Embracing a Greener Vision: Exploring Alternatives to Traditional Lawns

Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Sep 20
8 min read
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butterfly on a clover lawn
Chelsea Hafer Written By Chelsea Hafer

Picture a lush, green expanse stretching out before you, the quintessential lawn that has long been a symbol of suburban living. While the traditional lawn has its charm, there's a growing movement towards exploring alternatives that not only reduce water consumption, but also create vibrant, unique, and sustainable outdoor spaces. As the world becomes more attuned to environmental concerns, it's time to consider the many benefits of stepping away from the conventional and embracing alternative lawn options. Whether you're motivated by reducing water use, enhancing biodiversity, or simply seeking a fresh approach to landscaping, the possibilities are both exciting and environmentally responsible.

Why Consider Alternatives?

The allure of a traditional lawn often comes with hidden costs. Maintaining that perfect green requires copious amounts of water, fertilizers, and pesticides, contributing to environmental strain and escalating bills. Embracing alternative lawn options addresses these concerns while offering a host of additional advantages. Reduced water usage, enhanced aesthetics, and decreased maintenance demands are just a few reasons why alternatives like native grasses, wildflowers, and clovers are gaining traction. While ground covers are not always used in the same way as lawn grass, they provide an attractive and pollinator friendly way to add a sense of dimension to your yard. Check out some of our favorite flowering ground covers below!

Another important benefit of lawn alternatives is that they offer a myriad of benefits to pollinators, playing a crucial role in nurturing and sustaining these vital creatures. Unlike traditional lawns that often lack biodiversity and provide limited forage options, alternative landscapes are composed of native plants, ornamental grasses, and ground covers to create vibrant habitats that attract and support pollinators. Due to habitat destruction, the overuse of pesticides, and other stress factors, pollinators are relying on a diverse landscape more than ever for survival. These diverse plantings offer a rich variety of nectar and pollen sources, ensuring a continuous and abundant food supply throughout the growing season. Additionally, alternative landscapes reduce the need for chemical pesticides and herbicides, creating safer environments for pollinators and preventing the disruption of their delicate ecosystems. By embracing lawn alternatives that cater to pollinators' needs, we contribute to the preservation of these essential species, fostering their well-being and playing a vital role in maintaining the health of our ecosystems.

Exploring Alternative Lawn Products

If you're ready to break free from the traditional green carpet, consider these alternative lawn options that cater to your preferences and local climate. While we do not carry the majority of the below mentioned recommendations, you can often find good sources for alternative lawn seeds from your local extension representatives. However, we do encourage the use of clovers and wildflowers for the many benefits of a diverse landscape already mentioned.

Native Plantscapes

Design your outdoor space with native plants that are well adapted to your region's climate. This not only reduces water needs but also provides refuge for local wildlife and promotes biodiversity.

  • Green-and-Gold: Native to North America, Green-and-Gold is a woodland ground cover that boasts yellow daisy-like blossoms and thrives in partial to medium shade. Its evergreen leaves and attractive blooms make it a charming addition to shaded areas.
  • Buffalo Grass: Buffalo grass is a warm-season native grass that requires minimal water and maintenance. It has a low, spreading growth habit and is drought-tolerant, making it an excellent choice for regions with hot and dry climates.
  • Creeping Oregon Grape: Creeping Oregon grape is a native ground cover with holly-like leaves and yellow flowers. It's well-suited for shady areas and provides year-round beauty.
  • California Lilac: California lilac is a drought-tolerant shrub that produces clusters of vibrant blue flowers. It can be used as a low-growing ground cover or as part of a mixed landscape.
  • Prairie Dropseed: Prairie dropseed is a native grass known for its fine-textured foliage and airy seed heads. It's a great choice for adding movement and texture to your landscape.

Ground Covers

Low-growing ground covers like creeping thyme or sedum offer texture, color, and resilience. They require minimal maintenance and create an inviting visual appeal.

