How to Grow a Natural Yard with Native Plants
What Is Natural Landscaping?
Before you can change to a wild yard with native plants, it will help to have a better understanding of what a natural yard is.
This depends a little bit on who you ask, but most agree that a wild yard consists of at least 50% native plants with minimal lawn space and generally avoiding neatly manicured hedges and excessively formal layouts. This does not mean that your yard cannot look orderly or clean; it just means that your yard will have a more natural look and be more consistent with the natural landscape where you live. For some, a natural garden does mean allowing the plants in your yard to grow at will, but you can have an orderly garden that still fits the description of natural landscaping and provides all of the benefits without looking overgrown or out of control.
Basically, natural gardens pay homage to the local landscape and include a variety of textures and colors provided by native plants that thrive in the area with little maintenance and minimal irrigation. How you design your garden outside of these parameters is up to you.
Why Grow a Natural Yard?
Native gardening has many benefits for you, local wildlife, and the environment. If you are considering at least partially rewilding your yard for a more natural landscape, here are some of the benefits:
- Wild yards provide habitat for local wildlife.
- Natural landscaping with native plants conserves water.
- Natural yards thrive with less maintenance.
- Native plants thrive without pesticides or fertilizers.
- Natural gardens attract pollinators to your yard.
- Natural landscaping improves soil health and structure.
- Wild yards can provide food for your family, as well as local birds, insects, and animals.
- Natural yards provide more of the health and wellness benefits of being in nature.
How to Create a Natural Yard
If you would like to enjoy these benefits and start spending less time maintaining your yard, here are 10 ways you can create a natural yard in your front yard or backyard.
1. Minimize your lawn.
Manicured lawns are not typically found in nature, so the first step is minimizing the size of your lawn. This might mean removing it completely, or it might mean leaving a small patch for your kids or pets to use. Choose native grasses that require little or no mowing to maintain a natural lawn space while still going with the theme of your natural yard.
Alternatively, you might consider installing a small, artificial grass lawn to get the benefits of having a lawn without the irrigation and maintenance needs, such as watering, mowing, aerating, weeding, edging, and fertilizing.
2. Consider gravel walking paths.
Gravel is a good choice for the paths leading through a natural garden. It is available in a variety of sizes and colors and provides a designated walkway to control traffic and guide guests between outdoor living areas without taking away from the natural look of your yard.
3. Add a bird bath.
Since you are already creating a yard that supports local wildlife, you might want to take it one step further and attract more birds to your yard with a bird bath. You can easily find an inexpensive bird bath online or at a local garden center, or you can make your own out of supplies you may already have at home.
4. Attract hummingbirds to your yard.
If you enjoy backyard bird watching and the benefits of having hummingbirds frequent your yard, consider adding hummingbird-friendly features to your natural yard. This might include a hummingbird feeder, native plants that bloom in red to attract them, or a mister or fountain, since hummingbirds do not like the stagnant water of a bird bath quite like most birds do.
5. Attract pollinators to your yard.
Aside from hummingbirds, there are many other pollinators to attract to your yard, including bees, butterflies, and other insects. You can attract pollinators to your yard by choosing native plants with brightly colored blooms, adding an insect house in your garden, building a butterfly house, and providing shallow water sources.
6. Avoid harmful fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
Part of the point of going wild in your yard is avoiding harsh chemicals when gardening. If you are going with native plants, you will not need commercial fertilizers or pesticides, so you can do your part to help the local ecosystem by avoiding them. As with any garden, you will still have to contend with some weed growth. Some may be native and some may be invasive, which can threaten the native plant species in your yard. You can avoid toxic herbicides by pulling weeds by hand or using natural methods to remove weeds, such as pouring vinegar or boiling water on the weeds.
7. Leave your leaf litter.
One way to save lots of time and add to rewilding your yard is putting away your rake and letting the leaf litter stay on the ground. This provides habitat for insects and other small animals while providing a mulch layer that will gradually break down and add nutrients to the soil. Keep in mind that you will need to rake a bit to keep your leafy mulch at least a few inches away from the base of your plants to allow them to breathe.
8. Start a compost bin.
Compost bins are a natural addition to native yards that allow you to keep the cycle of native gardening going, particularly since you can use fallen leaves, plant debris, and kitchen scraps to create your own compost to enhance the soil in your garden.
9. Use a combination of tamed and untamed areas.
There is a balance that must be maintained to enjoy the benefits of a wild yard without allowing your yard to become overgrown and uninviting. You still need to be able to walk around your yard easily, and you still need welcoming outdoor living areas for you, your family, and your guests to enjoy. Therefore, allow some areas to lack order, but pair those areas with paving stone patios, gravel walkways, and manicured seating areas to balance function and nature in your yard.
10. Rely on local experts when choosing native plants.
Plant choice is essential to creating a natural yard. Ask the experts at your local garden center, call your local Master Gardener hotline, or browse the website of your local UC Cooperative Extension to find which plants will thrive and meet your needs in your area. Be sure to include a variety of plants to add texture and color to your yard, including vines, flowering perennials, and native bushes and trees.