Resilient Lawn Library

Continuing the discussion from Local Resilient Lawns - Collecting Conversation:

The Resilient Lawn Library is the WCMNCN’s effort to research topics regarding resilient lawns more in depth. This library will serve as a guide and reference point to our community leaders when meetings and conversations are had regarding promoting and implementing resilient lawn efforts.

At the Oct 2023 meeting, members of the WCMNCN chose topics they felt interested in to do research on over the next month. At the Nov 2023 meeting folks will report back with their findings and detailed information will be added here to the Library.

Resilient Lawn Library

Current Topics

Potential Topics (assign yourself one, or add ideas to the list!)

  • Native MN plants for gardens
  • Weeds & invasives
  • Baby steps for homeowners to begin shift
  • Rain gardens/best practices

Native Alternatives

@Susan_Gilbert & @Nic_McPhee


  • What are the current utilized turf grasses?
  • What are recommended native alternatives?
  • What are maintenance requirements?
  • What are benefits to other grasses?
  • Where are these available?
  • What is the process for planting new grass types?
  • WHO is already starting native planting practices in Morris?


@Susan_Gilbert & @Nic_McPhee met with Sally Finzel of Morning Sky Greenery (@mornsky) on 1 Nov 2023 and discussed common lawn practice and native (and partially native) alternatives.

Kentucky bluegrass is a common lawn grass here, but requires a lot of maintenance (watering, fertilizer, herbicides) to keep looking good, and is not a native grass in the Americas. It also requires a ton of mowing.

There are numerous alternatives, some of which are based on native plants and some of which are not:

  • Many low-mow mixes and bee lawn mixes depend on or include fescues like red fescue. Some fescue varieties are native to North America, but none are considered native to the Midwest. Low-mow mixes typically require limited maintenance and only need to be mowed once or twice a year since they don’t grow very tall and tend to slump over rather than becoming overly tall. Fescues are cool season grasses, so they green up quickly, but can go dormant (& brown) in the hot and dry parts of summer.
  • Many bee lawn mixes are essentially the same as a low-mow mix, based again on fescues, but with various flowers like white clover, creeping thyme, and self-heal, which provide food for bees and other pollinators and tolerate foot traffic.
  • Native grasses like buffalo grass and blue grama can be used for native low-mow mixes. Neither grow very tall, and will tolerate foot traffic. These are both warm season grasses, which means that they’re a little slower to green up, but will stay green even in hot, dry weather in mid-summer.
  • You can also replace all or part of your lawn with garden spaces, which can be all or mostly native prairie plants that, once established, won’t require much maintenance.

Once established, these sorts of lawns or gardens should be largely self-sustaining. You could mix a cool-season low-mow and a native grass mix to get some cool season species that green up early and warm season species that stay green through the heat of the summer. A nice thing about mixes is that they aren’t mono-cultures. Mixtures of species help create more complex ecosystems which can be more robust and also support a wider array of insect life.

It’s worth noting that there’s no such thing as a no-mow lawn. If you never mow a lawn then eventually woody plants (shrubs and trees) will establish themselves and take over. The herds of herbivores and grass fires kept down the woody plants in the pre-columbian era, but since huge herds of bison and regular wildfires aren’t particularly common in town, you’ll have to mow any lawn occasionally. Similarly, gardens of prairie plants need to be cut back every year or two to keep woody plants under control. (It’s probably better to do this in the spring instead of the fall, however, as lots of insects and other small animals can overwinter in an untrimmed garden.)

You can try to replace your entire lawn in one go, but it’s probably more reasonable to do it incrementally, so you don’t take on more than you can handle at a time. The area you’re transforming does need preparation before you do the new seeding/planting, and it will need some help getting established, mostly watering and weeding.

The preparation is critical to success, and is perhaps the most tricky as you need to kill/suppress the plants that are already there, and the zillions of random seeds (dandelions anyone?) that have collected in that soil over the years. The “easy” solution would be to use chemicals to kill all the plants, but that has a host of sustainability/environmental issues, and you often have to do it several times to address the seeds lying dormant in the soil.

