Skip the fertilizer and stop mowing—here are low-maintenance replacements for a grass lawn.
While a green, well-manicured grass lawn is a source of pride for many homeowners, it requires a lot of upkeep—not to mention harsh chemicals, fertilizers, weed killers, and water. If you want to stop spending your weekends mowing and mixing up all-natural homemade weed killers, or you live in a drought-prone area with water restrictions, there are some great alternatives to a grass lawn. To find replacements that are both beautiful and low-maintenance, we consulted the pros at Tilly, an online landscape design company, for their top picks.
The biggest mistake homeowners make when forgoing a grass lawn is not creating clear edges or boundaries, which can look disorganized. “However, there is no reason your lawn has to be a 3-inch field of Kentucky Blue mown weekly and treated with fertilizers and herbicides,” says Blythe Yost, Tilly’s co-founder and head landscape designer. Here are five easy-care alternatives to a grass lawn that are sure to step up your home’s curb appeal.
“Any number of low-growing perennials can stand in for a traditional lawn,” says Yost. To choose the right type of ground cover for your area, keep in mind your hardiness zone, the light conditions in your yard, and the type of soil you have.
One great option is white dwarf clover, known for its dense green leaves and small white flowers. It grows best in partial shade or full sun and “should be seeded initially on moist, well-groomed topsoil,” says Yost. “It might require yearly over-seeding to keep it dense and deter weeds.”
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“Gravel or sand expanses are a great solution for places with little or variable natural rain,” says Yost. “They can provide the same sense of negative space as a classic lawn without chemical requirements.” There’s no mowing or fertilizing required, but there is some (very minimal!) maintenance: “The space should be raked out periodically to keep the surfaces fresh.”
Pro tip: When installing a stone or gravel area, use a geotextile fabric barrier. This will help reduce weed growth and keep your gravel yard, patio, or pathway as low-maintenance as possible.
Creeping thyme is a densely-growing evergreen that’s hardy in zones 4 through 9. Not only will you never have to mow creeping thyme, but it’s also deer-resistant, thanks to its minty scent. Creeping thyme thrives in moist (but not wet) soil, and it produces pretty purple flowers to add a bit of color to your yard.
Another hardy ground cover option that can survive some trampling, creeping mazus is an attractive grass alternative for small areas, such as in between stepping stones or a small patio area. It grows just 2 inches high (so no mowing required!) and can spread up to 24 inches within the first two years. Plant this ground cover in sun or partial shade and it will grow into a lush mat with white flowers that bloom in late spring.
Want to mow the lawn only once or twice a year? It’s actually possible with no-mow hard fescue grass. While fescue is often included in typical lawn mix, opting for an all-fescue lawn won’t require chemical fertilizers or weed killers—it’s so densely growing, it naturally chokes out weeds. Yost says it also requires little to no watering, making it an ideal alternative for those who want to reduce the amount of water their household uses.