7 Alternatives to a Traditional Grass Lawn
Every homeowner dreams of having a yard filled with lush, perfectly green grass. But if you manage your own landscaping, it doesn’t take long to realize that achieving lawn perfection takes a whole lot of time, work and money.
You have to water, fertilize, mow, weed, trim, dethatch, aerate… the list goes on. And if you slack on yardwork, your lawn will quickly take on that “abandoned lot” look – requiring even more work to bring it back to life.
To help reduce the weekly lawn care burden, many homeowners are abandoning grass altogether – opting for more maintenance-friendly alternatives. Thinking about making the switch yourself? Here’s what you need to know about the alternatives to a traditional grass lawn.
What Are the Best Grass Alternatives?
If you’re ready to put the lawn mower away for good, here are seven great options to replace your grass lawn – in no particular order:
- Clover: This low-growing plant has had a checkered history when it comes to lawns. Until the 1950s, clover was actually included in many grass seed blends because of its ability to add nitrogen into the soil. But in more recent years, many have regarded it as an undesirable weed. However, for those interested in a low-maintenance grass alternative, clover can be a great option. It’s inexpensive, easy to plant and stays green without watering. New varieties like “microclover” can be grown without worrying about those little white flowers. And because it doesn’t grow very high, a clover lawn may only need mowed a few times each year.
- Moss: Using moss as ground cover has long been a staple of Japanese gardens. While it’s a less common sight throughout the rest of the world, moss boasts a number of qualities that make it a great grass alternative. It never needs mowing and can grow in poor or rocky soil conditions. And its lush, springy texture can feel like a carpet under your feet. When replacing a lawn, you’ll need to have live moss installed (it can’t be planted like grass seed). This may require a significant upfront investment, but it can offer years of maintenance-free enjoyment after that. If you’re interested in a moss lawn, talk to a landscaping professional who can recommend the right species for your specific yard and climate conditions.
- Ornamental grass: Tall fountain grasses are a great traditional grass replacement for areas of your yard that don’t get much foot traffic. They’re available in a wide variety of species, sizes and colors, making it easy to find ornamental grasses to match your unique landscaping style. Once planted, they require almost no maintenance and are drought tolerant – an added bonus for dry climates.
- Gravel: If you’re looking to rid yourself of yard work entirely, it’s hard to beat gravel landscaping. Just install a landscape fabric below the gravel to prevent weed growth, and you can get rid of the mower for good. There are a range of options to choose from – including crushed granite, river rock, lava rock, pea gravel and even recycled glass. A quick search for gravel landscaping will provide a wealth of inspiration to get the creative ideas flowing.
- Artificial turf: Want that perfect lawn look without all the work? Consider installing an artificial turf lawn. While faux grass was once reserved for sports stadiums and putting greens, it’s slowly been making its way into residential landscapes for years now. One reason for this shift is that advancements in manufacturing have made artificial turf more realistic looking. Of course, one of the biggest advantages to an artificial turf lawn is you can say goodbye to mowing. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely maintenance free. It does require the occasional raking, along with application of infill (a product used to weigh down the turf and provide a layer of cushion). It’s also one of the more expensive options on the list – costing around $25 per square foot for an installed turf lawn.
- Wildflowers: For an added splash of color, transform that boring green grass into a meadow of wildflowers. Not only is this lawn alternative an attractive option – it’s also inexpensive and environmentally friendly. Before you go out and buy your seed mix, do some research to discover which flowers are native to your region. This will ensure they thrive after planting (some local municipalities even offer free seeds as part of a seed bank program). Once your wildflower lawn is established it will only need to be mowed about once a year.
- Ground cover plants: There are plenty of low-growing plants that make for great lawn alternatives. That includes pretty much anything with “creeping” in its name, such as creeping thyme, creeping jenny, creeping juniper and creeping charlie. Each of these ground cover plants spread quickly and require very little maintenance. Do your research in advance to determine the best species for you – as they each tolerate factors like sun and foot traffic differently.
When Should I Replant My Lawn?
If you’re looking to replace your grass lawn, timing can be important. Obviously, if you choose a non-living alternative like gravel or artificial turf, you can get started at any time. But for the other lawn options on our list, experts typically recommend planting in the spring or fall – when there’s less heat and more water. If you live in an area that experiences harsh winters, planting in early spring is probably your best option because it gives your new plants more time to get established before being exposed to freezing temperatures.
How Do I Remove My Existing Grass?
Ready to make the switch? Here are some ways to rid yourself of an existing grass lawn:
- Start digging. Use a flat shovel to slide underneath the grass, pulling it up by the roots.
- Use a sod cutter. Rent a sod cutter from your local home improvement store to cut your grass into neat, manageable strips. Then roll it up like a carpet for removal.
- Solarize it. Water your lawn and cover it with clear plastic sheeting. Then, let the sun do the rest. After a few weeks in the summer heat, your grass will be dead and ready for replacement.
- Try sheet mulching. This process involves covering your soil with a layer of compostable material, like newspaper or cardboard, then adding compost and mulch on top. Sheet mulching takes several months, so it’s recommended to start in the fall and let your lawn decompose over the winter. When it’s time to plant in the spring, you’ll be starting off with rich, nutrient-dense soil.
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