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5 Alternatives to Grass Lawns

Consider using a substitute for grass lawn in your yard, and never mow again.

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Lawns make up more than an estimated 63 thousand square miles in the US, three times that of any irrigated crop. It’s no surprise that they require an amazing amount of water and mowing to maintain.

The mowing creates toxic emissions, and in some areas of the country, water’s in dangerously short supply. If you want to be more eco-friendly—and eliminate the hours of upkeep a manicured lawn requires—replace some of that grass with a maintenance-free alternative that can also save you money in the long run.

Before investing in natural lawn alternatives, consult with a master gardener, professional landscape artist, or your local Cooperative Extension Office as to what grows well in your area. Consider the agricultural zone you live in, the type of soil you have, the average amount of rainfall, and the amount of sun the area’s exposed to.


Groundcovers are can be excellent solution; they spread naturally and don’t grow tall enough to require mowing. They work well in hard-to-mow areas like embankments along roads and river frontage and narrow strips along the driveway.

You’ll need to weed and mulch your groundcover until it’s well established, but if you choose a perennial variety, it will soon choke out the weeds. Use an edge barrier to keep the groundcover from escaping the desired area.

Avoid using invasive species like periwinkles, Japanese spurge, and English ivy, that grow aggressively beyond their desired confines.

Preferred groundcovers include:

  • Creeping Jenny
  • Creeping herbs like thyme and oregano
  • Allegheny spurge
  • Creeping phlox
  • Canby’s mountain lover

Ornamental Grasses

Where you want a little added height and a hint of color, consider ornamental grasses. They’re drought-resistant, grow in moist soil, require little maintenance, and don’t spread like groundcovers.

Mix different varieties to create a stunning show. Since you can’t walk through ornamental grasses, they make the perfect border along a walkway or as the backdrop against a porch or outbuilding.

Varieties of ornamental grasses to consider:

  • Native switchgrass
  • Little bluestem
  • Bottlebrush grass
  • Yellow Indian grass
  • Pennsylvania sedge

Evergreen Moss

For a shady location, consider moss. It’s easy to plant and spreads quickly. Because moss lacks roots, it takes in moisture from dew and surface water through its leaves, requiring very little water otherwise. Moss withstands some foot traffic, which makes it a good choice between flagstones in a walkway, although heavy traffic can damage it.

Any variety of live moss makes a suitable grass replacement.

Perennial Beds

Another downside to turf grass is that it provides no food for pollinators. You can remedy that by planting perennial beds. Since it’s not practical to cover large open spaces with perennials, start with a small area of your yard and get it established before moving on to another area. Choose plants that bloom at different times throughout the year. And to keep the low-maintenance factor in play, choose native species.

Bright flowers add color to the landscape. Mix them with those of varying heights for a showy presentation. Perennials flowers work well on slopes or other hard-to-maintain areas.

Consider these low-maintenance perennials:

  • Ruffled velvet Siberian iris
  • Old-fashioned bleeding heart
  • Daylily
  • Purple coneflower
  • Black-eyed Susan

Rock Garden

Mountainous, rocky regions lend themselves perfectly to groundcover that forms naturally—rocks. If you have a rugged or sloped location or a place where little grows, consider installing a rock garden. By combining rocks already found in the area with native plants, you can provide a beautiful habitat for butterflies, and other pollinators and beneficial insects.

For rock garden ideas, hike in natural places near your home and see what Mother Nature already designed. Choose similar rocks to include in your own garden.