P e n n s y l v a n i a W i l d l i f e n o. 10 Neighborly Natural Landscaping: Creating Natural Environments in Residential Areas tury formal gardens as their model, the H omeowners across Back to the Future Garden Clubs of America, the U.S. Golf America are changing Association, and the U.S. Department of Perceptions of lawn beauty have changed the face of the typical Agriculture embarked on a campaign to with the times. In 16th-century England, landscape American lawns with a carpet American lawn. Using garden- the lawns of wealthy landowners were of green. With the invention and spread ing and landscaping practices wildflower meadows starred with blooms. of the lawn mower, the “common man” that harmonize with nature, they Grasses were perceived as weeds, and a could have the same cropped turf as that are diversifying their plantings, garden boy’s job was to creep among the of an aristocrat’s mansion. flowers picking out the grass. Our current improving wildlife habitat, and love affair with the closely mowed grass Today, at least one American town has reducing lawnmower noise, air lawn dates from the 19th century. Using come full circle. In Seaside, Florida, and water pollution, and yard European grazed pastures and 18th-cen- waste. turf grass is banned. Only locally native species of wildflowers, shrubs, and trees Various “natural” landscapes, are allowed in the landscaping of private planned for beauty and ease of yards. The result has been verdant neigh- maintenance using mainly native borhoods of shrub-scrub dune vegetation, plants, are spreading through- with its related birds and wildlife—and out suburbia. These landscapes the residents love it. In most of America, include wildflower meadows, however, the mowed lawn is still the butterfly gardens, and woodland norm, and weed laws are used to ensure habitats that attract birds. conformity with this ideal. Many natural landscape pioneers have discovered, how- “Weed Laws”and Why They Exist ever, that their neighbors some- times view alternatives to the Noxious Weed Laws were first written to protect farmers from introduced weeds mowed lawn as untidy, a threat that could compete with crops or harm to property values, and even livestock. Pennsylvania’s first noxious a health hazard. Worse, their weed law was adopted in 1862 to control township or borough may have a the spread of Canada thistle, chicory, Spring peeper strict “weed law” that challenges Johnson grass, and marijuana. Today, their landscaping practices. In this fact sheet, we provide strate- gies for the natural landscape homeowner who is looking for neighborly ways to garden for nature.
2 11 plant species are on Pennsylvania’s 20 seconds. For a fire to be potentially ticks move through their life cycle from control list: Canada thistle (Cirsium damaging to a home, it must burn within larva to nymph to adult, their preferred arvense), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), four feet of the home for seven and a half hosts progress in size from white-footed Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense), mari- minutes. mouse, to small woodland mammals, to juana (Cannabis sativa), mile-a-minute white-tailed deer. Adult ticks tend to vine (Polygonum perfoliatum), kudzu vine Myth climb vegetation up to three feet high to (Pueraria lobata), bull thistle (Cirsium “Natural landscapes attract vermin.” wait for a large, warm-blooded animal to vulgare), musk thistle (Carduus nutans), brush past. shattercane (Sorghum bicolor ssp. drum- Facts mondii), jimsonweed (Datura stramo- The most feared “vermin” are rats and To reduce exposure possibilities, the nium), and purple loosestrife (Lythrum snakes. The vegetation in a natural natural landscape should have setbacks salicaria). Proposed additions are another landscape does not provide the type or paths for the human visitor to walk variety of purple loosestrife (Lythrum or quantity of food required to sustain on without brushing against vegetation. virgatum), giant hogweed (Heracleum a population of black or Norway rats. The best prevention against Lyme disease mantegazzium), and goatsrue (Galega These non-native rats do not eat the is a careful check of body and clothes officinalis). seeds of our native after being in an area likely to have ticks. grasses and flowers. More details on Lyme disease are avail- But Pennsylvania’s law is less Rats are more able from your county extension office or restrictive than those of some likely attracted to health department. municipal ordinances. Typi- human-produced cally, these ordinances re- food (corn, grain, Myth strict the height or type of pet foods, food “Natural landscapes are breeding grounds plants that may be grown; scraps) provided for mosquitoes.