We must give up the idea that the ideal lawn should resemble Astroturf.
Small flowering plants dotted throughout the lawn give it a look of tapestry and improve its health considerably.
Until the 1960’s, White Clover (Trifolium repans) was considered an asset to lawns for its natural nitrogen attracting properties and for its summer greenness when Kentucky Blue Grass went dormant. Its seed was always mixed in with grass seed—an ideal lawn consisted of 1/4 to 1/3 clover.
Once you stop herbiciding, it will take two years for patches of clover to appear.
Dick Young, author of Kane County Plants and Wild Areas, suggests several other small plants that could be introduced into lawns to make them prettier and healthier.
Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) produces tiny, five-petaled, pale pink flowers striped with darker pink lines, in bloom from late March to mid-May. It is common in woodlands, but it grows in pastures and lawns, as well, particularly under oak trees.
Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) is a frequent companion of Spring Beauty. Loose clusters of 4-petaled, white to pale pink flowers top an 8-12” tall stalk that rises above a whorl of tri-lobed palmate, toothed leaves. It grows abundantly in rich woods and floodplains; it also grows in open grassy areas along with Spring Beauty. It begins to bloom as early as mid-March and can continue until the end of May. Both are ephemerals and disappear quickly once they have set seed.
Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) is a European lawn weed, especially prevalent in the lawns of large historic houses on the near northwest side of Elgin. After blooming, in early April, they, too, disappear, flower and leaf.
Just around the corner from me, is a property that was vacant for years. The lawn is mostly Penn Sedge with not only squills growing through the carpet, but daffodils, as well.
The early April lawns and nooks spangled with these turquoise gems are indeed a spectacular early spring display, says Dick Young.
Other attractive flowers often found in lawns are the Common Blue and Confederate Violet (Viola sororia).
The small, bright yellow blossoms of Early Buttercup (Ranuculus fascicularis) bloom among the finely cut segmented foliage in April and May. It is found on dry gentle slopes under scattered trees, but will also grow in lawns.
Other suitable native wildflowers are Pussy Toes (Antennaria neglecta). Its white flower tufts, in bloom from late April through early May, resemble little cat paws. It blooms atop an 8″ stem that rises from a basal rosette of white, wooly leaves.
and Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex), a low-growing, creeping perennial with broad 5-fingered leaves and buttercup-like, shiny yellow flowers that bloom from early May to early July.
The flared, lavender-blue trumpets of Wild Petunia (Ruella humilis) bloom in July-August. Opening with the dawn every morning, they close by noon. Seeds from the existing plants in my gardens sprouted in the grass in my front parkway, eventually forming large patches and finally, covering the entire lawn in that area.
One can mow the lawn, including the petunias, and within a few days, they will pop up again. In nature Wild Petunia is found in sunny sandy or gravelly areas, but it is happy in my mesic soil in full sun.
Once you have opted for a flowered lawn, it goes without saying, you must never use broad-leaf weed killers.