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Lawn Alternatives

The lawn is a mainstay of home landscapes, but if you're looking for something different, you can find attractive alternatives to the typical grass yard.

Landscape with Plants and Paver Walkway.

Reasons to Look at Lawn Alternatives

Mulch Planting Bed with Stone Border.

There are reasons turfgrass lawns are popular. They reduce erosion, absorb pollutants and provide a place for family activities. However, a lawn is not desirable or practical for everyone. You may want to avoid spending the time, effort or money required to care for a lawn. Keeping a lawn properly watered might be difficult or impossible. Or you may simply want a look that's more visually pleasing to you than a traditional lawn.

Preparing for a Lawn Alternative

Juniper with Stone Border and Walkway.

As with any landscaping project, preparation is key to a successful outcome:

  • Make sure there are no local ordinances or homeowners association guidelines that would apply to your plans. Some amount of traditional lawn might actually be a requirement in your neighborhood.
  • Create a plan. Landscape design principles still apply, and following them will keep your outdoor space from looking like a jumble of random plantings. Unity, balance, proportion, variety and diversity are important to a pleasing design.
  • When looking at plant alternatives, consider varieties that are native to your area. Native plants are adapted to your soil and climate. They will typically require less maintenance and have a better resistance to diseases and pests than non-native varieties. Native plants have the added benefit of supporting native wildlife. Also think about light requirements, height at maturity, rate of growth and other characteristics.
  • Test your soil and amend it as needed to support the plants you want to grow.
Good to Know

A trip through the garden center will give you examples of plants that thrive in your area.

Living Lawn Alternatives

Daylily

One alternative to a traditional lawn is a landscape with a variety of vegetation. There are several plant types that make good replacements for turfgrass:

  • Groundcovers such as vinca, common yarrow, threadleaf tickseed, Japanese spurge, ivy, thyme and daylily offer the benefit of spreading on their own or through division and replanting.
  • Ornamental grasses such as liriope, pink muhly grass, zebra grass or switch grass provide a varied living landscape to replace the standard green of a lawn. Grasses that clump will be easier to control than those that spread by underground stems. Many ornamental grasses tolerate drought, resist disease and require little maintenance. In addition to variety in colors and textures, ornamental grasses add a vertical element to your landscape. They also provide motion when a breeze blows.
  • Every region has perennials and low shrubs, such as juniper, barberry or cotoneaster, which can make excellent alternatives to lawns.
  • Wildflower mixes spread on their own and add vivid splashes of color to areas that were once a uniform green.
  • Fruit trees make an attractive addition to a landscape and offer the bonus of a harvest.
  • Cottage, meadow or prairie plantings combine flowers, grasses and other plants to give your outdoors a wild, natural look. This diversity attracts a variety of beneficial insects and birds.
  • Moss is a green alternative for shady areas where grass has been difficult to establish.
  • Mulched beds reduce lawn space while adding rich color to a landscape. Mulch can also help control erosion and reduce weed growth. Some mulches have a pleasant fragrance for added sensory appeal.

Inorganic Lawn Alternatives

Stone Raised Bed and Paver Walkway.

If you want to reduce the living landscape and much of the maintenance that comes with it, you still have a variety of eye-catching options:

  • A pond or water feature can be a visually pleasing way to reclaim part of a lawn, and the sound of a bubbling fountain or waterfall can be an added dimension of enjoyment. Like plants, water will also attract beneficial wildlife.
  • Hardscaping – using stone or block in the landscape – replaces part of your lawn with architectural elements. Patios, walkways, benches and fire pits are just some examples that not only break up your landscape, but also extend your living space to the outdoors.
  • Inorganic mulches, such as stone or shredded rubber, can replace areas of grass and add visual variety. Like natural mulches, these will also control erosion and weed growth.
  • Artificial grass gives the look of live grass without mowing, seeding or fertilizing. Artificial grass can look very realistic and is available in types that simulate different turfgrass varieties.

Lawn Alternative Combinations

Paver Stones with Lawn, Patio and Raised Bed.

Combining organic and inorganic elements helps you create your own look and define the level of maintenance you want to support. There are many possible combinations, such as:

  • Statuary or other garden décor among groundcover in mulched beds
  • Paver walkways through ornamental grass and wildflowers
  • Raised-block planting beds
  • A pond or fountain surrounded by low shrubs

You can even keep a patch of turfgrass among your lawn alternatives. The smaller area of grass will be easier to maintain than a full-size lawn and may satisfy local landscape requirements. Keeping an area of lawn may also be more acceptable to neighbors than a complete transformation of your yard.

Other Lawn Alternative Considerations

Backyard Paver Patio with Fire Pit, Walkway and Daylilies.

While you plan your lawn transformation, keep these tips in mind:

  • Look for plants that will attract and support beneficial insects and birds. These valuable creatures add visual and auditory elements to your outdoor space.
  • Learn about xeriscaping and other water-wise landscaping techniques. These methods can be good options to make the most of your yard while minimizing impact on the environment.
  • Think about how to use your backyard. Since your backyard is typically less visible than the front, you have more freedom to design. Alternatively, if you transform your front yard, you can maintain a traditional lawn in the back for family activities.
  • Expect some level of maintenance. Replacing your lawn will eliminate much of the mowing, seeding and fertilizing, but you'll still need to water and prune or deadhead your replacement plants. Weeds will try to gain a foothold. You'll need to replenish mulch periodically. Even paver patios and walkways will need a good cleaning from time to time.
  • Be patient. Many plants can take a couple of years to establish themselves or spread sufficiently to provide full coverage for your landscape.
Good to Know

Redesigning your landscape is a good opportunity to add outdoor lighting and draw attention to your yard after the sun goes down.