“ the word “weed” generally in and near struc- is used to describe undesir- tures like barns or Facts able plants. Some ordinances garbage dumps. A Mosquitoes need standing water to breed. state that if the weeds grow to Violet neglected lot with human- Even the fastest-maturing breeds require more than a given height (some- deposited food litter among the untended standing water for at least 10 consecu- what arbitrary—examples are 18 inches, growth is indeed a rat magnet, but the tive days. A turf lawn, with its shallow 12 inches, or even less), the municipal- managed natural landscape is not. root system, is more likely unable to soak ity is authorized to levy fines or even to up all the water from a heavy rain and come mow the property and charge the Snakes may find a hospitable habitat in to have long-standing puddles, than a landowner for time and labor. These either a traditional or a naturally natural landscape with its deeper-rooted municipal weed laws are not intended to landscaped yard if prey species, water native plants. Natural landscapes tend protect farmers, but, in theory, to protect sources, sunny areas for basking, and to be planned to take full advantage of neighborhood property values by ensur- shelter are present. Snakes may find native plants whose water requirements ing a conformity of mowed lawns. Lawn shelter under outbuildings, in rock walls, match the local rainfall and soils. Natural alternatives such as wildflower meadows or in log piles; they are valuable neigh- landscapes also improve habitat for are sometimes perceived by neighbors bors because they eat true pests, such as mosquito predators, like birds. and officials as no different from a ne- mice, harmful insects, and slugs. Only glected lot: untidy, a health hazard, and a 3 of Pennsylvania’s 22 snake species are Owners of ornamental ponds in either breeding ground for “vermin.” poisonous (Northern copperhead, timber traditional or natural landscapes can rattler, and the endangered Eastern take steps to control mosquitoes. They massasauga). can keep mosquito-eating fish, float Bt Natural Landscapes: Myths and “dunks” (floating, slow-release Bacil- Facts Myth lis thuringiensis bacteria, which kill only “Natural landscapes harbor Lyme-disease mosquito larva and not beneficial and Myth ticks.” harmless aquatic life), or use pumps and “Meadows and natural landscapes are fire waterfalls to keep the water moving. hazards.” Facts Deer ticks (Ixodes dammini), the primary Myth Facts vectors for Lyme disease, can be found “Natural landscapes produce pollen that This argument is based on the unproven wherever there are suitable hosts. Because causes suffering for those with allergies.” belief that the tall grass and wildflower a benefit of natural landscaping is that it stems in a meadow are highly flammable. attracts and provides habitat for wildlife, Facts U.S. Forest Service experts state that a the landscape may also harbor the ticks Wind-borne pollens are the primary cause grass fire can only sustain high heat for associated with that wildlife. As deer of hay fever. Any plant with showy flowers
3 (like the much-maligned goldenrod) is plantings to aid and attract wildlife; ero- pollinated by insects, not wind. The main sion control; soil fertility improvement; hay fever culprit in our area is ragweed, educational programs; cultivation for which thrives in disturbed or eroded areas consumption, business, or pleasure; and like roadsides. Other major allergenic wooded areas. plants are pigweed, goosefoot (both non- native “weeds”), and the non-native grass- 3. Natural landscaping may be actively es in turf lawns or pastures— Kentucky promoted. Some townships require that bluegrass, Bermuda grass, and timothy. developers include scenic easements, Some tree species with wind-borne pollen, planted with native wildflowers and such as oak, also are allergenic. grasses. Others employ naturalists and biologists to aid homeowners and com- Perennial native plants and native munities in planning and maintaining grasses, the primary components of natu- Jack-in-the-pulpit natural landscapes. ral landscapes, generally do not produce wind-borne, allergenic pollen. In fact, The next step before beginning work on encouraging these species to grow crowds First Steps Toward a Lawn your landscape is to speak to your neigh- out weedy pioneer species like ragweed Alternative bors. Explain what you are planning, and that germinate and thrive at lawn edges. why. Be