Ah, spring! The sun is shining, the weather is warmer and the lawnmowers are humming. It’s part of the American dream – the big, grassy lawn. As pretty as they are, grass lawns are thirsty, needy things that drink up staggering amounts of water and require extensive effort to maintain in a healthy state. Fortunately, there are good solutions that offer a far more sustainable, and equally attractive and usable yard space. It’s easy to satisfy your green thumb and stay sustainable.Go lawn free
Instead of an expanse of greenery, consider using stone walkways and paths accented with permeable surfaces like gravel dotted with planters to house your drought-tolerant plants and shrubs. Surround the plants with mulch, add low walls and benches for architectural interest and you’ll have a yard that is not only beautiful, but that requires very little work and is perfect for outdoor dining.
OK, we realize that not everyone wants to go completely lawn free. Maybe you prefer the aesthetic of a green yard, or you live in an area that gets plenty of rainfall, or you have children or pets who want to play in the yard. Whatever the reason, grass isn’t the only option, there are plenty of alternative ground covers out there. So, just why is giving up the grass so important? Well, according to the EPA:
- Twenty million acres are planted in residential lawns
- Depending on the city, 30 to 60 percent of urban fresh water is used to water lawns
- Sixty-seven million pounds of synthetic pesticides are applied to U.S. lawns
- More than $5 billion are spent on fossil fuel-derived fertilizers for U.S. lawns
Alterative # 1 – Clover:
If you want a surface you can walk on, think clover. Clover grows quickly, easily chokes out weeds, and actually enriches the soil. It’s low maintenance, requiring little water and less mowing, plus requires no fertilizers and stays green even in the heat of summer. Though it’s not quite as sturdy as grass and is not suitable for dog runs or major playing surfaces, it will stand up to regular foot traffic. So what’s the downside of clover? It blooms pretty white flowers that attract bees. If bees are a problem, you can mow sections to prevent blooming (though that will also prevent self-germination) or you can plant one of the lower-growing varieties of microclover.
Alternative #2 – Ground Cover:
Creeping ground covers come in a huge variety and include some that will handle fairly heavy foot traffic. Plants like Eleocharis Radicans, Herniaria Glabra, Thymus Serpyllum Elfin, and Paronychia Kapela are all tough enough to handle regular walking, and they’re all drought-tolerant plants. If you need something that will stand up to regular traffic and handle natural moisture, try Leptinella Gruveri.
Alternative #3 – Moss:
Ideal for small spaces and shady areas, moss makes a pretty, dainty looking lawn alternative. There are several species, offering a variety of different textures and appearances, but look at the Sagina Subulata varieties of Scotch and Irish moss for the most common ground covers . Plant moss early in spring and once it’s established in a naturally moist environment, it will rarely need additional water. Even better, moss will grow well even in less than ideal soils like clay or compacted soil. It will handle occasional traffic, but putting in stepping stones or a pathway is ideal to preserve the lushest appearance.
ALTERNATIVE #4 – Meadow:
Another choice when it comes to lawn alternatives is a meadow. If you’ve got the space, select indigenous plants, edge the space with taller varieties and keep the center of the meadow low-growing and tough. Make sure to add some beautiful flower varieties so you have a cutting garden and some areas tough enough to withstand walking and you’ll have a beautiful, sustainable lawn alternative that also supports local wildlife, including birds and butterflies!