Sometimes, a turf grass lawn just doesn’t work. Whether it’s the regular maintenance, the aesthetic, or some other factor that bothers you, alternatives to this classic option are plentiful these days.
Each option has some pros and cons and a unique appeal. If you want to customize your lawn to better suit your needs or your house’s first impression, maybe it’s time to dive into some grass alternatives.
A meadow full of gorgeous wildflowers is one of the most attractive choices for a lawn and is arguably the closest to a “plant it and leave it” option. Depending on what flowers you would like to populate your yard with, a wildflower meadow can be as simple as spreading seeds around or as complex as individually planting flowers.
While beautiful, wildflower meadows may conflict with local regulations or homeowners’ association rules. Additionally, wildflowers naturally attract more insects and introduce more pollen into the air, which may be an allergy problem for some people.
Ornamental grasses include plants like blue oat grass, fescue, fountain grass, and muhly grass. These unique plants often grow in explosive, firework, or fountain-like shapes that make them a beautiful addition to a lawn — or even a complete replacement for turf grass.
Most ornamental grasses prefer sun and grow well in most soils. However, they do require regular trimming and watering and cannot handle foot traffic.
Transforming your entire front plot of land into a vegetable garden is a fun choice for smaller lawns, adding both visual appeal and utility. While the actual veggies you plant will vary depending on where you live, popular choices include artichokes, basil, kale, and peppers, which all have dynamic and unusual appearances.
Feel free to add in some local flowers for pops of color and to attract pollinators.
Some people may want to eliminate the effort of plants entirely and adopt the zeroscaping mindset: a yard with few to no plants. Concrete is a potential choice and opens up plenty of options for outdoor activities that require firmer ground.
On the flip side, it introduces several complications. Most notably, pouring concrete takes a significant amount of time, money, and effort. Beyond this, concrete will crack eventually, with more frequency in regions with highly variable temperatures. The heat it absorbs will also be a concern in some areas.
If the idea of having no plants doesn’t appeal to you, xeriscaping might. Though the terms are similar, zeroscaping and xeriscaping are very different. Xeriscaping is a style of landscaping that was originally for areas susceptible to drought. Wood chips are very popular for these yards, thanks to their natural aesthetic and their ability to promote water retention in the soil, saving it for the few actual plants in the yard.
Many people like to add ornamental grasses or a few other showstopping plants to their wood chip lawns. Wood chips do carry some issues: they need yearly top-ups and promote fungal growth. In very dry areas, wood chips may also pose a fire risk.
Another prime lawn alternative in xeriscaping is gravel. Unlike wood chips, gravel doesn’t rot, catch on fire, or attract pests, all while still promoting water retention.
However, gravel tends to shift, increasing the risk of falls. Additionally, the gravel will slowly sink into the ground, requiring regular refreshing. Plus, because xeriscaping is meant for hot, dry regions, the gravel will retain more heat and raise the temperature of the areas around it.
If you’re planning to get rid of your turf lawn and absolutely love blooms and floral scents, creeping thyme may just be the choice for you. This plant is incredibly easy to cultivate and often takes less than a year to fully cover the ground. It's also compatible with almost any climate and needs minimal water to survive.
However, creeping thyme attracts many insects and is prone to issues like root rot. Plus, it is one of the more expensive lawn replacement options.
If cost is a concern, clover is an inexpensive choice that suits almost any climate. It can thrive even in poor soil and will introduce nitrogen into the ground as it grows. Additionally, clover’s dense root structure prevents weeds from popping up among it.
However, clover is a short-lived perennial and may require regular re-seeding. It also is not tough enough to handle lots of foot traffic, so it may not be a great choice for active families or people who like to spend a lot of time in their yard.
Normally, swapping out traditional grass for a mint plant is just asking for disaster, because the plant grows aggressively and will often become invasive. Corsican mint, however, is much more difficult to grow than other varieties, and this feature has pros and cons.
In most regions, you won’t have to worry about this cute herb taking over the entire garden, but it can also be difficult to coax it to replace large lawns. Corsican mint also isn’t suitable for USDA hardiness zones below 7 because it can’t handle the cooler temps.
Households with pest problems may prefer Corsican mint lawns, as the plant can repel many insects and rodents.
One of the best reasons to put in artificial grass is that it requires very little maintenance. After prepping the space and laying it down, you’ll have a beautiful, verdant lawn for years to come — all without worrying about mowing or watering.
However, many types of artificial grass contain dangerous chemicals that can leak into the ground or enter public sewage systems. Fake grass is also a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. Plus, artificial grass can absorb significantly more heat than normal grass, reaching temps of over 120 F on a 98 F day.