Reducing (non-pasture) mowing / supporting wildlife

Our house came with essentially 4-5 acres of lawn (not counting the pastures) and we’ve continued maintaining it that way but it’s a lot of work/money to mow, especially with rising labor and fuel costs. We don’t fertilize or water the lawn, but still I know it could be better for the environment with more biodiversity and less mowing. We have a few areas of various shapes/sizes that I would like to convert to other uses. I’m thinking a combination of native plant gardens, rain gardens, wildflower meadows, and reforestation (really just expansion of current tree lines). We don’t want it to be ugly or super high-maintenance though.

How do you let lawn go more wild without it just turning ugly, weedy, or scrubby? The vacant lot behind us gets brushhogged every year or two and it is pretty unattractive most of the time. Also one of the areas is our septic drain field so we can’t let shrubs/trees take root there. If you let everything grow most of the year then brushhog once or twice, isn’t that destructive/terrifying to any wildlife that makes its home there?

What about ticks/mosquitoes and vermin? My husband is convinced that reducing mowing in some areas will make the whole property more buggy. I’m worried about encouraging more rodents because I already have trouble with them wanting to infest the hay/equipment barn.

Are there non-invasive ground covers that would out-compete established grass, or would we have to kill the grass and start over? That doesn’t seem very environmentally friendly, plus erosion would be a concern in some of the areas if the grass were removed or killed. I’m interested in ground cover in two areas: 1) sunny steep slopes around the arena, which currently have lovely thick grass but are a beast to mow due to the grade, and 2) shady wooded area that has finer, more sparse grass but that we don’t want to just let get completely overgrown. I’m in Maryland, if anyone has specific plant recommendations.

I have a good relationship with my Soil Conservation guy so I’ve asked him for some info or a referral, but thought I’d tap the COTH hive mind too. @wildlifer, sorry to single you out but I think you might have some expertise in this area?

Yes, there are a lot of options for converting at least some of your lawn to really beautiful wildlife habitat, but how you’d do it depends on where you are. And unfortunately, it can be expensive (though it doesn’t have to be!) I don’t know where you’re located but I’d do and internet search for landscaping for wildlife in your own area.

Regarding more insects? Well, yes, probably. But to a certain extent, that’s a good thing. Insects are food for other wildlife. Put in plants that provide good food and shelter for birds, supply a source of water, if possible, and put up a bunch of bird houses! :smile: You might have a few more insects but you’ll have a bunch more happy birds.


Definitely contact your extension agency. There are many areas who offer funding for conservation areas, which is what you’d be turning some of that into. So, you could get a plan, and the materials for free or cheap, and also be making sure it’s actually going to be a good thing and not just some random hodge podge of whatever :smiley:

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Haha yes this is exactly my concern!

We already have a conservation plan for the pasture and compost so maybe we can add this into it. Just curious to hear personal experiences as well. The extension people are great but sometimes a little narrow in their focus? Or unrealistic, if that makes sense? For example, my extension guy would rather I not turn horses out all winter but I need to compromise between horse welfare and land welfare.


oh yeah, they will tell you that horses should be kept off pasture for the Winter, and while they aren’t wrong, it’s not always feasible either.

There may be fewer head-butts with a non-livestock conservatory

We solved our mowing challenges with a tiny herd of sheep. The girls are very low maintenance and fun to watch.


Is it close enough to your pasture to incorporate it into grazing for the animals you have now? Sadly it seems that anything left to " go wild" even if you plant things in there, usually ends up getting undesirable weeds which spread like wildfire…

I would fence it appropriately and either let your animals eat it down, get some sheep or goats, or find some who has sheep or goats and let them come and mow it for you several times a growing season.

I have goats and they eat everything and fertilize as they do :grinning:


Yes, wanted to let you know I saw your tag & will come back to add more info when I am sitting still. There are lots of options & it doesn’t have to be what is conventionally considered "unattractive " (I mean, really it’s all in eye of the beholder, I see habitat quality when I look at things, so I think lawns & a lot of traditional landscaping are horrendously ugly, but I totally get what you mean & it’s an achievable goal). I hear you on the mowing too, I have heartburn about fuel burning too. I shall return with more info!


I’m just north of you in southern pa. I’d consider Daylilies for the bank. They are spectacular in bloom and no maintenance (clumps block our weeds) once established. They are deer candy and could need protecting to get established.
Think about a native shrub border inside your existing woodline: red twig dogwood, various viburnums. Will create a nice transition zone, albeit needing some mulch and weeding until established. Our place has a swath of scrubby woods 75’ behind our house (native cedars, cherries, tulip populars, typical succession plants). When we first moved in I was going to have it taken out for an extra paddock and am so happy I didn’t. I have a bird paradise year round!

