Todd Bittner

Native Lawns with Todd Bittner on Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley

Episode 127: Native Lawns

Have you ever given serious consideration of the limited value of traditional suburban lawns? Sure, they add a certain beauty to the landscape, but is there a better way to incorporate more native plantings to our lawns? Are their native lawns that could become alternatives to the typical field of turf grass that creates a monoculture that is not supporting of pollinators?

Todd Bittner, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, joins the Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley podcast to share his perspective on more environmentally sustainable Native Lawns.

As the Director of Natural Areas for the Cornell Botanic Gardens and a Lecturer in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University as well as today’s guest, Todd Bittner furthers our understanding of natural systems, environmental sustainability, and natural resource conservation, management, and use. The Cornell Botanic Garden’s natural areas program is responsible for the protection and management of a system of preserves spanning nearly 3,600 acres across 40 natural areas. As part of Cornell’s educational mission, the natural areas include examples of the natural community plants and the rarest plant habitats in the New York’s central Finger Lakes Region. The holdings include one-third of Cornell’s iconic campus landscape, including two massive gorges, scenic Beebe Lake, and a renowned wildflower garden. Todd leads the organization’s native biodiversity conservation efforts, while facilitating compatible educational, research, and recreational uses across these outdoor classrooms. 

Native Lawns, or lawn alternatives, are a designed plant community that, when compared to traditional turf grass lawns, require minimal mowing and watering, no pesticides and fertilizers, yet more biodiversity to support pollinators and other invertebrates. In the research being conducted by Todd Bittner, the goal of the native lawn was to be aesthetic, able to handle a moderate amount of trampling, and require minimal hand weeding as well as to address the environmental objectives (minimal watering, mowing, chemical supplements, etc.). There was also a desire for native plants to comprise at least 85 percent of the land area. Plant species were selected that are suitable for both full sun and shady as well as wet and dry conditions Danthonia spicata and Danthonia compressa (poverty oat grass) are dominant in the planting. Penstemon hirsutus is also widely planted. Twenty nine native species have established spontaneously from the adjoining natural area or seedbank, including a number of violet species, several woodland asters including calico, heart-leaved, and frost asters, and Lobelia siphilitica, or great blue lobelia, which is a very attractive valuable pollinator species. Tune into this episode to hear what has been learned over the last 15 years in moving towards a more environmentally sustainable native lawn. 

Hosts: Tim Kennelty and Jean Thomas 

Guest: Todd Bittner 

Photo by: Cornell University CALS 

Production Support: Linda Aydlett, Deven Connelly, Teresa Golden, Xandra Powers, Annie Scibienski



Xandra Powers
Community Horticulture Coordinator
518-828-3346 x106

Last updated July 1, 2024