Having a grass lawn is not as eco-friendly as you might think. Yes, it’s still green space, but it doesn’t actually support wildlife and the required maintenance can take a toll. There are several alternatives to grass lawns that are more eco-friendly and usually lower maintenance. Replacing grass lawn space with one of these popular lawn alternatives is a great way to be kinder to the environment and enjoy your property in a different way.
Why Replace Your Existing Grass Lawn
I love my lawn. But there are a number of ways that traditional grass lawns can be detrimental to the environment.
- the exhaust from lawnmowers,
- runoff from herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, and
- water consumption
all have a negative impact on the environment.
But perhaps even more importantly, a traditional grass lawn is actually bad for our pollinators. And without pollinators, our entire food system suffers.
In this article I’ll explore some options you may consider to replace all or part of your lawn. Doing so can make your yard beautiful and functional in a less traditional way.
Let’s get started.
Groundcover Lawn Alternatives
One of the lawn alternatives that can most closely resemble grass is groundcover.
Groundcover plants are those that spread across the ground without growing very tall. These species of plants have the advantage of being low maintenance because they do not need to be mowed at all and usually don’t require fertilizer or much watering either.
This is particularly true once the selected groundcover species are well-established in your yard.
There are so many varieties of groundcover that you are bound to find a species that meets your needs. Some popular examples include:
- creeping thyme,
- certain succulents, and even
Each different type of groundcover can have its own benefits and drawbacks.
For example, creeping thyme and clover are incredibly resilient and thus can grow anywhere as well as withstand high traffic.
By comparison, strawberry plants can’t really be walked on and are a little bit more selective in where they thrive, but can produce delicious and plentiful strawberries.
Certain varieties of groundcover can choke out weeds due to their density, be nitrogen-repairing to your soil, or even act like mulch by protecting and enhancing your soil.
There are very few drawbacks to groundcover, but the main one is that they spread easily so they need a barrier to keep them contained (or they’ll be in your garden and your neighbor’s lawn.
Some garden edging that goes a couple of inches into the ground should do the trick.
Alternatively, brick and wood edgings are another aesthetically pleasing option.
Similar to groundcover, moss can thrive with minimal maintenance and provide a lush green carpet in your yard.
Other than the work to plant moss, it doesn’t require much effort to maintain. Moss does not require watering, weeding, mowing, or fertilizing.
Moss can be either an acrocarp variety or pleurocarp variety. Acrocarp mosses grow in patches while pleurocarp mosses grow into more of a smooth carpet.
Different species of moss can thrive in a variety of different conditions and offer many shades of green.
I have a detailed post on moss in lawns which goes into how to remove it, and how to embrace it as part of your landscape, and encourage you to read that here if this option sounds interesting.
There are so many species of ornamental grass to choose from that can provide added texture to your property and landscape.
Most ornamental grass varieties are resistant to pests, drought-resistant, and don’t require any mowing. However, it is important to choose species that are appropriate for your area. Cool-season grasses are best for more northern climates versus warm-season grasses for the southern ones.
Ornamental grasses typically have one of two growth patterns: running or clumping.
- Running grasses can spread slowly or aggressively depending on the species. They also have the advantage of creating a more uniformly smooth appearance in the landscape.
- Clumping varieties grow in tufts that can be grouped together to create a unique texture.
Most ornamental grasses are the clumping type, but this is an important quality to be mindful of when designing your landscape with different ornamental grasses.
You don’t want to inadvertently choose a species that spreads aggressively when you’d prefer one that is more contained, or vice versa.
Unlike traditional grass lawns, ornamental grasses grow to different heights and some varieties can grow quite tall. Combining different heights, colors, and textures of grass is a good way to create an artistic display in a low maintenance landscape that’s hospitable to birds and insects.
This also means that ornamental grasses are not the best choice for areas where there is any foot traffic. They are not meant to be walked on like traditional grasses, but they can be used in garden beds and to line footpaths.
Perennial Garden Beds
A garden bed can be a few different things; a flower bed, a vegetable patch, space for shrubbery, or a pollinator garden are a few examples.
Each of these can reduce the amount of grassy lawn space in an eco-friendly way and make a great lawn alternative or they can be used to break up your lawn and support pollinators.
However, they have the caveat of being unsuitable for any amount of foot traffic.
This can often be remedied by creating a walkway out of mulch, gravel, brick, or stepping stones to guide visitors through your gardens and property.
A flower bed full of annuals or a vegetable garden will need some watering and fertilizer, but there are more eco-friendly ways to do this.
For example, using rain barrels for water and compost or manure for fertilizer. Spreading mulch of some kind, whether it is bark, straw, leaves, or grass clippings, can also help the soil retain important moisture and nutrients so that it needs less water.
A garden bed full of perennials, shrubbery, or pollinator gardens are even less maintenance.
It’s easy to choose species of plants that support pollinators and include them in any of these, however, a pollinator garden is specifically designed with the intent of attracting honey bees.
The drawback to gardens of any kind is that they require work. In fact, a garden may require the same amount of work, or more, than lawn care.
It is important to do some mindful planning around how much work you are prepared to do and selecting species of native plants that grow easily and thrive in your local environment.
Gone are the plastic AstroTurfs of the 70s. Modern technology has made artificial turf incredibly lifelike. It’s hard to tell them apart from real grass without getting up close!
Artificial turf requires absolutely no maintenance. No mowing, watering, fertilizing, or even weeding!
You may want to use a good leaf-blower on occasion to remove leaves and debris, but that’s it.
This may sound like the ultimate solution for some when it comes to lawn alternatives. But others may feel that they prefer live plants and living greenery instead.
Living greenery, by comparison, also has a better impact on the environment than artificial turf. However, the amount of maintenance, chemicals, and pollution can often counteract the benefit of living greenery in certain circumstances.
If you live in a part of the country or world where water use is restricted, an artificial turf lawn may be a good option for you.
Lawn Shape Alternatives
While this isn’t necessarily a replacement for a grass lawn, changing your lawn shape can reduce the amount of grass you have.
Eliminating corners in your garden automatically makes mowing quicker and easier, thus cutting the fuel needed and exhaust created while mowing. For example, turn corners of your yard into large, curved garden beds or plant decorative, perennial grasses there.
If there are other small areas of lawn or even large areas that are hard to mow (such as on a slope or around the base of a tree or shrub), then these could also be spaces to eliminate.
Instead, plant groundcover or native perennials that maintain the green appearance of the space but require less maintenance and do not need to be reached by a mower.
It is also important to reconsider creating garden spaces or planting shrubbery or trees in the middle of your lawn.
These “islands” eliminate grass, but they often make mowing more difficult and increase mowing time. Planning to install these around the periphery of your yard is a more efficient choice if you choose to keep some grassy space on your property.
Final Thoughts on Grass Lawn Alternatives
There are so many ways to replace traditional grass lawns depending on what you find aesthetically pleasing, manageable, and fitting for your space.
While some of these lawn alternatives are lower maintenance than a grass lawn, others may still require a certain level of maintenance but are better for the environment (and maybe your soul) than a large swath of turfgrass.
From Xeroscaping, to wildflower lawns, or gardens where you grow food instead of mowing a lawn, you have a number of options of what to do with your land, and shouldn’t feel tied to maintaining a lawn if that’s not for you.
Assessing your space, your needs, and what you’d like to see in your yard can help you choose the best option for your property.
Whether you have a lot of shade, mostly sun, a dry climate, or don’t want to have to bother with pulling weeds – there is an option for everybody.