A more environmentally friendly alternative is to lay down a thick layer of cardboard (2-3 sheets) across the area you want to transform, and then cover that with mulch like wood chips or straw. If you remove the plastic-based tapes and labels, the cardboard will eventually break down and become part of the soil, but in the meantime it will kill the existing plants and any seeds that sprout beneath it. It also absorbs and transmits water, so you’re not creating a run-off problem. You probably want to leave the cardboard in place for at least a full growing season to both kill the existing plants and address a significant percentage of the seeds. If you’re planting individual plants, you can cut holes in the cardboard and plant directly in the hole. If you plan on seeding a large patch of lawn, you’ll need to pull up all the mulch and cardboard, maybe moving it to another patch if the cardboard is still intact enough to be usable.

New plantings and seedlings will need a regular supply of water to get established, but usually once they’ve made it through one summer they’re good to go. If you’re planting a prairie garden, don’t expect a tidy, well behaved collection of carefully spaced plants as they will spread and move over time. Some plants will do better than others, and some plants may lie dormant in certain kinds of conditions only to pop up a year later if the conditions are more favorable.

There are organizations that will support transitioning away from traditional lawns:

  • Morning Sky Greenery (@mornsky) is a local company with decades of experience supporting this kind of work in our area.
  • Blue Thumb has a variety of programs, including Lawns to Legumes, which provides $400 towards this kind of work.
    • It’s weird that they call it “Lawns to Legumes”, as you don’t have to (and wouldn’t want to) replace your lawn with just legumes. Whatever.
    • @mornsky is a partner in this program and can sell you the plants and provide the kind of itemized receipts you need to be reimbursed.
  • Metro Blooms also has information on these kinds of transformations.

Personal note: @Susan_Gilbert and @Nic_McPhee have been planting buffalo grass seed in patches for over a decade, usually to fill in a bare spot created by some disturbance. The buffalo grass has done very well, spreading gently from where we have initially planted it. While it is a little slow to green up in the spring, it stays green through the hot part of the summer. This summer (2023), for example, our buffalo grass remained green with no watering or assistance from us. (The photo below, shows it at its maximum height of a few inches, with seed heads in early June of 2023.) We’ve also purchased numerous prairie plants from @mornsky for close to 30 years as we’ve transformed more of the land around our house away from lawns.



Dan B.


  • What types of pollinators do we have in West Central MN?
  • What types of pollinators are native to West Central MN?
  • What types of plants benefit these pollinators?
  • How do these plants benefit these pollinators?
  • What issues are these pollinators facing?
  • How do pollinators benefit our local environment?

Pollinators and Pollinator Plants in Minnesota:


“There are thousands of insect pollinator species in Minnesota, including over 400 species of native bees… Bees are the most efficient pollinators because their bodies are designed to collect and store pollen to feed their young. Other flower visiting insects and hummingbirds incidentally move pollen among flowers as they forage.” (MN DNR Minnesota Pollinators, online page).

Bees and other insects need pesticide-free lawns and gardens and flowers to live, breed, feed, and raise their young.

Some bees are “specialists,” raising their young with pollen from certain specific plants. Other bees are “generalists” and can feed on a wide variety of plant species…

Pollinator Plants and Their Use to Encourage Bees and other Pollinators:

Plant communities in Minnesota are areas where a community of native plants occur together. Examples include: dry prairies, wet prairies, oak savanna (or forests), pine forests, and marshes.

There are a wide range of ways to use and implement pollinator plants, including: Rain gardens, pollinator gardens, trees and shrubs, bee lawns, agricultural, pollinator prairies, agroforestry, and communities gardens.

A pollinator garden provides “essential” pollen and nectar to bees and butterflies. Here are important components of such a garden:

  1. Use of a diverse array of blooming flowers.
  2. Seeds must not be seed-treated (with pesticides).
  3. Making sure you have something blooming from early spring through fall
  4. Keeping your plants free of pesticides, especially fungicides and insecticides.
  5. Many plants can support pollinators.

