The traditional look of turfgrass lawns is being challenged by DIY gardeners who want easier and more environmentally-friendly options. Grass lawns may look and feel nice, but they're a strain on our wallets, our time, and the environment. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to enjoy our front and backyard spaces without grass. Check out these 10 alternative lawn styles for inspiration on how to use that space in a more interesting, and eco-friendly way.
1. Ground Cover
You can still have a nice lawn to walk, or play on by growing ground cover in lieu of grass. Various mosses, creeping thyme, and clover are all popular alternatives to grass that sprawl over an area quickly, and stay low to the ground. Some can be even be cut with the mower to keep things looking neat and tidy, and many will grow faster and easier than grass, especially in tough areas.
They don’t need near as much upkeep, while still covering your yard with greenery that can handle foot traffic and child’s play. Moss adds a lush, vibrant green carpet, whereas clover and thyme come in different colors, and may even display small flowers.
Turning your yard into a wildflower garden is great if you are okay with letting things go a little wild. It’s not for everyone, or every space, but a mix of native wildflowers can cover an area in just one season, provide sanctuary and food for birds and pollinators, while looking beautiful, to boot. For best results, mimic your natural surroundings by planting a mix of native grasses and perennial flowers.
Meadows, prairies, and woodlands will all have certain species that thrive in their specific conditions, so stick to those plants when starting yours up. Full-sun wildflower gardens may be more colorful, but shaded areas can be forest-like wonderlands with ferns, shrubs, and shade wildflower combinations.
Hardscape elements like stone features, patios, and extended driveways can be designed to take over your whole yard without the need for any grass or plant-life at all. Many households still want areas for seating or play, but don’t have the time to maintain a yard with grass or plant life.
Integrated patios and driveways can add extra space for entertaining, while mulched areas, rubber pavers, or even driveways are great for kids to play on. Add fire-pits, fountains, or pergolas for extra fun and engagement to the space. A few well-placed planters can provide some vital foliage.
A xeriscape lawn is a great alternative in climates that experience extreme heat and/ or drought. This design incorporates drought-tolerant and drought-resistant plants like aloe, cacti, and succulents - anything that thrives on very little water. They are usually interspersed with hardscapes like patio stones, gravel, or mulch, which gives a modern, contemporary look to your space.
It’s a very eco-friendly choice, especially where water conservation is important, but good xeriscape design can also look stunning. You’ll wow neighbors, save money on water bills, and help out the planet at the same time.
Many homeowners are choosing to fill their yards, especially the front, with native perennials instead of grass. This is a great option if you don’t use your front yard, and want something that looks nice without the need for extra care. While it’s a bit costly at the start, especially if you pay someone to design it, this idea is meant to be low-maintenance once the plants are established.
In the end, you’ll save hundreds on what you’d normally spend maintaining grass a year: no more fertilizer, gas for the lawnmower, or extraneous water bills.
Another popular trend is to ditch the grass for a vegetable garden. Why not use soil to grow things you can actually eat? Vegetable or" kitchen" gardens used to be common-place, but along the way, turfgrass became the status quo. Food shortages are still an issue in many places, and growing your own organic fruits and veggies is a healthy choice for any family.
Veggie gardens will still need regular care and watering, but you’ll save on grocery bills, and can incorporate eco-friendly watering systems like rain barrels or drip irrigation. Some homeowner’s associations ban front-yard vegetable gardens (sadly), so check with them first.
The rain garden is similar to a perennial garden, but with an added focus on retaining rain run-off from rooftops and driveways. A rain garden is made by digging a fairly deep depression into the ground and filling it with specific native plants that help soak up the rainfall, with any remainder absorbed back into groundwater systems and aquifers.
Rain gardens can save 30 percent of water runoff from hitting the sewers, while adding an attractive space for native plants to flourish. Contact your local conservation authority as they should have some great resources, including info on local subsidies or rebate programs.
Artificial turf has come a long way and can be useful if you want a place for the kids to play, or a lawn that “looks” green. There is very little maintenance needed, just the cost upfront which can be around $5-$20 per square foot, depending on the type, and whether you install it yourself.
The benefits are: no watering, mowing, maintenance, or grass stains. The cons are that this is a synthetic product that gets hot, and isn’t always recyclable. Look for eco-friendly options made from sustainable materials; for certain landscapes, using artificial turf is still a “greener” option than turfgrass.
A pond will use 50 percent less water than a grass lawn of the same size. Adding a waterfall can help raise that number to 70 percent. The other benefit, is that healthy ponds can add a biodiverse ecosystem to your yard. Fish, birds, pollinators, and microscopic organisms thrive around a body of water, and can be a healthy addition to your landscape.
There is some maintenance needed to keep a pond free from bad algae and bacteria, however, once you've completed the challenging installation, the labor is not as intensive as a lawn, and is pesticide-free. The added visual appeal can make the cost worth it, since they increase the value of your home.
One of the best alternatives to grass is…grass! The variety normally found on lawns is a kind of non-native turfgrass, but choosing native, drought-tolerant, low, or “no-mow” grasses won’t require mowing, fertilizer, or extra watering. Creeping red fescue, for example, is beautiful left un-mown, and displays illustrious, low-mound, silky strands.
There are other fescue blends that will stay lower to the ground and are good for foot-traffic. Ornamental grasses are drought-tolerant and maintenance-free options, as well. You can easily blend a no-mow fescue or other ground cover with ornamental varieties to create a stunning, alternative grass display.
Americans love their lawns, and while they can look beautiful, the amount of water and maintenance required to keep them healthy is hard to justify in this day and age. With so many options available, these alternative styles prove that you can be a steward of the environment, save some cash, and still have a beautiful lawn to be proud of at the end of the day.
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