Pennsylvania program helps residents, businesses convert lawns to meadows

Environmentalists say lawn conversions prevent flooding and runoff pollution, and provide habitat for pollinators and birds.

A meadow of pink and yellow wildflowers near trees

The Twin Oaks community in Chester Springs received funding to convert its lawn to a meadow. (Courtesy of Jim Freed)

This story is part of the WHYY News Climate Desk, bringing you news and solutions for our changing region.

From the Poconos to the Jersey Shore to the mouth of the Delaware Bay, what do you want to know about climate change? What would you like us to cover? Get in touch.

For years, perfectly manicured lawns have been a symbol of the American landscape.

But environmental scientists say turf landscapes can contribute to runoff pollution, and reduce the natural habitat for pollinators and birds.

So, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is offering funds for residents and businesses who want to convert their lawns to meadows. These peaceful habitats with native grasses and wildflowers have a number of environmental benefits.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Lawn conversion intends to improve water quality, air quality, provide habitat to support wildlife and pollinators, and it also sequesters carbon,” said Kelsey Mummert, the program’s coordinator.

A meadow of yellow and orange and pink wildflowers stretches out towards trees and a house on the horizon.
Weeds Inc is partnering with the state to assist residents and business owners who want to convert their lawns to meadows. Shown here is a meadow at Erdenheim farms in Lafayette Hill. (Courtesy of Weeds Inc)

The initiative began in 2020, but interest from residents, businesses and nonprofits has increased this year, Mummert said. Lawn owners can contact the department for lawn conversion resources, or seek funding to pay for the landscape work. Out-of-pocket costs for lawn conversions can range between $2,000 and $5,000 an acre, according to landscapers.

The Twin Hills development in Chester Springs received financial assistance through the program this year, and residents already are witnessing the meadow’s benefits.

“You can hear the bees, and can see the bees and the butterflies — and the beauty that it has created on the edge of the property is just phenomenal,” said Jim Freed, who is on the board of directors for the community.

A meadow of wildflowers covers a section of open land. A building is visible on the horizon in the background.
It can take three to four growing seasons for a meadow to reach full maturity. Shown here is a meadow at a residence in in Haverford. (Courtesy of Weeds Inc)

Mummert said the program significantly benefits highly developed areas, which are prone to stormwater runoff pollution and flooding. Unlike turf grass, which has shallow root systems, meadow grasses have larger root systems, which help soak up water.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Where I live, there’s a whole lot of lawn, and during heavy rain events you can just watch the water running off in sheets towards the road,” Mummert said. “So these native plants are facilitating that water soaking into the ground and reducing the flooding events.”

Lawn conversions also help landowners save money, because meadows don’t have to be mowed as frequently, she added.

It can take three to four growing seasons for a meadow to reach maturity, said Drew O’Neill, vice president of Weeds, Inc., which partners with the state to complete the conversions.

A meadow of yellow and black flowers covers a hillside. A small open structure and trees are visible on the horizon.
Meadows can improve water quality, prevent flooding and provide habitat for pollinators. Shown here is meadow at a public park in West Bradford Township. (Courtesy of Weeds Inc)

He said bloom times for meadow flowers vary over the course of the season, offering a natural kaleidoscope for those who enjoy them.

“You’ll get an actively growing meadow from roughly April through the end of October, giving you different views, textures and colors,” O’Neill said.

There are two million acres of lawn in Pennsylvania. O’Neill said the more acres that are converted, the greater the environmental benefits will be, but added that no lawn is too small to convert.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal