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Choosing an Alternative Lawn

Updated on December 19, 2011
Sick of this? Photo by GeeSeeBee.
Sick of this? Photo by GeeSeeBee.

Alternative lawns can range from a traditional bluegrass or bermuda grass lawn managed organically, to alternative turf grasses or groundcovers, to a full-scale habitat restoration or permaculture project, with many options in between.

What kind of alternative lawn is best for you?

Here are a few questions to consider:

Alternative Lawns

How do you use your lawn?

Do you maintain your lawn because you need to, or because you feel it is expected? Many families with young children maintain an area of lawn in the front or back as a play area for the children, while others enjoy lawn sports like croquet or bocce, or frequently entertain outdoors. For these families, an organic lawn or alternative turf grass such as zoysia or buffalograss might be the best option.

If you maintain a lawn primarily for decorative reasons, consider replacing your lawn with one or more low growing groundcovers,such as clover, moss, or creeping thyme. Most groundcovers tolerate low to moderate foot traffic and are a decorative (often flowering!) lawn replacement option that, depending on the species, often requires little or no mowing or extra watering, once established. Many groundcovers also grow well between flagstones, making them an excellent choice to add interest to a patio or other area used for entertaining.

For those who love gardening and design (or can afford to have others do it for them), landscaping, permaculture, and habitat restoration are beautiful and environmentally friendly options that can be used as a full lawn replacement or in combination with groundcovers, alternative turf grasses, or organic lawn management. An especially popular choice in these difficult economic times is "edible landscaping" - growing food plants such as vegetables, herbs, fruits, and nuts as ornamentals to add beauty to your yard and save money on your food bills simultaneously.

A beautiful shade garden. Photo by SleepingBear.
A beautiful shade garden. Photo by SleepingBear.

How much sun does your yard receive?

Most grasses are happiest in full sun, so if you have been struggling to maintain a healthy-looking lawn in the shade of trees or shrubs, an alternative lawn may come as a huge relief. Many groundcovers grow quite happily in shade, and there is a growing movement in many areas of the country, particularly the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, towards shade gardens that emphasize naturalistic plantings of shade-loving flowers, shrubs, and understory trees to beautify shady areas. One school of permaculture, known as "edible forest gardening," also emphasizes shade plantings.

If, instead, you get so much sun that it bakes your cool-season lawn grasses to a crisp every summer, consider a heat and drought tolerant warm season grass or groundcover, or convert the area to a xeriscaped desert or grassland garden.

A water-wise xeriscape. Photo by Jeremy Levine Designs.
A water-wise xeriscape. Photo by Jeremy Levine Designs.

How much rain does your yard receive?

In some areas, it is possible to maintain a healthy lawn on natural rainfall, but these areas are few and far between in the United States.

In drier regions, rather than pay expensive water bills (or let your grasses die, if water use restrictions have been put in place by your city or county), choose water-wise groundcovers or warm season turf grasses, or xeriscaping.

If you live in a very wet area, a rain garden or water garden might be a better choice, or a moisture-loving groundcover such as moss.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      nice pic

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      good hub...when i was a kid we rarely thought about ticks even though we lived right next to a woods, we checked for them but did not obsess

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from USA

      Ticks are a pain in the you-know-what, sometimes literally! It's probably not possible to avoid them entirely, but creating wider paths, with lower plants on the edges of the path and taller ones further back, might help.

      Also choose plants that deer dislike, since deer are often the main carriers of ticks, and encourage insect-eating birds to take up residence with nesting habitat, water, and "insectary plants" that attract less annyonig insects, like butterflies and moths:

      I've heard lavender repels ticks, but have never tested it, and unfortunately lavender prefers sunnier spots anyway. It might be worth experimenting with if you have any sunnier patches around the edges however.

      Finally, plant for winter interest so you can enjoy the beauty of your yard in seasons when ticks and other annoying insects are dormant. I don't have much of a tick problem in my yard (though my parents sometimes pull 30 ticks a day off their dog) but I do have a mosquito issue, and I concentrate as much of my outdoor activity in winter, early spring, and fall as possible to enjoy the outdoors without the pests.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      KerryG, that shade garden looks beautiful! One question, though: what should you do about ticks, fleas and chiggers if you allow your house to be surrounded by that kind of shade garden? I live in the Ozarks, and there are woods behind my house. We rarely go out in the woods, anymore, though because picking the ticks off our bodies afterwards is really tedious.

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from USA

      Jerilee, that's all too true. I encourage homeowners to try to change restrictive zoning ordinances in order to permit beautiful and environmentally sound alternatives to traditional lawns.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Good and useful hub! Another factor in choosing an alternative lawn these days is that some home owners associations specifically demand a certain type of lawn, despite the fact that it is high maintenance, costly, and repletes the soil -- St. Augustine is a favorite among builders of such communities in Florida (for example). Some people may need to check to see if they are violating the law of their association.


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