Alternatives to Grass Lawns

By Jessica Goldberg

May 28, 2021

Turfgrass lawns are a landscape staple. They create a lush ground plane from which our homes and plants can emerge. It’s nice and soft to run around on or lay out a blanket on top of. But, many homeowners know it takes a lot of maintenance to keep that carpet full and green. Watering, mowing, seeding, spraying can seem like a never-ending cycle. Here are some alternatives to grass lawns – that can save money, time, or even be a little more eco-friendly!

 

Alternatives to Grass Lawns

Expand your garden beds

Foundation planting around the perimeter of your home is pretty standard practice. But there are so many ways to go beyond just having a straight line of plants to frame a house! Think about expanding the beds to have more diverse layers of shrubs and flowering perennials that extend further from your foundation. 

Planting beds can also frame pathways, mailboxes, pillars, trees, any kind of fence or wall, or be islands to themselves! There are many ways to break up the monotony of your lawn with plantings, and it can make your space more visually interesting and textured.

Be sure that any turfgrass that does remain is in a relatively tidy shape, whether curvy or angular. 

 

Ground Cover Alternatives to Grass

Clovers

Clover lawns do not get their dues! This low-growing groundcover is available on its own or in lawn seeding mixes. It is nitrogen-fixing, meaning no fertilizer is generally needed to keep it looking healthy. It requires less water and does well in partial shade. Once widely used for these benefits, it simply fell out of style in the 50’s. But finally, with so many great reasons to use clover, it is making a comeback! Maybe it’s time to give it a chance.

Ground Cover Alternatives to Grass

Other ground cover options can also save money and resources on maintenance. Plants like creeping thyme, creeping phlox, and creeping jenny will spread out to form a flowering carpet. These species also look especially good between pavers or stones, and can drape down retaining walls in a romantic fashion. Just note whether they look appropriate for a huge swath of land.

Here are some more low-growing groundcover options, and as always, check your hardiness zone (and note light and moisture conditions) to see if these are options for your lawn. The Missouri Botanical Garden is a great resource for these questions.

  • Creeping Thyme (zones 4-9)
  • Creeping Jenny (zones 4-10)
  • Sedum (zones 4-9)
  • Creeping Phlox (zones 3-9)
  • Miniature Brass Buttons (zones 7-9)
  • Common Pratia (zones 6-10)

In addition, mosses will thrive if you have a shady backyard, and require zero mowing! Different types form clumps or will fill an area.  

Create New Areas with Different Materials 

Gravel, Woodchips, or Pavers

Is there a patch in your backyard that gets played on, A LOT? So much so that the grass is wearing out? Do you need a dog friendly grass alternative? Or maybe there’s a dedicated space that you like to set up cornhole or other lawn games. It’s possible that these high-traffic spaces could gain some definition and lessened need for maintenance by swapping out the grass. Mulch, gravel, or some pavers can be deployed on your lawn to create these areas. New seating and activity spaces can also be created simply by changing what is on the ground. And overall, less to mow! Also, check out this Tilly piece about creating outdoor rooms with your yard.

Stone or Sand

A great solution for places with little or variable natural rain is gravel or sand. These expanses can provide the same sense of negative space as a classic lawn with none of the chemical requirements. There is however, some (minimal!) maintenance in that the space should be raked out periodically to keep the surfaces fresh. Use a geotextile fabric barrier when installing to reduce weed growth. 

Artificial Turf

Some may prickle at the thought of using artificial turf, but if you are looking for low-maintenance, this is as low as it gets. Artificial turf doesn’t need any mowing, watering, spraying, or weed control. You can choose exactly what you want it to look like, and it won’t stray from that whatsoever. It may seem counterintuitive, but the lack of water, energy, and chemicals required to upkeep an artificial lawn makes it pretty eco-friendly over time. There are some spaces where grass just does not want to grow, and forcing it takes a lot of resources. Some products on the market now look a whole lot like the real thing, and can be extra soft for the little ones.

Sustainable Lawn Care Tips

Maybe a groundcover overhaul isn’t something you’re up for? There are small things you can do to lessen the load of taking care of a lawn. 

Longer Grass

Not mowing as often can support a stronger root network, making watering more efficient. 

Lawn Clippings

The never-ending cycle of mowing and fertilizing can end at the source. Leaving clippings means you are not removing nutrients from the lawn. Close this loop. Any seeds that are cut will also help self-seed, making the grass thicker and avoid empty patches.

When to Water Your Grass

Water during the middle of a hot summer day may seem like a kind way to cool off the grass, but it really doesn’t help. Be sure to water your grass early in the morning so that it has a chance to absorb the water before the sun evaporates it.

Try picturing your lawn with more than just turfgrass. There may be some fun alternatives to grass lawns that are right for you!

 

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