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Conservation landscapes offer environmental benefits, reduce yard work
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Conservation landscapes offer environmental benefits, reduce yard work

Have you considered retiring your lawnmower?

It has worked hard all these years maintaining the lawn—open green spaces for children, pets and outdoor entertaining, and natural pathways through the property.

Virginia’s water quality and gardening experts say property owners can enhance traditional, manicured outdoor spaces with ecologically sound features by implementing site-specific conservation practices. Creating areas of low-maintenance native plantings gives the lawnmower a break, while providing food and habitat for pollinators, important insects and migratory species.

Lawn care can be expensive, noted Blair Blanchette, Virginia Conservation Assistance Program coordinator for the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. “And we are losing wildlife habitat. But the benefits are multi-level when you replace a lawn or impermeable surface with a native garden.”

Reimagining manicured lawns

“You can treat runoff issues, improve water quality and provide habitat, and it doesn’t mean your lawn has to go away,” Blanchette added. “For example, treat a certain area with a rain garden, but keep that backyard area for your pets and barbecue.”

Since 2016, the VCAP has helped homeowners implement conservation landscaping, impervious surface removal, stormwater conveyance and bioretention. Application costs can be reimbursed up to 75%.

“There’s flexibility to pick what’s going to work well for you,” Blanchette said. A technician will assess the best practices to remedy issues like erosion, standing water or bare ground.

Homeowners or community property managers also can contact their local SWCD to discuss eligibility.

Native groupings offer form and function

Native plants incorporated into a landscape are adapted to local soil and climate conditions, and therefore require less maintenance or fertilizer.

“Natives have significantly deeper roots than non-natives or lawn grass, which allow filtration, and are a food source for the critters who live here,” Blanchette said. “They may require extra maintenance to stay alive in their first summer, but once they’re established, they do their own thing. It shouldn’t be as much work as your lawn!”

Horticulturalist Mark Viette said groupings of native plant combinations can be an attractive enhancement that reduces mowing space, entices pollinators and creates habitat for wildlife.

“The orange flower butterfly weed called Asclepias tuberosa is a fantastic plant that attracts species,” he said. “It’s a food source for the caterpillars, and it’s beautiful.”
Goldenrod thrives in open areas and enriches soil with nitrogen. Ironweed adds a splash of purple to landscapes prone to water saturation.

Grouping natives with similar sunlight, soil and water requirements is easier to maintain and adds dimension, Viette advised. “Group five butterfly plants together, then five of another, and so on.”

VCAP eligibility

The Virginia Conservation Assistance Program is an urban cost-share program that provides financial incentives and assistance to property owners installing eligible conservation practices in participating soil and water conservation districts. These practices can be installed in areas with erosion, poor drainage or poor vegetation. Eligibility is extended to residential, commercial or community spaces.

To learn more, visit vaswcd.org/vcap, call your local SWCD, or contact the association’s office at 804-559-0324.

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