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Inspiring alternatives to traditional lawns

Consider an attractive, environmentally friendly alternative to your lawn.

Lawns are part of the American landscape. It is not visually cluttered and is easy on the eyes. As a playing surface, most grass types can withstand some abuse and are relatively easy on abusers. However, considering all the other options available, it’s safe to say that you have a lot more lawn space than you need. Many of these options are better for the environment and less expensive to maintain.

There are many uses of ground cover in landscapes. This is often used to provide a visual frame around the home. It is attractive and does not interfere with major architectural or landscaping features. It can also be used to cover play or entertainment areas or to decorate walkways. On a smaller scale, they fill the spaces between other larger plants or features in the garden. On a larger scale, they fill the space between windows and provide long views across the building to the neighborhood and beyond.

 When choosing a ground cover method, consider making it as sustainable as possible by choosing locally sourced materials and plants that are well adapted to site conditions, including soil type, available moisture, sun exposure, and fertility.

Use as many permeable surfaces as possible and use flat surfaces to enhance water infiltration and limit runoff from buildings, including rain gardens or dry wells. In areas where there are ordinances restricting what you can do in your front yard, you may need to work within them or work with local authorities to show how your idea could work.

Alternative grass

Although they cannot handle the foot traffic of a typical lawn, low or light mowing lawns and native grasses can provide a similar visual appearance. There are many premium fescue blends in the northern United States that look great even without cutting. It also requires less fertilizer and water. Buffalo grass of southern and central North America is a native grass developed for lawn use. St. Augustine grass is a popular grass native to the southeastern coastal region.

The western United States has several native grasses that perform well as lawns, including seashore bentgrass and blue grama, both native to the Great Plains and Southwest. Across North America, there are sedges that can be used in place of traditional lawns. However, they tend to be more sensitive to foot traffic.

Kitchen garden

Before the invention of the lawn mower, front yard cottage gardens and kitchen gardens were much more common. Growing food and medicinal plants was an essential part of life, and these plants were grown wherever there was space. As food and medicine became more available, kitchen gardens were replaced by more ornamental plants.

Changing attitudes toward design and new concepts have made front yard vegetable gardens more relevant. At the very least, adding vegetables to your front yard has become more feasible.

Hardscape elements

In areas with long dry periods, leaving grass to cover less thirsty ground is very suitable for local characteristics and environment. Here pebbles or stones can be used in a variety of ways. Mixing the colors or textures of stones can produce interesting results. These surfaces also work well with plants adapted to dry areas, such as palo verde, aloes, fall sage and sedum.

If you’re not ready to give up your lawn completely, consider reducing the amount of grass and adding other elements. One option is to create a maze. It is not a maze with no way out, but a meditative path that can be walked by concentrating on only one path, even if it is twisted. This is one way to incorporate a variety of plants with your hardscape.

To put it more simply, it is a good idea to use stepping stones, pavers, or other materials to create a direct path where you can focus on walking, and to use plants that you don’t have to worry about stepping on. This also reduces soil compaction and improves water infiltration. Mulch can also be used as a ground cover. Using mulch alone is very practical and usually gives a barren or unfinished feel. However, it makes an excellent ground cover during planting or is used to fill gaps between and around other landscaping features or plants.

Rain garden

For properties with runoff issues, replacing lawns with rain gardens is a viable option that benefits the environment by treating storm water on site and replenishing the water table. If you have well- draining soil, creating a rain garden is very simple. Depending on the number and type of plants used, they can have a more or less formal or naturalistic look. The main requirement is that the plant must be able to tolerate wet soil for periods of time, with some dry periods in between.

Natural meadow or forest
If your property allows for randomness and has a location that will receive sunlight for at least half a day, you may consider a meadow as an alternative ground cover. A true meadow is a mix of forbs and grasses, flowering herbaceous plants, not grasses that grow together with minimal maintenance. Successful meadow establishment requires proper site preparation to remove all weedy (unwanted) plants and two to three years of monitoring until new meadow plants become established. On a smaller scale, you can create a meadow-like feel by weaving grasses and forbs, but it will require ongoing maintenance to keep it looking great for many years.

Ticks and bugs can be a problem in tall grass and shrubs. It is best to provide a buffer zone of low cover, no more than 6 inches, such as a mowed edge at least 3 feet wide where people can walk or gather. These insects also prefer partially shaded spaces rather than full sunlight, so human traffic should be directed to more open spaces.

If your property is surrounded by forests and shade, it is nearly impossible to grow grass. Here, look for shade-tolerant species such as ferns or spring ephemerals to decorate the ground cover. Pine needles and fallen leaves are also very natural ground cover in woodlands and are usually free.

One caution though: Ticks prefer shady environments like forests, so if ticks are a problem in your area, it’s important to provide a plant-free buffer zone or thick leaf cover around walkways and seating areas.

If the moss grows well, accept it. Moss has a slightly acidic pH and grows best in consistently moist, partially shaded soil. Moss doesn’t like a lot of foot traffic, so if you need to walk frequently, provide stepping stones or other designated pathways.

Another, and perhaps most common, option is to use low-growing plants around your home. Using one or two species maintains a formal feel, while mixing several species of varying heights and colors tends to be informal.

Increasing species diversity and using more native species when planting supports ecological functions by providing food and habitat for insects and reducing the need to water and add chemicals to the garden.

There are many books on plants that can be used as ground covers, and many plants suitable for your location are available from garden centers and nurseries. Look for low-growing species that are native to your area instead of exotic and sometimes invasive species such as Japanese pachysandra, English ivy and periwinkle. Some of my favorite plants include moss phlox, green and gold, creeping juniper, three rows of sedum. Lowland grasses such as prairie drop seed and tufted hair grass.

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360' MoTo
360' MoTo
2023-12-14
Great work! Highly recommended+++
Hunter Vasanth
Hunter Vasanth
2023-12-08
Well serives
anne gorman
anne gorman
2023-11-29
I highly recommend RDK landscaping!
Elisabeth Sageev
Elisabeth Sageev
2023-11-18
Roy and Jay did a super job fixing up a very overgrown yard. They were fast, friendly, and responsive. Thank you!
Nila Kutty
Nila Kutty
2023-11-11
Great work 🔥🔥🔥 Thank you guys

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