A green, perfectly manicured front lawn has been the icon of American Suburbia for decades. But the high cost of maintenance, from weekly mowing to applying herbicides, has many gardeners wondering, is there a better way? Yes, there is! Introducing, the wonderful world of alternative lawns: groundcovers and wildflowers that are a fun, eco-friendly, and easy alternative to the traditional American lawn.
Why Alternative Lawns?
As pleasing as it is to the eye, the conventional front lawn isn’t suited to many U.S. climates. In fact, most native grasses in the U.S. aren’t suitable for lawns. The high cost of maintaining them is part of the reason why a manicured front lawn became a suburbanite status symbol, starting in the 1950’s.
Problems with traditional lawns include:
- High water needs, especially in summer
- Expensive to maintain, costing $1,000 a year or more
- Labor-intensive, requiring noisy and polluting lawnmowers
- Typically require heavy applications of fertilizer and herbicides, which pollute the watershed and harm native plants and animals
Alternative lawns, on the other hand, require very little maintenance, and look great during drought conditions. Some can even withstand moderate foot traffic, and don’t require any mowing to look neat and tidy. Groundcovers like creeping thyme and speedwell even produce flowers.
The Most Popular Alternative Lawns
With a bit of research, you’ll find that there are dozens of lawn alternatives to choose from. Here are a few of the most popular:
One of the most iconic and beautiful alternative lawns has to be creeping thyme. Growing to only an inch high, this groundcover never needs mowing, and once established, it can grow to fill in any area that has enough sun and good drainage. As a bonus, creeping thyme smells heavenly, releasing a wonderful scent every time you walk across it. It also blooms profusely in spring, turning into a rich carpet of pink. Drought tolerant, and hardy in zones 4-9. Available at HighCountryGardens.com.
Another flowering groundcover, Turkish speedwell is reputed to be the most beautiful alternative lawn of all. Like creeping thyme, this perennial doesn’t require mowing, and fills out empty garden space. It’s fast-growing, and unlike grass, stays green year-round. Turkish speedwell flowers in a beautiful shade of blue in late spring. It can handle brief periods of drought, and prefers afternoon shade in warmer climates. Available at HighCountryGardens.com.
“Mini-meadows” have become a popular lawn alternative lately. Made of multiple species, including wildflowers and native grasses, they look great when left unkempt, and attract pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. Thanks to plants like clover, meadow mixes also help amend the soil, and so require less fertilizer. In addition, the diversity of wildflower meadow lawns gives them seasonal appeal, and reduces the impact of weeds and pests. AmericanMeadows.com offers a great wildflower meadow seed mix specifically for use as an alternative lawn.
Alternative Lawn Grasses
If you still want to keep a nice grassy lawn, but want to cut down on the water and maintenance, consider some of these alternative grasses.
Dog Tuff™ Grass
The perfect tough grass for high-traffic areas, Dog Tuff is a brand-new grass species has it all: deep rooted, drought tolerant, and low growing. In fact, this grass only maxes out at 2-4 inches tall, so it only needs occasional mowing. Available at HighCountryGardens.com.
Legacy Buffalo Grass
Another drought-tolerant alternative to other turf grasses, Legacy is a robust buffalo grass variety developed to mimic the lush green look of traditional lawns without the water or maintenance requirements. In fact, Legacy buffalo grass takes up to 75% less water than Kentucky bluegrass. Available at HighCountryGardens.com.
With alternatives like these, it’s no wonder homeowners are choosing to ditch their traditional lawns!