Keep Off the Grass: 5 Alternatives to a Traditional Lawn

Grass Alternatives

Photo: lawnshelp.com

Grass. It’s easy to plant, covers most types of terrain, and feels good under bare feet in the summer. It’s also… kind of ordinary.

NASA satellite imagery shows that in America, lawns occupy about fifty thousand square miles, an area roughly the size of New York State. All that green requires many homeowners to shell out “green” for maintenance. That’s because many yards are planted with non-native grass species in need of extensive upkeep, from mowing and fertilizing to weed-killing and watering. In fact, it’s estimated that one-third of all water usage in the U.S. goes toward landscaping.

So if you’re ready to turn your resource-stealing suburban savannah into a low-maintenance oasis filled with color, texture, and fragrance, consider planting one of these five grass alternatives:

 

1. Microclover

Grass Alternatives - Microclover

Microclover Lawn. Photo: ohio.com

For years, grass seed has benefited from the addition of clover, which fertilizes soil by drawing in nitrogen, resulting in a healthier and greener lawn. Microclover, a relatively new variety, makes an ideal companion to grass, in that it’s low-growing and doesn’t flower often (bye-bye, bees), and the shade it provides to the soil reduces water evaporation. Clover may also be used on its own for a non-traditional lawn with no grass at all. For this purpose, choose white, or Dutch, clover. It can stand up to occasional mowing, doesn’t grow tall, tends to crowd out weeds and is virtually impervious to pet urine.

 

2. Fescue Grass

Grass Alternatives - Fescue

Fescue Grass. Photo: brumfieldsodfarm.com

Technically a grass, fescue has one distinct advantage over species traditionally planted in yards—you barely have to mow it. With growth, fescue blades fold over on themselves, creating a lovely sea of green that actually ripples in the wind. For a shorter lawn, mowing once per month is sufficient (normal grass often needs weekly mowing). Fescue is shade- and drought-tolerant and can stay green throughout the entire year. Though it can tend to grow in clumps, a specially engineered mix by High Country Gardens eliminates this issue.

 

3. Creeping Thyme

Grass Alternatives - Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme. Photo: mnn.com

This common herb may be used, not only in the kitchen, but outside of the home as well— to brighten landscaping. Popular varieties worthy of consideration are spicy orange thyme and creeping lemon thyme. Neither usually exceeds four inches in height, and both produce pink blossoms that, when crushed underfoot, emit a wonderful smell. If bare feet will be on the lawn, wooly thyme is recommended for its delightful, soft texture. Hardy and undemanding, thyme varieties grow well even in poor soil, so as it’s well-drained and gets good sun.

 

4.  Corsican Mint

Grass Alternatives - Crosican Mint

Corsican Mint. Photo: loghouseplants.com

The lowest-growing of all mints, mentha requienii prefers dry to moist soil and medium to full sun. It tolerates foot traffic well and when trampled, gives off a pleasant creme de menthe aroma. Corsican mint can even be used to make a tasty peppermint-like tea.

 

5.  Artificial Turf

Grass Alternatives - Artificial Turf

Artificial Turf. Photo: ingrass.com

Turf doesn’t necessitate water, chemicals, or a gas-powered mower; that makes it an unlikely eco-friendly option. If synthetic grass reminds you of those bristly doormats, think again. A number of manufacturers like SYNLawn and ForeverLawn have developed versions that aren’t easy to distinguish from the real thing.

 

For more on lawns, consider:

To Fertilize or Not to Fertilize?
How To: Mow the Lawn Properly
Bob Vila Radio: Spring Lawn Preparation