The manicured and tidy lawn has for generations defined many American neighborhoods. But for some home dwellers who want to balance sustainability and beautiful design, an alternative eco-friendly approach to landscaping is on the rise: meadowscaping. Meadow yards can be low maintenance, lush with beautiful wildflowers and life-sustaining all at once.
Below we discuss the principles of meadowscaping, the benefits for both homeowners and natural ecosystems, and how to get started with this design approach. We’ll also share some of our favorite Yardzen-designed spaces that highlight meadowscapes—from small garden beds to full yard transformations.
What is meadowscaping and what benefits does it provide?
Meadowscaping is a landscaping technique that primarily utilizes native grasses and wildflowers to emulate the traits exhibited by natural meadows and grasslands. Typically a native meadow plant community would be dominated by grasses (about 60%) and wildflowers (about 40%). In residential landscapes, adding an occasional shrub to this mix can help add structure and year-round visual interest. This approach is a beautiful and informal way to recreate the intricacies of natural ecosystems, foster biodiversity, and provide important habitat for local wildlife in your own yard. And best yet, you can feel good about creating a diverse, sustainable, and ecologically valuable yard.
Biodiverse and Habitat-Supporting
From an environmental perspective, meadow yards offer a range of resources that help to preserve natural ecosystems. They also can help minimize harmful inputs and conserve resources. Native plant species in particular help provide habitat, nesting, and food sources for important pollinators like bees and butterflies, as well as other beneficial insects and birds. By minimizing or eliminating chemical inputs (very common to traditional lawn care), these yards create healthier environments, reduce water pollution (from runoff), and require less use of gas-powered mowers. By incorporating primarily native plants (aim for 70% of your design) and some climate-adapted plants that are adapted to local conditions, they can also help you decrease water usage. Densely planted meadowscapes also promote healthy soil while preventing erosion.
When compared with the long-term expenses and ongoing maintenance of traditional lawns, meadowscapes require far less maintenance overall. For the first few years before the plants are fully established, you’ll need to apply regular water and stay on top of weeding so that invasive plants don’t outcompete your preferred native species. Once established, native grasses and wildflowers, as long as they are appropriate for your site, will need little in the way of upkeep. The need for regular mowing and watering diminishes, and the reliance on synthetic fertilizers becomes unnecessary.
Sustainable and Stylish
Aesthetically, meadow yards can offer a stunning array of wildflowers and ornamental grasses – full of color, texture and volume. Their untamed, shaggy and organic style has a wild and vibrant quality that can make your yard stand out from the traditional tidy and manicured lawns that dominate many neighborhoods. If you’re pining for a cut-flower garden, they can also provide ample opportunity for abundant blooms that make for great, wild vase flowers.
Is there any downside to transforming your lawn into a meadowscape?
Meadow yards encourage a more hands-off approach, allowing natural processes to shape the landscape. However, some periodic management might be required to control invasive species or encourage desired growth. Overall, the goal is to minimize human intervention, but like any residential landscape, they do require some time to get established and depending on your climate and growing conditions, they may look a little sparse in the time it takes them to grow in.
Keep in mind that many meadow plants are winter-dormant, dying back in the winter to grow anew in the spring. You can offset this dormant period by blending in evergreen species, late Fall/early spring blooms or other species that provide some winter interest.
Transforming a lawn into a meadowscape does require some initial investment in removing existing grass, preparing the soil (if needed), and acquiring native or climate-adapted seeds or plants.
Does meadowscaping work for all yards?
For small yards, meadowscaping can still be viable, but it might require more careful planning and selection of appropriate plant species. Instead of creating vast expanses of meadow, those with limited space might opt for a smaller pollinator garden or rewilding with native species in contained areas like borders along paths or in front yard garden beds.
If you live in an urban area, it’s possible to create more of a “pocket” pollinator-garden for a rooftop garden, or use ornamental grasses in containers to create that soft, natural look. These pint-sized meadows can still attract important pollinators and wildlife and provide habitat while fitting within the space constraints of a small yard. For ideas on which plants pack the most environmental punch for your area, you can use the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder tool to pick plants with the highest environmental value for your limited space.
While meadowscaping can work for many yards, keep in mind that it might not be suitable for those with heavy foot traffic, e.g. if your yard is only used for kids’ play or primarily for pets. Meadows are better suited for areas that can be left relatively undisturbed. If you want to maintain a functional lawn, you can try flanking these areas with strips or pockets of meadowscaping.
Additionally, it’s important to note that in some regions, meadowscaping can become dry during the hot season, so if you live in an area that’s at risk of wildfires, that may be a consideration. You will want to ensure proper maintenance and fire safety measures are implemented.
How to transform your yard into a meadowscape
The best time to plant meadows is typically in the fall or early spring when the soil is moist and temperatures are moderate. This allows the meadow plants to establish strong root systems before facing harsh weather conditions.
If you’re looking to transition from traditional turf lawn to meadowscape, you will need to remove the existing grass. Recommended techniques include manually digging it up or sheet mulching (which can take some time and patience, but is better than chemical pesticides that remove lawn!). Generally, when implementing native plants, you should not add much, if anything, to the existing soil beyond compost. Native plants tend to perform well in the soils of their native ranges, often thriving in what we might otherwise think as depleted soil. However, you can conduct a soil test to identify any necessary soil amendments that should be made to improve the structure and health of your site’s soil.
What plants should you use to meadowscape?
This meadow or “grassland” style has a strong base of ornamental grasses, punctuated by perennial or wildflower accents and occasional shrubs or non-flowering perennials. This residential meadow approach requires some adaptations and might look slightly different than genuine, natural meadows, where you’ll see vast swaths of a single species. Meadowscapes will also look different from region to region, as the composition of native plants changes to suit specific sites.