And it’s not just about flowers…. Some bees nest in the stems of plants; others in mulch or leaves; others in ground nests. Keeping stems that are sturdy and upright are great bee nesting habitat. Cut stem somewhere between 8-18 inches for the bees and keep that for the following year… Keep this in mind for the next generation of insects…

Use of plants with local seed (local genetic origin) is best. Why?:

  1. Adaption over time (genetically) to local conditions of landscape, soil, and climate.
  2. Because they will thrive better (example: Bur Oak trees in Missouri are different than those in Minnesota, having adapted to a warmer drier climate. That means, it has evolved in that location, and thus different genes were needed to adapt and thrive there.)
  3. Local nurseries (Morning Sky Greenery, Morris offers a great array of Minnesota native species of plants, shrubs and trees. Including many pollinator plants.).

Bee Lawns: commonly contain fine fescue, Dutch white clover, self-heal, and creeping thyme, which reduces need for mowing and watering; with the addition of drought tolerant native grasses even less watering is needed. The low-growing flowering plants provide essential pollen and nectar for bees.

A few examples of good pollinator plants for Minnesota include: Cardinal Flower, Blazing Star, Anise Hyssop, Asters, milkweed, serviceberry (Juneberry – a shrub), Bee Balm and Purple Coneflower.


  1. This has a helpful list of (mostly) native pollinator plants with sun/shade requirements, when they bloom, and if honey bees and other bees use them….
  2. DNR site: – Then go to Minnesota Pollinators for information.
  3. See for East-Central MN.
  4. How to Use Native Plants for Landscaping and Restoration in Minnesota: //efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/
  5. Minnesota's Pollinators | Minnesota DNR

Current Lawn Research

Caitlin C.


  • What are current management “best practices” for _____?
    • lawn growth height
    • lawn cutting height
  • What is a bee lawn?
  • What is a low maintenance lawn?
  • What is a high maintenance lawn?

From the U of M-May 2023 Newsletter, best practices for lawns is letting it grow to a height between 4.5 to 6 inches long only cutting a 1/3 of the grass blade. The end result is to cut it to a height between 3 and 4 inches.

Bee lawns are made of a mix of grasses and low-growing perennials that can be used and treated much like a regular lawn but also offer high-quality nutrition to pollinators.

The inputs/resources that go into maintaining lawns are watering, mowing, fertilizing, weed control, and insect/weed control. If you use these or not, determines the maintenance level of your lawn.


City of Morris green space practices



  • Do they know the soil contents of the class 5 soils when they put it down?
  • Morris Area Schools as a place with lots of land and grass management, who does this? David Poppe?


  • Cut Height
    • Baseball & Softball fields are cut around 2.5-3", twice per week.
    • Parks (incl. Library) are cut between 3.5-4" once per week.
    • PDT campground is cut at 3" once per week.
    • These are averages, wet summers require more mowing, and dry summers may only require mowing once per month.
    • Grass is kept at this height for usability reasons. If the grass is longer they have more issues with wetter conditions, bugs, and the ability to mow without bagging.
  • Water/Spray/Fertilized
    • Do not spray for insects
    • Boyd Lawn service fertilizes baseball & softball fields
    • Only water new grass and baseball/softball fields.
      • Eagles park fields have sprinkler systems that run every other or third day, depending on how dry it is.
      • Watered for several weeks at Wells Park in 2023, they do not usually do this but with how dry it was they were not sure the grass would survive the baseball season
      • In 2023 they used around 800,000 gal of water on Eagles Ball Fields
  • Soil
    • Class 5 soils are put down under new roads (from Jim Riley & sons)
    • Blackdirt is put down on new grassy areas (stockpile of black dirt from previous projects)
  • Grass Species
    • Variety of grass mixtures in parks & around the city
    • Generally speaking, contain a variety of Kentucky Bluegrasses, Rye grasses, and Red fescue. The mixture depends on location.
    • Boulevards require a mixture that can handle less maintenance, salt from roads, and quick growth. Parks need a mixture that holds up to heavier foot traffic and are drought resistant.
    • Current supplier of seed is specialty solutions in Gaylord, MN
  • Decisions
    • Final say is City Council & City Manager. Public works director is responsible for the overall decision making from week to week and works with parks department for planning purposes.
  • Shifts in mowing
    • Over the past 10 years they have stopped mowing several areas to allow for natural growth and saving time. They do not mow as much around the bike path, instead they mow a small strip on each side to prevent the grass from growing into the tar and wrecking the path.
  • Other context
    • Much of the grass space maintenance is dictated by community usage. There are areas they try to mow higher and less often if the area usage permits (green river road, bike path, frisbee golf course)