sure to speak of the advantages The first step in establishing an alterna- of attracting songbirds and butterflies, Myth tive to lawn is to gain the approval of eliminating the use of pesticides, and “Natural landscapes lower property values neighbors and township officials. To find reducing noise and air pollution from because they are ‘messy’ and unattractive.” out if your municipality has a weed law, mowing. Share with them literature on contact your borough or township office the topic, such as Penn State’s Pennsylva- Facts and ask about landscaping ordinances. nia Wildlife No. 5: Meadows and Prairies: Real estate with distinctive, well-done If a law does exist, ask for a copy. Weed Wildlife-Friendly Alternatives to Lawn. If natural landscaping actually possesses a laws, if not carefully worded, may equate you tell your neighbors in advance what marketing edge, and has a positive effect natural landscaping with unmanaged you are doing and why, it will increase on property values. Developers cite the landscapes. Some communities require their understanding and reduce their natural landscapes retained in their de- that homeowners file an application for apprehension. velopments as an asset, and charge more natural landscaping and obtain approval for naturally landscaped homes than for from a majority of neighbors. More Possibilities for educating your neighbors homes in areas with traditional landscap- recently enacted and enlightened weed and municipal officials include: ing. High-quality natural features like laws allow natural landscaping “by right” woodland corridors can preserve and without case-by-case neighbor or mu- 1. Coordinating a meeting to highlight strengthen a community’s unique char- nicipal permission. These more progres- the benefits of natural landscaping. Your acteristics. Neighborhood organizations, sive laws take three main approaches in county extension office or local conserva- environmental restoration professionals, regulating natural landscapes: tion-environmental organizations may be landscape architects, and nurseries are able to assist you. turning more often to natural landscap- 1. A setback or buffer strip on the ing for aesthetic and economic reasons, periphery that is maintained at a maxi- 2. Offering tours to homes, schools, cor- as well as for environmental benefits like mum height may be required. Vegetation porate landscapes, or nature centers that reduced stormwater runoff and improved behind the setback is unregulated except use or are installing natural landscaping. wildlife habitat. for the control of noxious weeds. 2. Broadly worded exceptions may be 3. Making publications and fact sheets given for beneficial landscapes. Excep- on the topic available. They can be tions may include native plantings; obtained from your county extension office or from local and national con- Painted turtle servation organizations. (See “Sources of Assistance and Habitat Certification Programs.”) 4. Joining forces with like-minded landowners. Open-space management committees or environmental advisory councils can serve both as a voice for
4 Natural landscaping (on the left side, above) adds to property values, provides aesthetic benefits, reduces maintenance needs and costs, and creates valuable wildlife habitat. natural landscaping and as a source of watering once established, need no or information. The more people who prac- infrequent mowing, and need no commer- tice natural landscaping, the better for cial lawn maintenance services. The the environment and the more accept- National Wildlife Federation estimates able it becomes. Also, neighbors can link that the typical lawn costs $700 per acre hedgerows and other natural habitats on per year to maintain. A wildflower mead- their properties to form wildlife corridors. ow can be maintained for $30 per acre. 5. Offering to work with municipal ■ Low maintenance. Instead of requir- officials to revise weed laws. ing intensive fall preparation, natural landscapes function best if stalks and seedheads are left standing and leaf litter Benefits of Natural Landscapes: is not raked away. Seedheads provide Points to Stress winter food for songbirds; stalks make winter shelter for beneficial insects. Leaf When you speak with neighbors and litter enriches the soil, shelters overwin- municipal officials, emphasize these tering insects and spiders, and insulates benefits: hibernating amphibians. Limbs of dead ■ Reducedmaintenance costs. Natural trees may need to be pruned for safety, landscapes require no or infrequent but non-hazardous snags (dead trees)
