Lawn weed and feed
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Lawn Alternatives and Lawn Care Tips That Will Save You Money

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Lawn weed and feed
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Low-Maintenance Lawns

It’s no secret that lush green lawns are not a friend of the environment. Gas mowers give off emissions. About 30 percent of a household's water use is spent maintaining lawns and gardens. Fertilizers can contaminate ground water. Thankfully, there's a better way. In fact, there are plenty of lawn alternatives that result in a pretty yard with less environmental harm. Read on for our lawn care tips.


Related: Cheap Ways to Add Curb Appeal to Your Home

Using lawn mower
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Limit Turf Grass

One way to use less resources is to use turf grass strategically, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For example, install turf grass in a play area. Try to find low-water grass for your region. If you do keep some grass, adopt low-maintenance habits.


Related: Horror Stories of Lawn Disputes Between Neighbors

Closeup hand of person holding abundance soil for agriculture or planting peach concept.
Mintr/istockphoto

Fertilize Responsibly

Nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers are among the biggest environmental challenges. They harm aquatic ecosystems, contaminate drinking water and produce air pollutants like ammonia and ozone. The EPA recommends:

  • Not using more than the recommended amount.
  • Applying fertilizer on calm days, as wind and rain can move the fertilizer.
  • Filling fertilizer spreaders on hard surfaces like a sidewalk or driveway so it’s easy to clean up spills.

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Grass for pet food
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Use Low-Maintenance Seed

Some grass types, like the popular Kentucky bluegrass, are high maintenance. They require consistent watering, mowing, and fertilizing to stay lush and green. Other seeds need far less. Fescues are low maintenance. Buy the seed alone or as part of a blend designed for your region.

 

In the South: Try bahiagrass, St. Augustine grass, and buffalograss.

In the West and Midwest: Try fescues, ryegrass, and creeping bentgrass. 


lawn mower cutting grass
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Mow High

Don’t go below two inches when mowing the lawn. Slightly longer grass encourages the roots to grow stronger and deeper, which helps the grass survive during droughts and low-water times of year. Aim high, particularly in the hottest summer months, then trim the lawn at a four- or five-inch setting.

Green grass being watered with automatic sprinkler system sunny day
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Get Smart About Watering

We’ve all seen neighbors run sprinklers — even when it’s raining — and let the water run into the sidewalk and the street. Use smart sensors on your automatic timers or irrigation system, which detect when water use is necessary. Another option is hand watering with a hose for those areas that are tough to reach with a sprinkler.

green  grass on a lawn
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Water Only As Needed

Try to break the daily watering habit and use the sprinkler only when needed. You’ll know because when you step on the grass, you’ll still see your footprint several minutes later. Another trick is to put a one-inch-high can (like a tuna can) on your lawn. If it’s full of water after a week, the combination of watering and rain was sufficient. Empty the can the same day each week.

artificial green grass
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Start Small With Lawn Alternatives

Alternative groundcovers might use less groundwater, but they still take time and money to install. There’s no need to rip out your entire lawn in one year, said Dan Shaw, senior ecologist and vegetation specialist at the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. Choose one section at a time and pick a lawn alternative that fits the climate where you live and the lifestyle you lead.

Man taking care of her potted plants at home
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Focus On Native Plants

Find lists of plants native to your region. That’s an easy way to narrow down the choices at the nursery and save money. “Once they get established, the nice thing about native plants is they tend to not need much water or care,” said Laura Rost, Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA Coordinator of Xerces Society. “You can just let them be wild and they'll take care of themselves.” 

front view of flying honey bees in a swarm on green bukeh
Andreas Häuslbetz/istockphoto

Protect Pollinators

Focusing on native species is also a great way to support bees, butterflies, and birds that are native to your region. Even if the area you plant is small, it can really provide a lot of benefit. “And when more people across neighborhoods have habitat within their landscapes, they're essentially creating a matrix of habitat,” Shaw said.

Gardening using spring flowers.
Orthosie/istockphoto

Keep It Wild

Another choice is to leave it as Mother Nature intended — even if it’s a small piece of your land. If you’re concerned the neighbors will think you’re being neglectful, make a sign. “It can really help to just put up a pollinator habitat sign,” Rost suggested. “You can make your own or have your kids design one.” It might inspire your neighbors to leave their yards a little more bee-friendly, too.

small red hot chilli pepper plants
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Share Plants With Neighbors

Plants don’t have to come from expensive nurseries. You can propagate your own plants or share with neighbors. “Once you have mature plants in your landscape, you can separate them into multiple plants,” said Shaw. “It's a really good way to start a garden and then expand your garden over a larger area using the plants that you have.”

A Four Leaf Clover Amongst Green Grass
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Go With Groundcovers

Groundcovers are small plants that grow and spread quickly to—as the name suggests—cover the ground. They are low maintenance and don’t grow tall, so they don’t need mowing. They don’t feel nice underfoot, so you don’t want to use them in your favorite picnic or play space. In hot, dry regions, try lantana or stonecrop succulents. In cooler climates, look for Corsican mint, creeping Jenny, and clover.

Large group of papyrus plants
Supersmario/istockphoto

Opt for Ornamental Grasses

If you weren’t planning to picnic or play catch on the lawn anyway, consider ornamental grasses. In most of the United States, you can use bluestems, zebra grass, blue oat grass, and switch grass.

Private Patio Setup in the Backyard
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Build a Patio Instead

Especially in dry, desert climates, consider making a comfortable seating area on a well-draining bed of sand or gravel instead of thirsty grass and ground coverings. Sand and gravel support desert plants like cacti and wildflowers like desert paintbrush.

Man's Two Hands Planting a Flower in the Soil with Mulch
adamkaz/istockphoto

Utilize Mulch

When people think of mulch, they generally think of wood chips that cover the ground between plants. Mulch can also be sticks, leaves, compost, or anything organic — but the wood chip variety is probably the prettiest ground covering. Mulch helps retain moisture, protect plants, and prevent weeds.

Woman rolling out artificial grass carpet
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Be Careful With Artificial Turf

Artificial lawns look more realistic than ever and require little more than an occasional rinse off. But this type of lawn isn't necessarily the most eco-friendly lawn alternative, since it introduces plastics into the environment. Artificial lawns can also become very hot under the summer sun and have been known to burn feet when pets or little children play on them.