Natural lawns can run foul of Winnipeg bylaw, but gardener shares tips for fine-free growing

As naturalized lawns with native plants pop up in yards across Winnipeg, one couple in the city says they were told to cut down their beloved yard because some plants were too tall.

Amanda and Chris Taylor say their Elmwood yard became their sanctuary while they worked from home during the pandemic.

“I’ve been trapped at home for two-and-a-half years. So being able to find a little bit of wilderness in the space around us, and not have to risk my health [has been important],” said Amanda Taylor, who is immunocompromised.

The couple said they bought a few native plants and stuck them straight in their grass to kickstart their lush new lawn. But after neighbours complained, city bylaw officers slapped the Taylors with an order to cut it all down.

A vegetation control order issued to the couple on July 29 said their lawn is too long and contains noxious weeds, and ordered them to control the weeds and trim any grass that’s above the height allowed.

“We asked if we could have an inspector come out and take a look at it and work with us to figure out, you know, what needed to be removed, what needed to be cut down,” Chris Taylor said. 

“They refused to come out unless they also were coming out with their cut team to cut everything down if it wasn’t up to spec.”

A natural lawn with long grass and flowers.
The Taylors’ natural lawn includes grass and flowers. (Emily Brass/CBC)

Roughly 400 notices this year: city

A city spokesperson said as of Aug. 2, Winnipeg has issued 390 penalty notices for grass and weed growth violations of the bylaw so far this year.

While exact numbers for other years weren’t available, the spokesperson said that number is comparable to previous years.

The city bylaw calls for turf grass to be no longer than six inches, while planted flowers and ornamental grass can be up to a metre.

Naturalized yards can be allowed under the bylaw, but doing that doesn’t get rid of the requirement to control weeds or other obligations, the city spokesperson said.

John Frazer, who started his natural lawn four years ago when he got fed up with mowing the grass, agrees that naturalizing a lawn is about more than just letting your grass grow wild.

Frazer said he still mows along the curb so people can comfortably get by — which is just one of his tips for people starting out with native plants in their yards.

“I wouldn’t recommend trying to just dig holes between the grass and … pop in the plants. The grass will definitely outcompete it,” said Frazer, a self-described master gardener.

A man stands in some tall grass and flowers.
John Frazer has been tending to his natural lawn for four years. (Emily Brass/CBC)

He said the first two years were the hardest as he watered to establish his new plants. But after that, all he needed to do was a little bit of weeding to remove invasive plants like dandelions.

“Initially we had thought [the lawn] would be no maintenance, but that’s not the case. Things sneak in,” Frazer said, adding thistles are the worst problem in his yard.

He even created a chart to help him differentiate the weeds in his yard from the native plants, and also trims the seed heads to keep the plants from spreading to his neighbours’ yards.

As for the Taylors, they said they’re interested to learn more about naturalized lawns, but they’re happy with theirs as it is.

“Is something a weed if you like it?” Amanda said, laughing. “We like how the dandelions look.”

The order the couple got also outlines a list of potential consequences for people who fail to obey the city’s requests, including being charged an inspection fee in an amount imposed by council. The city can also prosecute rulebreakers in provincial judges court. If convicted, scofflaws can then face a penalty imposed at the discretion of a judicial justice of the peace, it says.

Other actions to bring the property into compliance with the neighbourhood liveability bylaw are also on the table, the costs of which can be added to the homeowner’s property taxes. An additional administrative fine of $100 also gets added to the bill at that point, the order says.

The couple said their yard won’t be mowed unless city crews come out to cut it at the Taylors’ expense.

WATCH | Natural lawns can run foul of City of Winnipeg bylaw:

Natural lawns can run foul of City of Winnipeg bylaw

48 minutes ago

Duration 2:23

Naturalized lawns are exploding in popularity with native plants popping up in yards all over Winnipeg. But a couple in Elmwood was told — they have to cut their beloved lawn — because it’s too long.

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