13 Alternatives to a Traditional Grass Lawn

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man digging the garden soil with a spud
Photo credit: ViktorCap/istockphoto

If the many reasons for not having a lawn make sense to you, there are plenty of options for you to explore. Hardscape designs, carved and paved paths, raised garden boxes, rock mulch, and drought-resistant plants and trees are some excellent alternatives to a traditional lawn. These simple fixes draw the eye to the striking design elements and make your home a standout from the curb. The best part about this is once the work is done, there is minimal upkeep and it frees up your time as it fattens your wallet.

Vinca Major
Photo credit: dashtik/istockphoto

There's a sprawling low-maintenance groundcover plant for your grow zone out there, but you need to find out what it is. Groundcover is most interesting placed between large rocks, dry creek rock beds, and undulating with carved-out paths. In high desert climates like parts of Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Montana, and Arizona, this is the way to go and there are amazing free online guides to help you plan.
ornamental grass on side of home
Photo credit: AnnekeDeBlok/istockphoto

Ornamental grasses are fantastic inexpensive swaps to use in your exterior landscape design. The pros are there are many to choose from that grow in different colors and shapes. They are drought-resistant and low-maintenance. Such grasses thrive in nearly every type of soil with little to no fertilizers, and are naturally disease- and pest-resistant, so chemical pesticides are not needed.
flower beds around a house
Photo credit: ozgurcoskun/istockphoto

For color spots, always choose a bed over a pot for the larger scale of framing a yard. Pots demand attention on a much more frequent basis, and the point of all this is to free up your time. Using low-water drip lines, you can have bedded plants that can settle in and grow deeper roots for a healthier plant and which stand out and fill in beautifully over time in a grassless garden. Depending on the terrain of your yard, you can make these beds tiered and shape them with different heights of native plants and textures of rock mulch with pathways and pavers.
edible garden
Photo credit: Volodymyr Kyrylyuk/istockphoto

So says Stan Miklis, owner of Caliper Farms, an agricultural business in Texas that for 45 years has helped people learn to small-scale farm. He says: "Today there is a growing movement to 'eat the lawn.'" Miklis convinces people to plant edible crops in areas once occupied by grass. "Many city ordinances need to be upgraded to recognize that a new look isn't in conflict with neighborhood standards. Bring the farmers market to the front yard, ending food deserts, bringing neighbors together, eliminate pesticides and plan for permaculture planting that will survive time in a xeriscape."
raised flower bed around home
Photo credit: This flower bed is one of the best surprises of the house... by Sara Thompson (CC BY-SA)

Swap out a leaking and broken lawn irrigation system for a raised bed drip line. "There is probably an opportunity to modify the now largely abandoned sprinkler system into a drip system able to provide water for some limited planting areas. A raised garden spot can be provided water with some thoughtful modifications," says Ray. One caveat he suggests: Get multiple bids. "Remember to get more than one bid for this kind of work, as they can vary widely. Or for the DIY type, the sense of accomplishment for this landscape conversion would be tremendous."
close up of stems of Big Bluestem Grass
Photo credit: bkkm/istockphoto

Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping and a board member of the LA Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC-LA) recommends removing turf-grass lawns in favor of native grasses, but not synthetic lawns or gravelscapes, which can increase urban heat, energy bills and amplify flood dangers. "Because native grasses need no toxic chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides to thrive, they clean water on its way to the groundwater table (or ocean). They are also healthier for kiddos and pets. Native grasses provide habitat for native fauna, including birds."
green surface of moss
Photo credit: evgovorov/istockphoto

If you have the right climate, moss, which is native to most states, can look like a lawn without the lawn headaches. Moss needs no fertilizer, little water once established, but it hates being trampled on. Carve a path with flagstone so you can enjoy a faux lawn look.
hand holding mulch with mulch garden bed in background
Photo credit: Mkovalevskaya/istockphoto

Kim Ray of Terravita Landscape & Gardening in Idaho says that the most effective, economical, no-maintenance and attractive alternative to a lawn is rock mulch. "The process of replacing a lawn this way is simply to remove the sod, install high-quality geofabric, and then the decorative rock mulch of your choosing. This type of landscaping would vary in price according to many factors, but the savings you would get over time in terms of mowing, watering, and fertilizing would surely be worth the initial expense."
lavender plant
Photo credit: GitoTrevisan/istockphoto

For many growing zones in the U.S., the herbs thyme and lavender can provide a gorgeous, drought-tolerant border and fill-in pairing for raised bed. The growth pattern of the thyme is perfect next to a path or hardscape as lavender grows fuller and upwards.
perennial garden
Photo credit: Appfind/istockphoto

Another idea is to create a prairie garden, especially using plants that are conducive to wildlife and which will not become invasive nuisance plants. Start with grasses and flowering plants like echinacea (coneflowers), black-eyed Susans, and Shasta daisies. Add as you learn what works best in your planting zone.
hosta and fern shade garden in the rain
Photo credit: Solidago/istockphoto

There are succulents for nearly every planting zone, and their shapes and colors are so interesting, they really can show off the lines of pavers and pathways effortlessly. Ferns can be drought-tolerant or love moisture, so depending on where you are, plant accordingly. They both fill in spaces with shades of green, and more.
hardscape patio
Photo credit: ballycroy/istockphoto

The design and materials for a hardscape can run the gamut, from actual stone tiles to stamped concrete. The key is design and understanding how water flows in the space you intend to hardscape in. Paths have more leeway and can both can be landscaped around their edges, but be water smart in your plant choices so you aren't constantly soaking the entertainment and walkway areas.
woman holding artificial grass in her hand
Photo credit: Beeldbewerking/istockphoto

Artificial grass is better than it used to be. Once it was a telltale oddity but has since been perfected. The materials used now include nylon, polyethylene, and polypropylene. The amount of traffic the lawn will decide which is best. Polyethylene is vibrant and resilient. Nylon is strong, and can take high temperatures. Polypropylene does not have the durability or resilience of the other two.

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