Jeremiah Day of the Parks Department answered a BUNCH of questions for me! He has offered to help find any more information we are looking for! Thanks Jeremiah!


Cameron B.


  • What types of trees are currently living in the City of Morris?
  • What is the biodiversity of these trees? What is the percentage of each tree species?
  • What types of tree diseases are in or coming to Morris?
  • What types of trees will not be viable in Morris with X amount of climactic change in Y years?
  • What types of trees will start to exist in Morris with the X amount of climactic change in Y years?
  • What is the Tree Board currently trying to convey to citizens? What are their priorities?


  • Diseases
    • Dutch elm disease (in town, trees are being treated)
    • Emerald ash borer (not in Morris yet, but will be)
  • Trees of Morris
    • Many ash trees
    • Tree inventory has not been done in 10 years.
    • Russ, city public works director, told me there are under 12 tree species in general in town
  • Tree board
    • Russ, city public works director, not plating trees this year. Public works crew usually plants ~75(?) trees year. Russ does not want to plant this year because he wants to “catch up” on tree maintenance this year and make sure the trees they planted previously actually survive. He will go back to planting trees next year. Everyone on tree board appeared displeased with this.
    • Most trees in Morris are on private property. Sue Granger is in favor of a private planting program - something that would help residents get trees cheaply to plant or something similar. One tree board member was opposed to this because he thinks that would be competing with local nurseries. Sue suggested involving the local nurseries.
    • Hundreds of trees were lost in recent storms

Other notes

  • Part of my job is communicating to residents the benefits of trees. I’m been compiling a lot of tree resources and such that I hope to share eventually
  • My tree inventory project is still in development

Lawns to Legumes

Other Communities

@mgm & @syd


  • What are other communities doing to shift lawn practices?
  • What are other communities NOT doing to shift lawn practices?
  • What are other communities finding/learning in regards to shifting lawn practices?
  • What resources are other communities using to educate/promote shifting lawn practices?



More stuff on trees:

  • The Tree Board seems to want to convey the fact that trees are beneficial to the public. Some people are very opposed to trees for various reasons and don’t want trees near/on their property. One rental property owner will reportedly kill all trees planted near/on his property. Lots of people don’t even know they’re supposed to water their boulevard trees. Trees are frequently damaged by mowers, weed whippers, etc. People are also generally unaware of how to care for trees, how to plant trees, how to prune trees, etc. Many people live on rental properties and couldn’t put up a tree even if they wanted to because it would be a landlord decision.

  • The majority of trees in Morris are on private property.

  • Sue Granger claims that 1/3 of trees in Morris are ash. This will devastate the tree canopy when emerald ash borer arrives.

  • My recommended tree species list for Morris is still in progress. One tree that will probably not do well in the changing climate is tamarack/larch. Some trees that are predicted to do well in the changing climate are hackberry and bur oak.

  • Morris is currently hardiness zone 4a. By the end of the century, Morris is projected to be in hardiness zone 5 or 6. Sources:



Link to the Planting for Pollinators guide I mentioned at the December meeting

Morris is now in hardiness zone 4b according to the USDA’s newest hardiness zone map


Here is the Pioneer Prairie Yard & Garden Episode about local gardener Vicky Dosdall - Prairie Yard & Garden | Creating a Monarch Waystation | Season 37 | Episode 1 | PBS