The Potluck

Minnesota cities can no longer mandate turf grass lawns

By: - July 28, 2023 12:57 pm

A monarch butterfly feeds on a milkweed flower (National Park Service)

Minnesota cities can no longer ban pollinator-friendly native landscaping, thanks to a provision in a state government finance bill that took effect in July.

Concern over declining populations of bees and other pollinators has sparked interest in native plant landscaping in recent years, with many homeowners opting to tear out their turf grass lawns in favor of more diverse plantings. But those efforts occasionally run afoul of local ordinances that either require grass lawns or mandate that plants be kept below a certain height.

In North Mankato in 2021, for instance, a homeowner successfully sued the city after it declared his natural yard a “public nuisance” and said it contained “rank growth of vegetation that unreasonably annoyed a considerable number of members of the public.”

And in 2020, the city of Falcon Heights banned all front yard gardens after a resident attempted to plant vegetables.

The new language requires cities to allow homeowners to install and maintain a “managed natural landscape,” which it defines as “a planned, intentional, and maintained planting of native or nonnative grasses, wildflowers, forbs, ferns, shrubs, or trees.” 

The law explicitly states that “turf-grass lawns left unattended” are excluded from the definition of a “managed natural landscape,” which means mowing-averse homeowners will not be able to simply let their grass grow and declare it a natural garden.

But the legislation doesn’t say anything about homeowners’ associations, according to Julie Liew of the League of Minnesota Cities, so HOAs can still mandate the use of turf grass lawns. The Community Associations Institute, a trade group for HOAs and similar organizations, estimates there are more than 7,500 such organizations in Minnesota overseeing about 1.5 million residents.

Traditional turf grass lawns are effectively biological deserts. They’re devoid of the diversity of plant life that’s needed to support healthy native pollinator populations, and frequent mowing ensures that local plant life never gains a foothold. 

Native plantings “can offer the kind of habitat and nutrients to sustain thousands of insect species, and many of those in turn will be the food for birds and amphibians,” as St. Paul beekeeper and entomologist Margot Monson wrote in support of the new law.

The measure will add to existing statewide efforts to promote biodiversity in residential areas, like the existing Lawns to Legumes program that provides grants to homeowners replacing lawns with pollinator-friendly habitats.


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Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.