5 can be left standing as habitat for cavity- ■ Improved water quality. The Environ- lawn mower emits 11 times the air pollu- nesting birds, such as woodpeckers, mental Protection Agency (EPA) esti- tion of a new car for each hour of use. bluebirds, tree swallows, chickadees, and mates that homeowners apply 10 times as wrens. Constructing brush piles, instead much chemical pesticide to their lawns ■ Reduced electric use and cost. Natural of running dead branches through a chip- as farmers apply to cropland. Excess landscaping with trees and shrubs can per, can provide winter shelter for a vari- chemicals run off with rainfall into local provide shade and windbreaks to lower ety of wildlife species, including Carolina waterways. Native plants need fewer or the costs of home air conditioning and wrens, white-throated sparrows, and song no fertilizer and pesticide applications. heating. sparrows. Salamanders find shelter under EPA research also proves that native veg- ■ Creation of distinctive and attractive downed logs. etation out-performs turfgrass in filtering contaminated water. properties that preserve local identity. With ■ Less yard “waste.” The National Wild- a natural landscape, your property can life Federation estimates that 18 percent ■ Improved soil aeration. National Wild- reflect Pennsylvania’s unique ecosystems. of municipal solid waste collected is or- life Federation studies show that where ■ Greatervisual interest and diversity ganic yard waste: cut grass, raked leaves, pesticides are applied, 60–90 percent of earthworms are killed. Non-pesticide- throughout the year. Ornamental grasses branch trimmings, and dead ornamentals. treated soil has a healthy population of look spectacular in winter. Ornamental All of this material can be used in the worms and other organisms that mix and berries on native shrubs provide color natural landscape for compost, mulch, aerate the soil as they feed on decompos- and attract a variety of birds through fall brushpiles, or wildlife food or shelter. ing organic residues. and winter. ■ Water savings. Most turfgrasses, includ- ■ Reduced stormwater runoff and improved ■ Habitat restoration and protection. Natu- ing Kentucky Bluegrass, are actually water table. Native plant landscapes out- ral landscaping preserves plant biodiver- northern European species best suited perform turfgrass in absorbing runoff and sity lost to suburban sprawl and provides to a cool, damp climate, and they need replenishing groundwater supplies. habitat for attractive and beneficial heavy irrigation during hot, dry sum- wildlife. In some regions, backyards may mers. The National Wildlife Federation ■ Reduced soil erosion. Native meadow be the last sanctuary for at-risk plant estimates that 30 percent of the water plants and grasses have longer roots (up species. consumed on the East Coast goes for to 5–10 feet) than turfgrass (4–6 inches) watering lawns. Natural landscaping con- ■ Recreation.The fastest-growing out- to better hold soil in place. serves water that would otherwise be used door sport in America is birdwatching. on lawn irrigation because native plants ■ Reduced air and noise pollution because A natural landscape attracts more are adapted to local rainfall levels. less mowing is required. Lawn mowing bird species and affords opportunities equipment is noisy and a heavy air pol- for photography, painting, and quiet luter. The EPA estimates that the average relaxation. ■ Moreleisure time. Natural landscapes can reduce or eliminate the need to spend precious free time mowing during the growing season. Working with Officials to Improve Weed Laws If you are faced with a restrictive weed law, your most constructive option is to work cooperatively with local officials to improve the law. Older, more restric- tive weed laws were written to protect public health and safety based on the best knowledge of the day. However, new knowledge has replaced outdated beliefs about the “hazards” of natural landscap- ing (see “Natural Landscapes: Myth and Fact”). Educating your municipal officials can help to create a more enlightened
