Every homeowner dreams of having a yard filled with lush, perfect green grass. But if you do your own landscaping, it doesn’t take long to realize that it takes a lot of time, work and money to achieve lawn perfection.
You have to water, fertilize, mow, weed, trim, pinch, aerate… the list goes on. And if you slack off on your gardening, your lawn will quickly take on that “abandoned” status—requiring even more work to bring it back to life.
To help reduce the weekly lawn care burden, many homeowners are abandoning lawns altogether – opting for more maintenance-friendly options. Thinking of switching yourself? Here’s what you need to know about the alternatives to a traditional lawn.
What are the best grass alternatives?
If you’re ready to put away the lawnmower for good, here are seven great options for replacing your lawn—in no particular order:
- Clover: This low-growing plant has had a checkered history when it comes to lawns. In fact, up until the 1950s, clover was included in many grass seed mixes because of its ability to add nitrogen to the soil. But in recent years, many have considered it an unwanted weed. However, for those interested in a low-maintenance grass option, clover can be an excellent option. It is cheap, easy to plant and stays green without watering. New varieties like “microclover” can be grown without worrying about the tiny white flowers. And because it doesn’t grow very tall, a clover lawn only needs mowing a few times a year.
- Moss: Using moss as a ground cover has long been a staple in Japanese gardens. Although it is a less common sight in the rest of the world, moss has a number of properties that make it a good 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 must have live moss installed (it cannot be planted as grass seed). This may require a significant investment upfront, but it can offer years of maintenance-free enjoyment afterward. If you are interested in a moss lawn, talk to a landscape architect who can recommend the right species for your specific garden and climate conditions.
- Ornamental grass: Tall fountain grasses are an excellent traditional grass substitute for areas of your yard that do not receive a lot of foot traffic. They come in a variety of species, sizes and colors, making it easy to find ornamental grasses that match your unique landscape style. Once planted, they require almost no maintenance and are drought tolerant – an added bonus for dry climates.
- Gravel: If you want to get rid of gardening altogether, it’s hard to beat gravel landscaping. Just install a landscape fabric under 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 landscapes will provide a wealth of inspiration to get the creative ideas flowing.
- Artificial grass: Want the perfect lawn look without all the work? Consider installing an artificial grass lawn. While fake grass was once reserved for sports arenas and putting greens, it has been slowly making its way into residential landscapes for years now. One reason for this change is that advances in manufacturing have made artificial grass more realistic. Of course, one of the biggest advantages of an artificial grass lawn is that you can say goodbye to mowing. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely maintenance-free. It requires the occasional rake, along with the application of infill (a product used to weigh down the lawn 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 lawn.
- Wild flowers: For an extra pop of color, turn the dull green grass into a meadow of wildflowers. This grass alternative is not only an attractive option – it is also cheap 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 lawn is established, it only needs mowing about once a year.
- Ground cover plants: There are plenty of low-growing plants that provide good grass alternatives. It includes pretty much anything with “creeping” in its name, like creeping thyme, creeping jenny, creeping juniper, and creeping charlie. Each of these ground cover plants spreads quickly and requires very little maintenance. Do your research ahead of time 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 considering replacing your lawn, timing can be important. Of course, if you choose a non-living option such as gravel or artificial grass, 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 the best option because it gives your new plants more time to establish before being exposed to freezing temperatures.
How do I remove my existing grass?
Are you ready to switch? Here are some ways to get rid of an existing lawn:
- Start digging. Use a flat spade to slide under the grass and pull it up by the roots.
- Use a turf 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 mat 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 to be replaced.
- Try mulching. This process involves covering your soil with a layer of compostable material, such as newspaper or cardboard, and then adding compost and compost on top. Covering sheets takes several months, so it is 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 start with rich, nutrient-dense soil.
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