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Following this eagerly as our situation is very similar.

As much as I don’t care for sheep and goats, if it means we mow less, I think my arm could be twisted… a friend visited the other day and said she knows someone who leases goats for vegetation control for A LOT of profit.

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I would have happily turned more lawn into pasture years ago if I could have! Unfortunately there are too many natural and man-made constraints (swale/small seasonal stream across the middle of the property, marshy area on either side, two circular driveways, house, barn, other outbuildings, arena, septic field, etc). The most I could conceivably fence for the horses is another quarter acre and it wouldn’t be connected to my dry lot, which contains the shed and waterer. As annoying as it is to have a 9-acre property with only 3 acres of pasture, I can’t do anything about the layout.

As for sheep/goats…although I prefer not to solve problems by acquiring animals, I’m not totally opposed. We’re working on fencing the perimeter anyway to keep out the neighbors’ dogs. I thought goats were mostly browsers though? And do sheep really do such a good job that you don’t need to mow every two weeks? I’m not sure I need the work/expense of more animals TBH. Especially since goats are troublemakers and I’ve heard that sheep are on par with horses in spending their lives looking for ways to die. :rofl:


Here’s the wooded area:

It’s annoying to mow regularly because there are always sticks and stumps to avoid, but it was really scrubby and unpleasant when we bought the place so we don’t want to totally let it go either. It’s a very peaceful spot. When it was time to let my dear old dachshund go, I held her in my lap on that big flat rock. There must be some shade-loving groundcover that would be happy there…


Is the wooded area moist or dry? Foam flower is a lovely native plant for moist shady areas. Also that area just calls out for some bluebells.

Low gro sumac may be an option for the sunny slopes.

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There is a natural progression to plant species.
If we want to have grasses in abundance, since grasses tend to be overtaken by forbs if those are not controlled, that is why pastures where grasses are preferred are mowed.

Right, forbs give much wildlife a better habitat than mere grasses do.

Managing land for our purposes at times may mean displacing wildlife.
The question is, all species alter their environment, is how we learn to live and survive.
Humans also have a right to manage their environment, just as other life forms do.
How we do it can be acceptable or questionable and which is which, that is a very long and involved discussion.

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I’m in a similar situation but mine is in front of my house. I have a lawn that is probably 2 acres (in an odd shape) but cannot figure out any way to let it (or some of it) go wild without it just being ugly. So it gets mowed.

I thought about fencing it and allowing it to be pasture but that’s pretty ugly as well. And it’s not connected so it would mean leading horses to it and back…which seems like extra work to make the curb appeal look worse. :frowning:

I’d love to have it somehow look like this, but I know that’s not how this meadow always will look without maintenance:

I have an 8 acre field behind my house that I mow only paths through, and it looks nice…but it’s a field, not a “meadow” some areas are nicer than others, sometimes it’s ugly. Right now its muddy and brown.

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I am letting the road right of way return to nature since city sent this nice letter about how I was to maintain “my land”… that right of way is theirs not mine, I was just cutting it because it is in front of my residence … and I highlighted the survey markers as to where my land begins.


Do you ever contribute to a post without referring to your bitterness toward the town you live in?


I would probably pick a couple sections that you would like to keep as grassland instead of forest and turn those into pollinator sections. They don’t have to be huge spaces. Put a couple big tarps or lots of cardboard down to kill what’s currently growing, then till or add topsoil and sow lots of wildflower, sunflower and clover seeds. Milkweed seeds need to be cold stratified, or you could order milkweed plugs.

Like other posters said, sumac, dogwood and viburnums usually grow quickly and make a good transition between grassland and forest.

Sometimes simply mowing a path through an overgrown area takes it from looking “unsightly” to park-like. Especially if you can add in a couple focal points like lilacs or redbuds.


I think it is pretty the way it is. It would be beautiful in the Spring with lots of bulbs blooming - scilla, muscari, Snowflake ( leucojum), galanthus, bluebells and shade tolerant daffodils like Thalia. Also a great spot for hellebores which reproduce like crazy and are pretty low maintenance after they get established. Add in some native azaleas some of which bloom in the summer. It looks like such a peaceful spot.

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They prefer browse but when it is not available they graze extremely well. They go for the weeds first and then the grass. The real great thing about them is they do it evenly and fertilize as they go ( pellets so no spreading needed). We keep ours in happily with just the regular old livestock fencing( squares).

I had sheep in the past as well that gave me no problems. Might be once you fenced you could ask your vet for someone trustworthy with some goats who would like some free grazing for a while.

Best of both worlds. Free food for them and free mowing for you.

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