What is lawn conversion?

Many homeowners today are choosing to convert their lawns or a section of their lawns to a more natural state. This includes planting hardy native plant species of grasses, shrubs, wildflowers and/or trees, which require less maintenance than the conventional bright green lawn. This is a smart choice, given that the estimated 25 to 30 million acres of residential lawns across the county make for a lot of mowing!

Why convert your lawn?

The use of native plants can be a very aesthetically pleasing landscaping choice, while preserving native species and biodiversity and creating habitat for wildlife. Native plants tend to be better adapted to local environmental conditions and therefore require less maintenance than typical lawns. In the long run, this can save you precious time, money, and energy, not to mention the added benefit to local water bodies of requiring little or no fertilizer or pesticides. Native plants may even be used to solve landscaping problems such as shady or wet areas.

How do I convert my lawn?

Before converting a section of your lawn to more natural conditions, it is important to first assess the conditions of the site in order to choose plants that are well suited to those conditions. Keep in mind that soil in urban areas tends to be very infertile, compacted, and not well suited for vegetative growth, so it may require some initial work before planting. Some other factors to consider are sun exposure, soil texture, pH, fertility, moisture conditions, pest problems, and history of use. If your soil is very acidic or compacted, soil amendments may be required.

Since the type of plants needed will vary with lawn conditions, it may be useful to talk with a local extension agent or lawn and garden center about what species to plant and how to test your soil. In general, native prairie or meadow plants work well in sunny open areas or areas with poor drainage. Woodland plants are generally well suited for fertile, moist areas with high organic content. Provided below is a list of plants native to northeastern Ohio. Since soils in the Cleveland area tend to have high clay content, those plants with a tolerance for clay have been starred (*).

Grasses and sedges

Andropogen gerardii (Big Bluestem)
Bouteloua curtipendula (Side-oats grama-grass)
Carex grayi (Grays sedge)
Carex muskingumensis (Palm sedge)
Carex plantaginea (Wide leaf sedge)
Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)*
Eragrostis spectabilis (Purple love grass)
Juncus effusus (Soft rush)
Milium effusum (Golden wood millet)
Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)
Sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass)
Spartina pectinata (Prairie cord-grass)

Vines and groundcovers

Campsis radicans (Trumpet creeper)
Clematis virginiana (Virgins bower)
Gaultheria procumbens (Checkerberry or creeping wintergreen)
Lonicera sempervirens (Trumpet honeysuckle)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)

Herbaceous vines and creepers

Adlumia fungosa (Climbing fumitory)
Mitchella repens (Partridge-berry)
Phlox stolonifera (Creeping phlox)
Phlox subulata (Moss phlox)
Potentilla simplex (Common cinquefoil)
Waldensteinia fragariodes (Barren strawberry)

Medium height plants

Allium cernuum (Nodding pink onion)
Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed)
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed)
Aster azureus (Sky blue aster)
Aster ericoides (White heath aster)
Chelone glabra (Turtlehead)
Heuchera americana (Alumroot)
Lupinis perennis (Wild lupine)
Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan)
Solidago nemoralis (Grey goldenrod)*

Tall plants

Aster novae-angliae (New England aster)
Cassia hebecarpa (Wild senna)*
Helianthus giganteus (Giant sunflower)
Helianthus strumosus (Woodland sunflower)
Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke)
Silphium perfoliatum (Cup-plant)


Juniperus communis (Common juniper)
Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar)
Larix laricina (Eastern larch)
Pinus strobus (White pine)
Taxus canadensis (Canadian yew)

Small trees/large shrubs

Acer spicatum (Mountain maple)
Amelanchier laevis (Allegheny serviceberry)
Asimina triloba (Common pawpaw)
Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam)
Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda dogwood)
Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood)
Crataegus punctata (Thicket hawthorn)
Hamamelis virginiana (Common witchhazel)
Prunus virginiana (Common chokecherry)
Salix discolor (Pussy willow)
Sambucus canadensis (Common elder)

Large trees

Acer nigrum (Black maple)
Acer rubrum (Red maple)
Betula lutea (Yellow birch)
Carya cordiformis (Bitternut hickory)
Celtis occidentalis (Common hackberry)
Fagus grandifolia (American beech)
Fraxinus pennsylvanica (Red or green ash)
Juglans nigra (Black walnut)
Populus grandidentata (Bigtooth aspen)
Quercus coccinea (Scarlet oak)
Quercus macrocarpa (Bur oak)
Quercus palustris (Pin oak)*
Quercus velutina (Black oak)*


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EcoCity Cleveland
3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
Copyright 2002-2003

Tips for helping urban streams
Helping Doan Brook
What is a watershed?
Steps to help urban streams
Reducing impervious surfaces
Rain barrels
Pet waste management
Car washing
Integrated pest management

Back to main Watershed Planning


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