6 law. Conservation organizations in An enlightened ordinance recognizes that yards and landscapes. The ordinance your area can be valuable allies in your natural landscaping is less ecologically specifically states that it is not its intent education efforts. damaging than the traditional, high- to allow vegetated areas to be unmanaged maintenance lawn. Such an ordinance or overgrown when such growth provides What Will Your Improved Weed Law may recommend that the property owner either a direct health hazard or a demon- Contain? refrain from indiscriminate use of pesti- strated breeding ground for fauna known A progressive weed law protects resi- cides, fertilizers, and irrigation in turfgrass to create a safety or health hazard. This dents’ fundamental rights to choose their management. A good ordinance encour- ordinance and others are available on the own landscaping. Ideally, no filing of ap- ages the preservation and restoration of Web at www.epa.gov/glnpo/greenacres plications or payment of fees is required diverse, natural plant communities along /weedlaws/index.html. for residents to engage in legitimate with environmentally sound practices. It natural landscaping. Restrictions in the recognizes that this approach may reduce ordinance have an up-to-date, ratio- environmental contaminants like pesti- Designing a Natural nal basis founded on protecting public cides and help to reduce yard waste. Landscape “Garden” health, safety, or welfare, or addressing Sample Natural Landscape Ordinances One of the best ways to win approval and truly neglected properties. Property own- Brandywine Conservancy in southeastern keep your neighbors happy is to design ers are required to address clear-cut nui- Pennsylvania is working with mu- your lawn alternative as an easily recog- sances, such as ragweed that is allowed nicipalities in its region to draft natural nized “garden” that looks intentional, to flourish, or noxious weeds that are not landscape ordinances. For example, not unkempt. People like order, purpose, controlled. East Pikeland Township (Chester Co.) and tidiness. The following strategies can The ordinance does not legislate con- includes in its ordinances a subsection, help your landscape look “tended”: formity or aesthetics, or allow residents “Vegetated Area Maintenance Standards in Residential Areas.” For grassed areas ■ Use borders. A border can be a mowed to control their neighbors’ landscapes. of developed properties, a maximum edge or “setback” (some townships Neighbors do, however, have a right to height level of 12 inches is specified, specify widths in setback ordinances), a complain about a property so covered and mowing times are recommended to hedge, a fence, an edge of low plants, or with brambles or vines that it looks set back invasive species like ragweed. a path of stone or woodchips. The border totally neglected. “Weed commissioners” The ordinance mentions specifically that acts as a buffer, keeping plants from are trained to recognize the difference “areas of significant natural value” should obstructing sight lines or from “flopping” between natural landscapes and ne- not be subject to excessive maintenance onto your neighbor’s lawn, the sidewalk, glected properties. If a property is clearly standards, such as height requirements. or the street. It also acts as a frame, add- neglected, the municipality can still These areas of natural value include ing to the tended look of the landscape. reserve the right to levy fines and/or cut wildflower or grass meadows, berry the vegetation. Addressing violations at a ■ Use curved lines for borders, if possible. patches, hedgerows, and areas undergoing zoning hearing allows the property owner The human eye enjoys, and responds a directed process of natural succession. due process of law before the municipal- positively to, curved lines; natural areas A buffer strip is required at the edge of ity takes action. public roads, and invasive plants must be tend towards curves. controlled. The township zoning officer charged with administering and enforc- ■ Startsmall. Changing your entire yard ing the ordinance has the in one fell swoop may alarm the neigh- leeway to consult with bors and outrun your learning curve! organizations or indi- Start by having a small wildflower garden viduals with conservation or by recreating the native forest under- expertise to determine story under your trees. Expand gradually, the terms’ applicability in imitating nature’s processes of gradual specific situations. succession, rather than sudden takeover. The proposed College ■ Determine your site conditions and match Station, Texas, landscape them with appropriate plants. Attempt- ordinance is another ing to plant a sun-loving meadow under example of a good and trees where a forest understory is more fair weed law. Its purpose appropriate will be frustrating, probably is to promote the use unsuccessful, and the result unattract- of native vegetation, ive. Rather than fighting to overcome a including grasses and wet or a shady area, find plants that will Ruffed grouse wildflowers, in managed thrive in those conditions.
