Natural yards are becoming more popular in Edmonton. A good indicator is the integration of a Natural Yards category in Front Yards in Bloom. Nominations in this category increased from 94 nominations in its first year (2014) to 197 nominations in 2017.

A Natural Yard Is

A natural yard is an ecologically inspired landscaping approach that creates a more natural looking landscape than a conventional turf-dominated yard. These yards emphasize native plant species, support local wildlife, and avoid chemical use when possible. 

A Natural Yard Is Not

You do not create a natural yard by not mowing your existing lawn nor by allowing ‘nature’ to do what it will with bare soil areas.

This is important to avoid because:

  • This will result in a weedy yard, not a natural yard. 
  • Native plants do not just grow on their own; natural yards will not thrive if not carefully planned.
  • Poor aesthetics have the potential for neighbour complaints.
  • The City of Edmonton requires residents to keep their grass to a maximum height of 10 cm. This bylaw is in place to help ensure that neighbourhoods remain free of unkempt yards that look abandoned.

Myths Debunked

Natural Yards Look Messy and/or Ugly

This is an unfortunate and common perception and perhaps a major inhibitor to wider use of native plants. Natural yards need to be carefully planned, designed and maintained.

Often people wishing to ‘naturalize’ their yards have the view that they can throw down a bunch of seed and leave the yard to do its own thing. 

Native Plants will Spread to My Neighbours' Yards

This is just as applicable to non-native plants sold commercially. In fact, many exotic (non-native) plant species have invaded our natural areas. (See Myth #5 for why this is a problem). 

Seeds of many of our local native plants actually have very low germination rates and some have heavy seeds that do not fall far from the parent plant. The probability of the seed finding the site conditions it needs in a neighbour’s yard further reduces the chances of spreading.

Another way that plants spread is by rhizomes. (underground stems that grow horizontally and put out new shoots). 

To help prevent this:

  • Avoid planting these types of plants right along property lines to avoid any potential for your plants to creep onto your neighbour’s property. These are some local native plants that are aggressive spreaders which are better for larger landscapes. Avoid using these species in smaller spaces as you will have to constantly keep them under control.
  • Provide a barrier below ground several inches with some showing above grade (so the rhizomes don’t climb over). You can use lawn edging (6 inches wide). 
Natural Yards are Maintenance-Free

There is no such thing as “no maintenance”, only different levels of maintenance. 

An established natural yard is low maintenance though! 

For the first few seasons (usually 2), you will need to be more diligent about weeding to prevent the choking out of desired plants. Ensure adequate watering during establishment to allow your new plants to grow well. 

After that, the main time-consuming maintenance of planting beds is your spring and fall clean-up.   

The City of Edmonton stops mowing on public space; isn’t that the same way to make a natural yard?

Naturalization on Public Land has different goals and is accomplished by a different process. Naturalization allows an area to revert back to a pre-existing condition. Afterwards, it is managed for weeds and then enhanced with further native plantings.

A natural yard is a space created by intention and to meet a homeowner’s needs and wants. It does not have a pre-existing landscape to fall back to being in a developed area. If the same process was taken, you would mostly have weeds taking over your property.

That’s a Beautiful Flower so I can Plant It

Some plants have been identified as invasive to Alberta.

“Exotic” plants are those that are not naturally from Alberta. Some are suitable for garden use and some are very invasive.  

Invasive plants spread aggressively and have a significant negative impact on the environment.

It is the responsibility of citizens to ensure that their properties are free from these species, according to the Alberta Weed Control Act.

Native Plants are More Drought-Tolerant than Exotic Plants

There are native plants that are drought-tolerant but certainly not all. Native plants are incredibly resilient (even if they go dormant or have a bad year, they can come back with vigor the next!) and require little extra care (once established) when they are happy with their location. 

There is a range of conditions within the natural environment and similarly these are replicated within our yards such as: sunny and shady areas, dry to wet areas, exposed, windy areas and sheltered areas, nutrient-poor soils to rich soils and all of the combinations in between.

Plants, native or non-native, need to be situated within the conditions that they are best adapted to. 

Native Plants Cause Allergies

Native plants, goldenrods in particular, are often accused of causing people’s allergies to act up. This is simply not true. Many native plants are insect pollinated and allergy mode of transportation is by wind. Among the top culprits is actually Kentucky Bluegrass, which is what our traditional lawns are.