We recommend choosing, when possible, native plant species that are well-adapted to your local climate and soil conditions. Native plants are more likely to thrive and support local wildlife and they need little help from you to succeed. Depending on availability and preference, you can either sow meadow seeds or use native plant plugs/containers—the latter taking less time to grow in.
Some varieties of grass with broad native ranges include: Bouteloua gracilis, Schizachyrium scoparium, and Panicum virgatum. Ornamental grasses like Lomandra, Silergrass, Cape Rush and Boulder Blue Fescu can also look great mixed in. While these three non-native species offer far fewer habitat benefits than natives, using climate-adapted and nativar species can be helpful in achieving a specific look to your meadowscape design.
In order to get that messy-but-intentional look, we also recommend choosing plants with a variety of bloom times, textures, and varied heights. Creating a biodiverse habitat means supporting wildlife throughout different seasons when they need it. In order to provide a clean frame around naturalistic meadow designs, we also recommend incorporating framing elements—be it limited strips of lawn, proven winner climate-adapted species, or even hardscape elements.
What are other considerations for a meadowscaped yard?
Thoughtful planning & patience
In meadow yards, the plants are in charge—they grow over edges and they squeeze into corners. As such, it can be important to create designated pathways to help people move through the space and to prevent compaction and trampling of the plants.
Meadowscaping is a process that takes time. Be patient during the establishment period, as it may take a few seasons for the meadow to fully develop and display its natural beauty. During the establishment period, especially in the first year, meadowscaping may require regular watering to help the native plants take root and establish themselves. However, once the meadow is well-established, native plants are generally more drought-tolerant and require less watering compared to traditional lawns.
It’s essential to manage weeds carefully and avoid invasive species. Hand-pulling weeds or using organic mulch can be effective methods to control unwanted vegetation without harming the grasses and wildflowers. Some meadowscaping plants may need occasional mowing (a few times a year) to keep them looking intentional vs. overgrown. Doing a little pre-planning and layout can go a long way. Consulting with local experts or landscape professionals can also provide valuable insights for successful meadowscaping in any given location.
What about HOAs or local regulations?
Some local regulations or homeowner associations (HOAs) may have restrictions on the appearance of yards, which could limit the adoption of meadowscaping. If you’re not permitted to transform a full yard into a meadow, you likely can still achieve the style in small garden beds or along pathways as long as you’re properly maintaining the planting and sticking to HOA rules.
If you’re tied to lawn with your HOA, you might check whether a “no-mow” grass alternative like creeping and clumping Fescue varieties will satisfy requirements. You won’t have the true meadow look, but it’s a compromise that offers less upkeep and a softer, more natural look. Contrary to their name, these varieties do require occasional mowing, but need less water and fertilizer than a traditional grass lawn.
Meadowscaping Ideas From the Yardzen Design Team
Here we’ve gathered some of our favorite landscape designs completed by Yardzen’s remote team of designers that incorporate meadowscaping principles. These real client yards provide inspiration and offer design ideas for those looking to achieve a similar look—whether you’re adding meadowscaping to small garden beds or transforming your grass into a full-scale meadow yard.
This front yard design for an Austin, TX home features a wildflower meadow aesthetic with native plants like Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, Melampodium leucanthum, Gaura lindheimeri (syn. Oenothera), and Asclepias tuberosa. Including varied heights and dense planting of wildflowers, ornamental grasses and shrubs creates visual interest all the way from the curb strip to the front porch.
A grassland style landscape in the front yard of a California home incorporates fine-textured grasses punctuated by the occasional flowering shrub. A blend of drought-resistant plants with deep roots and permeable mulch ground cover help to conserve water. The design also features a bird-friendly water feature and large decorative boulders, which both increase potential habitat for wildlife.
The meadowscaping garden beds for this Tennessee home soften the hard angles of the A-frame architecture and create a beautiful and unfussy setting for an intimate seating area off the home. Including native plants like Leucothoe fontanesiana and Pachysandra procumbens, the botanical design features muted greens and purples that compliment the home’s new exterior paint.
This North Carolina homeowner opted to convert areas of turf grass into more natural and unmanicured planting. They also wanted to mix in deer and critter-resistant planting that would maintain some year-round interest in their woodsy setting. Using hardy species with deep root systems also helps control erosion in some of their sloped beds.
This Oregon design relies on dense and diverse planting throughout the property and natural stone to achieve the modern cottage look. The homeowners opted to transform barren garden beds from dirt to lush and whimsical plantings with flowering perennial shrubs, ornamental grasses and low groundcover. This informal meadowscaping design style melds beautifully with crunchy gravel underfoot and accent boulders throughout the beds.
This Boulder, CO home’s landscaping relies on a muted palette of greens, pale purples and light pinks to create an informal and naturalistic meadow-style yard. The design carries the look from the front yard to garden beds to container pots gracing the front porch.
Meadowscape Your Yard with Yardzen
You don’t need to have a degree in ecology to do a little good for the world with your yard. You also don’t need to be an expert at landscape design.
If you are interested in making your yard more sustainable, Yardzen can help. Our designers are pros at sustainable landscape design, and can expertly balance your style goals, functional needs, and sustainable aspirations into a high performing, beautiful design that is custom just for you.
Our award-winning online landscape design is tailored to clients in all fifty states in the US. Through the American Rewilding Project, we are committed to creating designs with climate-adapted plants and water saving landscaping in drought-prone regions unless homeowners specifically opt out.
Our design process begins with understanding your space, your aesthetic preferences, and a discussion of your budget and vision to minimize surprises when it comes time to build.
Once your design is complete, we’ll help you connect with a local contractor from our Pro Network of vetted professional landscapers to install your new design.