7 ■ Use native plants wherever possible. used and where you National Wildlife Federation Some ornamentals, though once highly got them. 11100 Wildlife Center Drive recommended, have proven to be highly Reston, VA 20190-5362 aggressive and to displace native species. ■ Respect your neigh- Telephone: 800-822-9912 Invasive nonnatives have spread to be- bors’ rights. Just as Website: www.nwf.org/backyardwildlife- come serious problems in Pennsylvania’s you have a right to habitat nature centers and parks. The Federal a natural landscape, Interagency Committee for the Manage- your neighbor has a U.S. EPA Region 5 ment of Noxious and Invasive Weeds right to turf. Being 77 West Jackson Boulevard (G-17J) estimates that the total economic impact self-righteous does Chicago, IL 60604 of invasives on the U.S. economy equals not win converts! Website: www.epa.gov/greenacres or exceeds $13 billion per year! Also, nonnative species generally have less Wildlife Habitat Council wildlife value. Last Resorts: Interrupted 8737 Colesville Road, Suite 800 Challenging fern Silver Spring, MD 20910 ■ Manage invasives. Be alert for the spe- Weed Laws Telephone: 301-588-8994 cies on the Pennsylvania Noxious Weed Website: www.wildlifehc.org Control List, and remove them promptly. What if you have researched your local Your neighbors will not welcome these laws and found them restrictive? And Wild Ones—Natural Landscapers, invasive plants into their property. A what if you’ve applied for and been de- Ltd. properly managed, well-established wild- nied a variance, and all efforts to educate PO Box 1274 flower meadow will need to be mowed your municipal officials have failed? In- Appleton, WI 54912-1274 once a year, at the appropriate time, stalling a natural landscape in defiance of Telephone: 877-394-9453 to discourage invasives. Hand-pulling, your local weed law may begin with your Website: www.for-wild.org mechanical removal, and trimming may landscape being mowed and/or fines being be needed to control some species. The imposed, and end with your case going Windstar Wildlife Institute least-preferred method, use of herbicides, to court. Many challengers to weed laws 6940 Allen Place Drive may be indicated in some cases. have won in court; some have not. Ad- Fort Worth, TX 76116 vice on legal arguments for challenging Website: www.windstar.org/wildlife ■ Humanize. Human elements are wel- local weed laws can be found through the coming, and invite the viewer into the EPA, Wild Ones, and the National Wild- landscape. Options are paths, benches, life Federation (see “Sources of Assistance Natural Landscape-Habitat Yard birdfeeders, birdbaths, sundials, gazing and Habitat Certification Programs”). Signs balls, artifacts like an old farm tool, or 1. Signs may be purchased through the In a worst-case scenario with an unco- ornamental statues. They add to the mail from Wild Ones (see “Sources of operative municipality, a non-confron- perception that the landscape is planned Assistance”). tational option may be to have “pocket” and not untended. ornamental wildflower gardens, with well-defined edging, within a traditional 2. Owners of backyards certified with ■ Advertise.Signage to inform passersby the National Wildlife Federation can of your project can be placed on your lawn. Your neighbors may be so charmed by the butterflies and birds attracted to purchase a yard sign from the federation property before, during, and after the (see “Sources of Assistance”). landscaping project (see list of lawn sign your yard that they follow your example. sources below). Gradually, a network of residents may 3. Owners of sites approved for certi- work together to convert the municipal fication by the Windstar Institute can ■ Certify your landscape as a wildlife habitat officials and revise the weed laws. purchase signs during the certification with a local or national conservation organi- process (see “Sources of Assistance”). zation. The certifying organization may then provide you with either a certificate Sources of Assistance and 4. Create your own sign. For example: or a sign for public display (see “Sources Habitat Certification Programs “This area is intentionally not be- of Assistance and Habitat Certification Audubon International Cooperative ing mowed. We are creating a natural Programs”). Sanctuary Program meadow with wildflowers for several Audubon International important environmental reasons.” Or: ■ Shareyour enthusiasm with your neigh- “Meadow in progress. Step 1—Preparing 46 Rarick Road bors by drawing a map of your natural Selkirk, NY 12158 site. Step 2—Planting. Step 3—Mowing landscapes and making it available in a Telephone: 518-767-9051, ext. 12 annually.” brochure box in your yard. You might Website: www.audubonintl.org even include a listing of the plants you