Lawn to Native Pollinator Garden Conversion

by Courtney Finneran

Are you interested in an affordable DIY project to convert your monoculture lawn into a gorgeous and ecologically beneficial native pollinator garden? West Chester Transition Team’s Living Landscapes Committee created a publicly accessible native pollinator garden located at 501 South Maryland Ave in West Chester Borough to showcase this technique and educate the public on the benefits. 

Visible from the sidewalk, the new 200-square-foot native pollinator garden will provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds and food for caterpillars. Native plants have evolved to act as hosts to our native insects and therefore provide a highly valuable resource that cannot be provided by non-natives.

First step: tarping the area over a 6-8 week period is an easy way to kill the native turfgrass before planting

Before the area was planted with a mix of native grasses and perennials, the turfgrass had to be removed first. To do this, the committee chose to use the technique commonly known as smothering or tarping, also called solarization or occultation. Thick black plastic sheeting was laid down on the area in mid-March and stayed in place for five weeks. Next the plastic was removed, and the area was exposed to sunlight and precipitation for two weeks. Finally, the plastic was re-laid over the area for a final one-to-two week period to kill any remaining weeds and grass. 

100 plants of over 14 species of native grasses and perennials were planted in May 2021 and mulched with pine-straw.

When the tarp was removed, the dead material was raked up, which also helped prepare the surface for planting. The plants used for this bed were purchased from an online nursery that provides small 4”-plugs consisting of over 13 different native species assembled in a pre-assembled “pollinator garden.” Two pollinator garden trays, totaling 100 plugs of 14 different native species were purchased in February. The goal for this site was to plant the area densely for maximum first-season growth and success.  

Metal mesh cages protect young plants from being eaten by the local hungry rabbits

The planting layout design was developed by one of the Committee members, Michele Hensey of Plants were installed in mid-May shortly after shipment. Pine straw was used for mulch to help retain moisture and control weed growth. Due to the heavy pressure from rabbits in this area, metal cages were put around several preferred species.

(“Lawn-to-garden” has been one of the West Chester Green Team’s main themes; see also several of our videos made by Will Claudio, especially Dawn Mazzone interviewed by Courtney Bodle here.)

2 thoughts on “Lawn to Native Pollinator Garden Conversion

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