Sowing a No-Mow Lawn

Photo by Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash

When we moved into our new suburban house, we were determined to create a refuge for all wildlife: from tick-devouring opossums to soil-oxygenating skunks to critical pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies. Unfortunately, time and money must be considered when it comes to our houses and yards.

We took a hard look at our yards and decided to plant pollinator gardens in the back and sow a no-mow lawn in the front. This way the aesthetic would fit in fairly well with the neighbors manicured front lawns, but it would be a healthy ecosystem untreated with poisonous chemicals like pesticides and herbicides.

What is a No-Mow Lawn?

Grasses used in most suburban lawns are classified as cool season grasses, meaning they do not go dormant over the winter months and stay green. A suburban lawn is a mix of such grasses, which likewise tolerate being mowed very short. Often the mixes are comprised of non-native species. In addition, almost all grass seed bought from big box stores are coated with pesticides and herbicides that release poison. These chemicals degrade soil and water quality.

No-mow lawn grasses are usually a mix of meadow grasses, fescues, or hair grass. Often they include grasses native to North America. On the East Coast it was a challenge for us to find a native mix. We chose buffalo grass rather than a blend which worked out okay, but I think we would’ve had more success with a cold weather blend.

Mistakes We Made

We jumped into the front lawn project without doing as much research as we should have. Only after the fact did we find a landscaper who specializes in installing native no-mow lawns. While installing our no-mow lawn, though, we learned a few lessons and know that we will plan differently for our next one.

Lessons Learned

1. Pretreat the soil.

Even among native grass enthusiasts there’s a heated controversy surrounding whether it’s justifiable to pretreat your lawn with herbicides to clear non-native grasses before seeding a native no-mow lawn. Defenders of this strategy argue that one treatment of herbicides in order to ultimately create a healthier, sustainable habitat is justified. I’m still on the fence about that one: I simply do not want to add even one more drop of poison into our suburban soil and waterways. Other options to clear the area before seeding include horticultural vinegar treatment along with solarization. Next time I would use solarization, but this time around we were impatient. We didn’t want to wait out a season to let the sun do its work and kill off the old grass through the solarization process.

2. Do not confuse ‘hay’ with ‘straw.’

My partner happily went out to buy a bale to cover the precious native seed. I looked out the window, saw the lawn was covered, and didn’t think twice. Alas, it was hay. Hay has seed heads intact and will sow into the newly cleared soil fast. Thankfully the fast-growing hay seed was easy to weed out, but I spent more hours than I want to admit fixing this rookie mistake. When you go to buy straw make sure it’s just stalks. No seed heads.

3. Choose a mix of native grasses.

We chose buffalo grass, which creates a beautiful, delicate sea green carpet as a lawn. However, it is a warm season grass and the cool season grasses always get a jumpstart on it. It takes until the end of July for the buffalo grass to peak; a mix would have helped keep the shorter grasses at bay.

4. Educate your neighbors as best you can.

You only have to mow a no-mow lawn once or twice a season. And no, mosquitoes do not breed in long grasses; they breed in standing water. That’s one of the pieces of information that’s good to somehow drop into casual conversation. Moreover, we haven’t had a single tick from our no-mow lawn. They prefer to hang out around the edges of the yard where the deer browse. Encourage your neighbors to be kind to the local opossums. They adore eating ticks, so they are heroes of the suburbs.

Our Lawn Now

The front lawn is quite beautiful. In midsummer the long wavy grass has covered over any springtime invasive grasses and is a seamless ocean filled with skipper butterflies and bumblebees drinking from the clover around the edges (we leave the clover for the pollinators). Come fall we will mow the lawn once and the grass will go dormant for the winter, turning a light yellow. Then, once again in spring, we will have a chance to weed out those bright green invasive grasses and make way for the buffalo grass to grow. No lawn crews, minimal maintenance, and no chemicals. Perfection.




Fiction writer, essayist, and poet. Author of many genres, but always connected to nature somehow. Learn more at

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V. Bray

V. Bray

Fiction writer, essayist, and poet. Author of many genres, but always connected to nature somehow. Learn more at

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