewer chemicals, saves time for more enjoyable pursuits and is much more interesting to behold than another putting green in the neighborhood. This style is particularly suited for smaller, urban lots, but can be adapted to use for portions of larger suburban areas.

So how does one accomplish this transition between having to water, fertilize, mow and trim a hungry lawn into a new oasis?

Think of this as a three step process; design, preparation and installation. First is the creative part, when you let your imagination run. Start with a plan, preferably to scale, of the area to be converted. Be sure to include existing trees, walks, utilities, anything which will remain. This can also be a good time to involve a professional landscaper or consult with a local nursery so that you don’t undertake the impossible! Remember the old adage “measure twice, cut once” applies to the landscape too. It’s no fun to replace plants which die or outgrow their space. Think about how you intend to use the space when deciding on a theme, i.e. country cottage, herbal, kitchen, cutting garden, wildlife habitat, etc. Will it be sun or shade, the slope, do you want lighting or a water feature? Different areas within the space can be separated by varying the mulch, use of edging and pavers as well as the plant materials.

Once you have a basic idea and a plan, it’s time for the dirty work, preparation. When removing an existing lawn, you will need to remove the root zone as well, which can be up to 6” deep. Get an estimate to have someone do this, or rent a sod cutter and do it yourself. Remember, you will have to dispose of the removed sod too. Once removed, adding a layer of topsoil and Back to Nature compost will help level the ground and replace soil nutrients lost during the sod removal. The best time to do the removal is in late winter so you will be ready for spring planting. Any areas which won’t be planted, or have to wait for the right time, can be covered with mulch, usually 2”-3” minimum. Contrasting mulches can be used to delineate the design and for accent. This not only helps keep weeds out, but retains moisture and improves the soil as it breaks down.

And now comes the fun part, plants! This is where your design comes to life. Don’t worry if the real thing looks a bit different than your paper plan, they always do in three dimensions. You’ll want to use attractive, easy maintenance plants (remember, the idea was to get away from the weekly drudgery). Mix perennials with areas for annuals which can be changed for seasonal colour.

Then sit back and enjoy. The new landscape will take about a year to establish fully, depending on plant choices and weather, but the lack of weekly weeding, trimming and general upkeep will surprise you.

The photo is of our front yard which was transformed in 2011. The cost, including plants, was recouped the first summer without lawn maintenance. It is still evolving as we use it as an experimental garden for low growing sedums, thymes, etc with borders and pockets of annuals for an extra pop of colour.

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Lance K. Woolsey, PE, RA


Lance received his Bachelor of Architectural Studies and Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Oklahoma State University and his Bachelor of Science in Architecture…

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