Low Maintenance Landscapes

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Demonstration Project at Carver County Government Center

In 2017, four examples of low maintenance landscapes were installed at the Carver County Government Center in Chaska. These projects serve to reduce rain runoff on site and demonstrate the many practices citizens can put in their landscapes to protect lakes and rivers.

What are low maintenance landscapes?

Traditional lawns are often made of Kentucky bluegrass, a hardy grass that can withstand high traffic, but requires a lot of input.  High input lawns have negative environmental impacts such as excessive water use for irrigation, nutrient runoff, pesticide and herbicide use, and equipment emissions from mowing and trimming.

Low maintenance lawns function as typical lawns but require less water and fewer inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, mowing).  There are many types of low maintenance landscapes. The four featured on site the Government Center include a sedge garden, a native prairie, a pollinator garden, and a shade garden. Incorporating these practices in landscapes can save time and money, and help protect lakes and rivers as they are better at capturing rain runoff.

The project was funded through a grant from the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District and prepped and planted by the Minnesota Conservation Corps.

All landscapes are expected to take 2-3 years to reach full maturity.

Sedge lawns

Sedges are grass-like plants with triangular stems and a catchy phrase “sedges have edges” to help identify them.  Sedges are found all over in sun, shade, wet soils, sand or heavy clay. They ranged in height from 1-2 inches to 3-4 feet. Some sedges creep, some clump, some do both.  Like fescues, they require little to no mowing, fertilizing, or herbicides. Many require less water than traditional lawns too. 

Some sedge like Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) can form dense mats of medium green, fine textured leaves growing 6-8 inches un-mowed. If mowed, this sedge looks best cut 2-3 times per year at 3-4 inches high. Sedges do best if planted from plugs, not seeded, as many of the seeds have low germination rates.  Other sedges that work great as alternatives to lawns include brown fox sedge, common oak sedge, plains oval sedge and long beaked sedge.

Pollinator lawns 

Pollinator lawns are another alternative to traditional lawns that is catching attention.  Populations of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, birds, ants, and flies have declined greatly in recent years. These losses are caused by habitat loss, increased housing and development, pesticide use, parasitic mites and disease.  Pollinators are necessary for both healthy ecosystems and agriculture.  In the United States there are over 100 crops grown that require or benefit from pollinators.

Pollinator lawns support pollinators by supplying them with pollen (protein) and nectar (carbohydrates). Low growing flowers for pollinator lawns include Dutch white clover, self heal, ground plum and creeping thyme.  All these plants can be mowed 3" or higher and will still produce flowers. Areas around homes or businesses that are not typically used for recreational purposes make great locations for pollinator lawns.

Prairie plantings

Long ago before modern settlement, Minnesota was home to a variety of native prairie plants.  Native prairie plants are adapted to local conditions and offer many benefits on a landscape.

They have long roots and can find their own water and are drought tolerant. They create a healthier, less compact soil. They filter pollutants from rain runoff, don’t need pesticides or fertilizers or frequent mowing. They provide food for birds, bees, butterflies and beetles.

Some of the prairie plants found in this project are large beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus), white false indigo (Baptisia alba), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).

Shade gardens

There are many plants native to Minnesota that do well in shade and even flower in shade. This garden demonstrates a number of shade loving plants that can be used on home landscapes including long beaked sedge, Virginia bluebells, blue flag iris, large flowered trillium, and wild ginger. 

Instead of trying to maintain grass in hard to grow areas, switch to some of these shade loving plants for a nice addition to your landscapes.

More info

For more information on low maintenance alternative lawns and how to convert your lawn to low maintenance visit www.bluethumb.org/turfalternatives/.