The Planting Pyramid Turned Upside Down

In a recent article, Genevieve Schmidt described her view of the planting pyramid, and she made several very important points:

  1. Except for removing invasive plants, no-one is asking you to take away your favorite garden plants
  2. Adding native plants will help you attract more wildlife

The idea of a planting pyramid brings to mind a recent interview I did with Doug Tallamy, where he discussed turning the current usage of plants in our landscapes upside down.

If you look at the graphic above, you’ll see that currently the area occupied by lawn in our landscapes is 79%.

Eighty percent of what we have in our landscapes after lawn is exotic plants, which, while pretty, do very little to support birds, butterflies, or pollinators.

Less than 5 percent of the whole enchilada of our planted landscapes are locally native plants, which offer the most benefit for wildlife.

So what if we turned this pyramid upside down in our gardens? If we were to work to increase the amount of space occupied by locally native, indigenous plants, and decrease the area covered by lawn and exotic plants, we would be doing a great service to the other species that share our world.

We could go a long way to helping our local wildlife in our gardens simply by reducing the area of our lawns. I’m not saying you need to not have any lawn at all, but if we reduced our lawn area by 10% every year, and added more native plants, we’d be creating habitats that would attract more birds and other wildlife.

Choosing the best plants for your wildlife garden does not have to be difficult, and does not mean you have to give up your favorite flowers. With a little thought, you can help to turn this pyramid on it’s head and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your gardens.

Check out Genevieve Schmidt at North Coast Gardening, or follow @NCoastGardening on twitter.

Check out my new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week, teaching you to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden.

© 2011 – 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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About Carole Sevilla Brown

Carole Sevilla Brown is a Conservation Biologist who firmly believes that wildlife conservation begins in your own back yard. Carole is an author, educator, speaker, and passionate birder, butterfly watcher,  and naturalist who travels around the country teaching people to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife. She gardens for wildlife in Philadelphia, zone 6b, and created the philosophy of Ecosystem Gardening. Watch for her book Ecosystem Gardening, due out soon. Carole is managing editor of  Beautiful Wildlife Garden, and also  Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. Follow Carole on Facebook and also @CB4wildlife and on Google+


  1. I like this as an illustration. It’s kind of sad we homeowners have that much lawn. I’m always thinking that most people don’t use the majority of their lawn for any recreational purposes. The only time they get out on it is to mow it.
    Well my pyramid is upside-down and the benefits of having a diversity of natives is too long to list.
    Heather recently posted..Early Flowering Prairie Natives

  2. Heather, kudos to you for turning this pyramid upside down! I’ve been driving past several quite large properties on my way to a project I’m working on and I’m amazed. They’ve got acres and acres of lawn, and it doesn’t appear that they ever even spend any time outside. I wish we could spread the word faster that just because that’s what we’ve always done doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to do things.
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Journey to Become a Wildlife Gardener

  3. I agree…the lawn takes up too much space, energy, and chemicals. We have been slowly reducing ours over the past seven years. We are lucky that a part of our property is wooded and that helps reduce the lawn as well.

  4. My 3 acres is the inverse of your pyramid illustration and much easier to manage than a lawn! Permaculture!
    colette o’neill recently posted..Tuesday 18 May @ Bealtaine Permaculture Smallholding

  5. Linda says:

    We got rid of most of our lawn 10 years ago. Last year, I grew more native plants for butterflies. Ours is a normal lot in the neighborhood, so it can be kind of messy–huge carrot blossoms, pokeberry, milkweed, etc. It sure seems like the butterfly bushes are the favorite snack of butterflies! I’ve tried attracting hummingbirds with different flowers to no avail–however this week I will be planting the orange trumpet vine. Since we just installed a pergola, I will have a sturdy structure on which to grow these heavy vines. Next year, I will have hummingbirds!

  6. Nice post! When we moved to this acre of high desert vegetation in 1983, I decided to landscape only 20 percent of it. It’s worked out great. I have a little area of lawn and flower beds (the desert cottontails love these!) surrounded by native four-wing saltbush, sage and other indigenous plants. Consequently I have lots of Gambel’s Quail, Western Scrub Jays, Curve-billed Thrashers and other native birds. I’m very happy with the way this has worked out.


  1. [...] Preserving the connections between wildlife and the plants that support them is just like healthy eating – there’s no need to be extreme and cut out the roses, dahlias and “dessert” plants that bring you joy. Life’s better when we indulge a bit. (Below, Heuchera planted among my native Columbine.) [...]

  2. [...] As I was meandering through my emerging meadow garden Saturday morning, the clouds were dissipating, the sun was creeping higher in the blue sky—and then the inevitable cacophony of mowers and weed trimmers began in earnest, a typical weekend in the neighborhood.  After all, it takes a lot of man-hours to mow the approximately 50 million acres of lawn spread across America. [...]

  3. [...] in the above mentioned interview, described what is traditionally planted in our gardens and how we need to turn this pyramid on its head. His research has shown that in the managed spaces of our country (including our gardens) 79% is [...]

  4. [...] Adding more native plants to your wildlife garden will help to create more welcoming habitat so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, pollinators, frogs, toads, bats and other species. Ecosystem Gardening for Frogs and Toads [...]

  5. [...] is surprising how much prime space for habitat is given away to lawn. I think many folks see yards (even schoolyards) in terms of plants around buildings and property [...]

  6. [...] I agree with those detractors. The standard American sea of turf is like a dead zone for wildlife, uses tons of resources, and can release dangerous chemicals into our groundwater that we all [...]

  7. [...] are a dead zone for wildlife – barren of pollinators, sucking up precious resources, and taking up room that could be used for a more positive contribution (food? Natives? [...]

  8. [...] plants. This leaves less than 4% for native plants in our landscapes. Let’s work on turning this “Planting Pyramid” on its head by decreasing the amount of lawn and increas… Doing both of these at the same time would create so much habitat for wildlife. We could make a [...]

  9. [...] we’ve discussed many times before, if you want to attract wildlife to your garden you need to have native plants, the more the better. Over time wildlife has co-evolved with the native plants of your region [...]

  10. [...] Today, I am going to examine the virtues of meadows-as-lawns, (which gets a Ten), vs. traditional-lawns-as-lawns, (which gets a big fat Zero). Read [...]

  11. [...] Turning the Planting Pyramid Upside Down [...]

  12. [...] These plants are the native plants of our region. If you want to attract wildlife to your garden, you need to add more of these plants to your landsca…. [...]

  13. So There! says:

    [...] is true that native plants make up less than 4% of our managed landscapes, and this number for those of us who care about creating and restoring wildlife habitat is the [...]

  14. [...] see that currently the area occupied by lawn in our landscapes is 79%…. Learn more about Turning the Planting Pyramid Upside Down at Ecosystem Gardening Share this[...]

  15. [...] changing that dynamic is the reason that locally indigenous plants matter so much to me. Endangered Gopher [...]

  16. [...] takes on the monumental task of showing water-conserving plants and practices that can replace the wildlife-free zone known as the lawn. While this book isn’t native-only, they do rely heavily on natives to create the lovely [...]

  17. [...] Reduce the size of your lawn by 10% and devote this to wildlife habitat [...]

  18. [...] I do encourage people to do is to increase the proportion of native plants because native plants support more wildlife. And I strongly discourage the sale, purchase, and [...]

  19. […] Replace just 10% of your lawn with a patch of native wildflowers and help protect native pollinators […]

  20. […] Find out more about Turning the Planting Pyramid Upside Down […]

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