Maybe you have decided that you are tired of burning dead dinosaurs to run a lawn mower every week. Maybe your concerned whether it is safe to have little Timmy or Muffin running through a quarter of an acre of Scott’s weed and feed.
Or maybe you are starting to question why the hell am spending so much time and money to make my front yard look like the outfield of Wrigley field?
Whatever the reason, you have become open to the possibility that there may be a different way for you to cover the ground of your yard. You’ve decided to replace your lawn with something.
So what are some of the possibilities?
Replace your lawn with a ground cover
You are probably already familiar with these. These are plants which spread across the ground but do not grow tall, so no cutting is required. Once they are established areas planted they need little to no maintenance.
Ground covers are usually chosen for their texture and how well they spread and keep out the weeds. They can enhance the soil by acting as a living mulch which help to moderate it’s temperatures, as well as add organic matter, etc.
Ground covers are usually planted as a single species. They can however be alternated in different areas of the yard. This can help to create visual interest to your yard. It may create a zone where the two ground covers will duke it out and you will have to maintain the peace or they will create a tangled mess.
Sure a game of Soccer may be a bit hard to play in most ground covers, but there are several that can handle more traffic then you might think.
During the first year, new plantings of any ground cover will require weeding and mulching. Once they are established though, they need little care.
Ground covers will usually need a barrier to keep them from spreading beyond where you planted them. Steel, brick, or other lawn edging will usually work. You may need to trim it with a weed whacker once or twice a season to keep it in bounds.
There are many different types of ground covers. Here are a couple notable ones that may work well as lawn replacements:
- Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) – This summer long flowering plant grows about 3 inches tall and sports blue flowers all summer long. It supposedly tolerates quite a bit of traffic. I plan on giving it a try in an area next Spring. It is hardy to zones 5 – 9. It likes full sun, but can tolerate a partly shaded spot.
- Dichondra (Dichondra micrantha) – This one is for those of you in warmer regions then me. Dichondra grows in zones 8-10, and I have NO experience with it, but I have heard many positive accounts of it’s use as a lawn alternative in parts of California.
Supplement or replace your lawn with Dutch white clover
(Trifolium repens, Zones 4-8)
Clovers used to be added to turf mixes for it’s self-fertilizing talents until the weed killer 2,4-D was introduced; after that because 2,4-D killed it, it was labeled a weed.
Compared to common grasses, it tolerates worse soil, more shade, and requires much less water. When grown alone, Clover is an informal cheap, easy-care lawn. You can mow it occasionally to kept it from getting too tall or to remove the browning flowers.
Clover does have a few downsides. Clover can definitely take foot traffic but is NOT a good lawn for active dogs or sports. Rough traffic will make it look rough. Also clover flowers attract bees. So running barefoot through it may be out. There is a selection of white clover called Micro Clover that has smaller leaves and less flowers then normal clover. It is less likely to attract bees. Click Here for more info on Micro Clover.
Another use of clover is to add it to a more traditional lawn mix like in the good old days. It does not go dormant in the hot dry summers like most cool season grasses. It helps make the lawn softer and greener in the summer when the grass is dormant. White clover can be a bit aggressive in the turf and out compete it. Some sources recommend using Strawberry Clover (Trifolium Fragiferum – Hardy in zones 3-9) or Micro clover instead.
Most clover growers will mow occasionally to keep the height down. The more you mow the more you can mimic the look of a lawn. Most people will at least mow once in summer to remove brown flowers and encourage it to rebloom.
Replace your lawn with a Meadow
Meadows are a mix of wildflowers, low-growing perennials and native or ornamental grasses. Meadows are similar to prairies but are shorter in height and usually have much less of number of different kinds of plants. They also often contain non native plants as well as natives. Most meadows want full sun, but some plants will do fine in a light shade.
In lower growing meadows, the plants grow up to two or three feet. During the summer, the flowers put on a show. In fall, the grasses take over center stage and send up their seed heads and turn shades of copper and bronze with the first frosts.
Meadow are usually established by seed. They require some careful preparation to be sure that they don’t become full of weeds, but once established require very little care. Don’t buy those meadow in a can mixes you see at stores in the Spring. They are usually not worth the box they are in.
Instead buy from a native plant nursery in your area which uses native plants that work well for your climate. Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery are two good ones. Prairie Nursery has mixes specific to growing conditions like dry, medium, or moist meadow mixes.
Replace your lawn with a Lawn?
Perhaps you like the idea of giving up mowing every week. Maybe you like the idea of telling Scott with his annoying “Feed it!” to “Shove it!” Maybe though, your conformist brainwashed mind can’t envision a world without a green grass in it?
If that’s the case there are native and more environmentally friendly versions of turf. Which ones are best for your yard really depends upon your climate and soil type. Some of these include:
- Buffalo grass
- Blue Gramma grass
- Fine Fescues
- Artificial turf (although I don’t know if I’d call this environmentally friendly)
How about a lawn that you can mow once a month and don’t have to fertilize or water. That’s what several low maintenance Fescue mixes promise. Two ones worth mentioning are Prairie Nursery’s No Mow Mix and Prairie Moon’s Eco Grass.
There are lots of other grass mixes depending upon your region. For instance in Texas, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center recommends a mix of native grasses from that region.
Trying a now mow mix
I decided to give the No Mow Mix a try in my pain in the neck to mow grass path.
The first thing I did was kill the existing grass by spraying it with Round up twice separated by a couple of weeks. Then I mowed it several times on the lowest setting on my lawn mower. The final few times with a dethatching blade to expose soil for the seed.
Here is how the grass looked a few weeks after it germinates. I seeded at the suggested rate of 5 lbs per 1,000 square feet. I think it is a bit sparse and will over seed it again in the spring to help thicken it up.
Next year I plan to mow it once a month at most to a height of 3.5 inches after it flowers in the summer. I will post a review of how it goes next year.