  • Moss: For those with shady backyards, moss offers a year-round green landscape that requires minimal maintenance. Moss lawns remain lush without the need for fertilizing or mowing, and they lend a soft, carpet-like texture. Moss even acts as a natural fertilizer, enriching the soil. To transplant moss, prepare the soil by moistening and then lay the moss in place, keeping the area damp for several weeks.
  • Blue Star Creeper: Standing at a mere 4 inches tall, Blue Star Creeper is a robust ground cover perfect for a no-mow lawn. Its tiny green leaves give way to pale blue star-shaped flowers that bloom from spring through late summer. The plant spreads through runners, forming a dense blanket that's sturdy enough to withstand foot traffic. Blue Star Creeper thrives in full sun and partial shade, offering both aesthetics and resilience.
  • Corsican Mint: Corsican Mint is a fragrant, stepable ground cover that flourishes in sun or shade, and in dry or moist conditions. Its tiny leaves yield dainty white blooms in the spring and summer, making it a versatile addition to bulb garden beds or between stepping stones.
  • Creeping Wire Vine: Creeping Wire Vine, also known as Muehlenbeckia or Matted Lignum, is a tough ground cover that spreads rapidly through wiry stems. Its glossy green leaves and white flowers create an appealing landscape. This ground cover grows well in sunny or partially shaded locations and adapts to various soil types.
  • Barren Strawberry: Barren Strawberry is an ornamental ground cover that produces glossy foliage and bright yellow spring flowers. It spreads through runner-like rhizomes, creating a dense and attractive mat that's ideal for steep banks.
  • Creeping Thyme: Creeping Thyme releases a delightful herby fragrance when walked upon, making it a charming choice for foot traffic. Its pink blossoms and adaptability to various soil types create a versatile and aromatic landscape.

Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses introduce movement and grace to your landscape. They thrive in a variety of climates and require less water and care compared to traditional grass lawns.

  • Fescue: Fine fescue is a drought-tolerant grass that forms a lush green carpet, requires minimal mowing, and inhibits weed growth. It offers a sustainable alternative to traditional high-resource lawns.
  • Feather Reed Grass: Feather reed grass is a versatile ornamental grass with upright growth and feathery flower plumes. It's well-suited for many different landscapes and adds a graceful touch.
  • Fountain Grass: Fountain grasses are known for their arching, fountain-like growth habit and fluffy flower heads. Varieties like 'Hameln' and 'Little Bunny' are compact and work well in smaller spaces.
  • Japanese Forest Grass: Japanese forest grass forms cascading mounds of gracefully arching foliage. It's ideal for shaded areas and brings a touch of elegance to the landscape.
  • Switchgrass: Switchgrass is a native grass with vertical growth and airy flower panicles. It's available in various heights and colors, making it a versatile choice for different landscapes.

Clover Lawns

Clover is a natural nitrogen-fixer that enriches the soil and requires little water. Its soft texture and small white flowers offer a charming alternative to conventional grass. Clover is an ideal turfgrass substitute that requires minimal mowing and maintains its green hue throughout the season. For a lawn replacement that's walkable and soft, explore miniature lawn clover, a low-growing Mini White Dutch variety (4-6 inches tall) that crowds out weeds. The parent of this miniature version, White Dutch Clover, is a common heirloom variety. White Dutch is what most people think of as lawn clover. Chances are, at some point you have poked around one looking for a four leaf clover. This variety can get up to 6-8 inches without regular mowing.

Local Resources for Sustainable Landscaping

For those seeking guidance and inspiration, resources like the LocalScapes website provide valuable information on reducing water usage and creating enjoyable outdoor spaces. This initiative promotes responsible landscaping practices tailored to those living in drought prone climates, helping you make informed choices that align with your environmental goals.

Transitioning from a traditional lawn to an alternative landscape is a conscious step toward harmonizing with nature and conserving resources. Whether you're drawn to native plants, ornamental grasses, or creative ground covers, there's an alternative that suits your style and contributes to a more sustainable future. By embracing these alternatives, you're not just transforming your outdoor space—you're nurturing a thriving ecosystem and contributing to the broader effort of caring for our planet.

Chelsea Hafer, True Leaf Market Writer

Chelsea is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and loves getting her hands dirty and watching things grow! She graduated from Georgetown University in 2022 with a degree in Environmental Justice and now resides in Park City, Utah, where she works as a ski instructor. Her love for nature extends to gardening and hiking, and she has gained valuable insights from working on farms in Italy, Hawaii, and Mexico, learning various sustainable agriculture techniques like permaculture and Korean Natural Farming.

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