Front Yard Native Landscaping

As a new homeowner, there are a thousand projects around the house vying for my attention. But none call to me more than landscaping. After a few weeks working on the basement, I needed a break! I redirected my energy and landscaped my front yard!

Walk the Walk

I talk often and openly about the ecological problems inherent with a “well kept lawn”. Now that I finally have my own lawn, I wanted to convert part of it to something earth conscious, yet attractive. With smart design, landscaping can feed birds and insects, build soil integrity, and take very few inputs. I will always have a good sized patch of weedy Fescue for the dog to play Frisbee in, but more and more of the yard will get planted to natives every year.

Proper Prep

First, I sprayed two adjacent sections of our front yard with a strong application of glyphosate. It was not an easy decision: I am not a fan of using this chemical, or any chemicals in the landscape. But when contending with bermuda grass, my options were limited. Bermuda is a fierce, non-native competitor that will easily overtake a native flower bed if not eradicated properly. On the sides of the house, where bluegrass, Fescue, and dandelions are prevalent, I expect solarization to work wonderfully next spring and summer.

Hymenoxys scaposa (perky Sue) is adorably small; six inches tall with cheery yellow flowers the size of a quarter. It is a great addition in my front yard because of its petite, tidy habit.


A few weeks later I planted right into the dead thatch of the grass. I like to plant thick, aiming for a very full, lush look and less weeding in the long term. Then I back-filled each hole with some rocky, sandy soil from a long abandoned planter box on the side of the house. This might help the clay soil drain better for the drought hardy species I wanted to incorporate. A flag at each plant ensures I don’t miss any while watering.

Though I am always so excited to plant, it doesn’t look like much for the first year. But by next fall it will be the talk of the neighborhood.

In my design, I focused on purples, whites and yellows to complement a pale blue porch. Made up of many western Kansas species, this garden is extremely drought tolerant once established, staying full of blooms for pollinators even in hard times. When I get a free weekend, I will layer the empty spaces with newspaper and wood chips to discourage weeds. Luckily, my city has a free wood chip pile nearby!

Scutellaria resinosa (skull cap) a wonderfully petite mint-family plant native to North Central Kansas. Photo By C. Freeman

Here are some of my favorites included in the design. Many are native, others are non-natives well adapted to heat and drought:

Allium spp.
Amsonia hubrichtii
Asclepias verticillata
Baptisia minor
Ericameria nauseosa
Hymenoxys scaposa

Lavandula ‘Hidcote’
Muhlenbergia capillaris
Nassella tenuissima
Prunus besseyi
‘Pawnee Buttes’
Sporobolus heterolepis
Scutellaria resinosa

I plant Amsonia mainly for its foliage, but the blue blooms are a welcome sight in spring.

Grass But Not Lawn

I used Sporobolus heterolepis along the sidewalk and Muhlenbergia capillaris for a slightly taller focal point. To keep my front yard looking intentional, tidy, and appropriate to my neighborhood setting, I kept the plants under twenty four inches mature height, except for a few accents. My neighbors are already giving me funny looks about all the flags in my yard!

Yet to be included in the planting, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium is a must have for pollinators and for its delicious minty scent.

My co-workers have all taken their work home with them too; planting natives in their home landscapes and seeing the wonderful change in biodiversity these plants bring . It was time for me to do the same! Once the garden matures, I hope it inspires others to convert more of their underused front yard space to valuable, attractive wildlife habitat.

Winter Garden Checklist

Last week, in early December, I did some work in my yard.  The day was warm, which made the work more enjoyable.  While I was working I made a checklist of all the things I need to get done in my yard before next spring.  My daughter Allyson is graduating from high school and we are having her graduation party in our backyard.  So the pressure is on to get it ready for the big event.



It may seem strange to be thinking about spring when it’s cold outside, but in March and April, when things start blooming, you’ll be glad you planned ahead. Here are some things you should definitely include in your winter garden checklist:

Leaf Collection

It is critical this time of year to continue removing leaves so they don’t smother your grass.  Fescue lawns need sunlight even during winter months and a thick layer of leaves can stunt growth or kill the lawn altogether.

Pick Up Hoses and Drain Irrigation System

Unhook hoses from the faucet, drain them, roll up and store inside.  Hoses can deteriorate if left out through the winter.  The sunlight can be harmful and water left in hoses can cause damage due to freezing temperatures.  I drain sprinklers and irrigation systems that can be busted by prolonged cold weather.


Winter is the ideal time to prune deciduous trees because they are dormant.  Prune dead branches and shape trees.  Step back and look at the tree as a whole before pruning.  Envision what the tree will look like after the branch is removed.


Landscapes can really benefit from a fresh layer of mulch.  Put down 2-4 inches of wood chips or any weed-free organic matter before the ground freezes.  Mulch keeps the soils temperatures more even, holds moisture,  slows runoff,  and controls soil erosion.  Newly planted trees and shrubs will benefit the most from mulch.

Clean Gutters

Before winter rains and snowstorms, it is a great time to clear away any leaves or debris that has collected in your gutters this fall.  Impeding flow causes ice buildup which is a safety concern when it falls from the roof.  Be careful and don’t fall off the ladder.

Winterize Equipment and Tools

I run stabilized fuel through my power equipment and then drain the fuel tanks.  Gas left in the carburetors can do damage to them by deteriorating the components and aluminum parts.  A varnish can also develop which clogs small openings within the components.  Chainsaws, hedge trimmers, weed-eaters, and mowers will be ready to go next spring.  Clean, sharpen and store hand tools.  A thin coat of linseed oil will keep them from rusting.

Take Notes

What do you need to do next spring?  What plants will you need to fill the gaps in your landscape?  What are your dreams for your outdoor space?


First plant to bloom in the arboretum next spring

First plant to bloom in the arboretum next spring – Vernal Witchhazel


Spring will come too fast.  So will Allyson’s graduation.  It is hard to believe that 17 years have passed already.  People kept telling me that she will grow up fast.  They were right.  We look forward to that graduation day with anticipation and a lot of fear and trembling.  Hopefully, my backyard will be ready, because I know I will not be ready for that day.