Climate Change: Regenerative Landscape

Climate Change: Regenerative Landscape

Regenerative landscaping is a process of using plants to remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the soil and of selecting plants that reduce the amount of fossil fuels needed to maintain them. We can make these selections for our own yards. By replacing turf grass with fine fescue and mini clover, your soil would become stronger and your would need to mow less frequently, thus saving effort and reducing the emission of carbon dioxide. We can also advocate these practices for the Columbia Association and our county government. For more  information on how this works and what you can do, check Sara Via’s webinars listed at
This year, we are also emphasizing planting native, perennial pollinator-friendly plants in order to help create a Homegrown National Park. For more information, see the following section about “Native Plants Save Birds.”

Native Plants Save Birds

Native plants are essential in a regenerative landscape and save birds at the same time.

For more information about the goal of a “Homegrown National Park”, check out
For more information about where to find native plants that do well in our region, click here.
For information on how to protect night-flying insects, bats, and birds, check out

Leave the Leaves

We hear a lot about the migration of monarch butterflies. But did you know that most butterflies and moths stick around all winter They overwinter in our yards as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult. Leaves and plant litter are critical habitats for these overwintering pollinators. A mini-ecosystem starts to grow when we minimize yard work: butterflies and moths lay eggs on the undersides of fallen leaves and seek shelter under leaf cover as the days get colder; solitary bees build nests in dead plant stems and old woody material for nesting sites; bumblebee queens hibernate in shallow holes just a few inches below the soil until warmer spring weather arrives. And there are so many other animals that live in leaves: spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, mites, and more—that support the chipmunks, turtles, birds, and amphibians that rely on these insects for food.

So, leave the leaves! Pile leaves over garden beds, around trees and shrubs, or in the corner of the yard. And skip the shredding! Shredded leaves will not provide the same cover as leaving them whole, and you may be destroying eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis along with the leaves.

Sources: XERCES Society and the Tufts Pollinator Initiative

Regenerative Landscaping Lectures

During the summer of 2020, Dr. Sara Via presented a series of six webinars on regenerative strategies for agriculture, gardening and landscaping, and the impact of climate change. To see the topics and access videos of the presentations, click here.

Dr Via spoke at a UUCC Climate Forum on Regenerative Landscaping on June 7 titled Lawn Alternatives to Help the Planet. The default approach to suburban landscaping is mowed lawn and lots of it.  Though lawn may seem like the obvious choice for yards and general landscaping, it comes with a staggering environmental cost.  In the Regenerative Landscaping project, we will be trying out some alternative approaches.  One is to replace lawn with low-growing mixes of grasses and clovers that require little mowing and virtually no fertilizer or chemicals.  These “lawn mimics” are far more climate-friendly yet retain the overall appearance and openness of regular lawn.  Also great for the climate is replacing sections of lawn with deep-rooted perennial plants that build soil health, allow more stormwater to infiltrate, improve water quality and even store atmospheric carbon in the soil.  In this forum you will learn more about this approach.  Preliminary information will be shared about ongoing experiments to test different lawn mimic mixes, ways to convert a regular lawn into a lawn mimic and planting strategies for weed-free pollinator plots.  You might even get some ideas to try in your own yard!

Contact: Sara Via and Ann Wing

Million Acre Challenge

The Million Acre Challenge is an ambitious initiative  to support healthy soils on Maryland farms and across the greater Chesapeake region. This new collaborative project aims to catalyze the growing movement to achieve no fewer than one million acres of healthy soil in Maryland by 2030.   The first step was a Soil Health Benchmark Study.


This group’s focus is on using native plant alternatives to grass, such as microclover and fine fescue, that will soak up carbon dioxide. Replacing grass with these alternatives could have a bigger effect to slow warming than many of the other things being pursued. Fossil fuels used in mowing will be reduced as will fertilizers and pesticides. By demonstrating the feasibility of growing these plants in various soil, sun, and moisture conditions, we expect to convince the Columbia Association and Howard County to convert from grass in some of their areas.

History of Meetings

After a year when activities were curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Regenerative Landscape team met via Zoom on Friday, January 22, 2021. Eleven people participated. Dr. Sara Via described her experience with experimental plots growing lawn mimics and pollinator plants during the past year. She showed images of her results. She found that starting the lawn mimics in late August or early September after removing weeds works best. The planting in spring was dominated by weeds and simply overseeding existing grass failed.

Sara experimented with several methods of suppressing weeds while growing perennials in a pollinator bed. What worked best was to make holes in the ground into which to place the young plants, then cover the plot with the horticultural paper (WeedGuard Plus), cut holes or slits in the paper above the holes, and finally insert the plants into the holes. She recommended starting the perennials from seeds in flats on shelving under shop lights in your home in a month or so, and then planting them in June.

Sara offered to provide advice, pollinator seeds, and shop lights to interested people.

The team met on January 26, 2020. Twenty-eight people attended. Sara Via described the work to be carried out under her grant. “Lawn mimics”, mini clover and fine fescue, will be tested with different proportions on plots in both sun and shade. The perennials will be tested with various techniques for weed control: hand weeding, buckwheat interseeding, clover interseeding, and planting through kraft paper. Some of the test plots will be at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center and some on Howard County government property. Sixteen people volunteered to help with with work at OBIC. Nine people volunteered to help with work on the Howard County property.

The team met on December 15, 2019. Sara and Ann have identified places on the OBIC grounds where grass alternatives could be planted as a demonstration project. Two attendees volunteered their lawns for test plots. In addition to the microclover and fine fescue mixes, we will test how to control weeds in pollinator gardens with different planting treatments. The team is also looking for people with stream erosion in their yards to demonstrate Virginia wild rye, an “awesome plant” with deep roots, as a way to prevent erosion. Volunteers to help in planting will be needed in mid March.