Grass. It might seem like a boring topic, but by the end of reading this I think you might be grabbing your shovel and ready for a lawn makeover.
We’re not only going to get into why grass is terrible for the environment and takes too much time and money to maintain, but also some sustainable, easy, and beautiful lawn alternatives!
Why do we even have lawns?
The grass lawn started as a status symbol cultivated by European aristocracy. Only the elite could use their land for something other than growing food, and a large number of servants were needed to cut and keep the lawn manicured, so a trim, grass lawn was a display of considerable wealth. However with the invention of mechanical mowers a lawn could now be achieved without servants and this status symbol became desired by all and a suburban staple.
For many lawns are just “normal” and we haven’t thought to question their existence, and unfortunately people also feel neighborhood peer pressure to maintain a groomed lawn.
Grass isn’t “Green”
Grass is unsustainable for many reasons:
- Turf grass doesn’t provide a suitable habitat or food for many insects and creatures, negatively impacting biodiversity.
- 1 hour of lawn-mowing pollutes as much as a 100-mile (160km) car trip.
- In the US lawns use 9 billion gallons of water every day.
- Watering lawns in dry climates can account for up to 60% of a household’s water use.
- Lawns emit nitrous oxide (N2O) – one gram is 298x worse than the same CO2 emission.
- In American 78 million pounds of pesticides are used on lawns each year.
- Fertilizer runoff can enter water systems creating algae blooms which turn into aquatic “deadzones”
And if that’s not enough to sway you from ditching the grass lawn…
How about the personal impact?
- According to the EPA, exhaust from gas-powered lawn equipment can be carcinogenic.
- Fertilizer and pesticides can be particularly harmful to the health of children and pets.
- Lawn mowers are loud enough to damage your hearing.
- Americans with an average lawn size spend anywhere from 7 – 48 days of their life just mowing grass.
- Plus ditching grass can save both money and time, watering and mowing less or not at all!
Fortunately there are a bunch of alternatives to a turf grass lawn which are not only more sustainable and healthy, but some are also downright beautiful!
(please note: some affiliate links are used in this list)
This seems to be a popular option for people who want a similar look to a grass lawn. It is drought-tolerant and needs little watering, remains green longer than grass, requires no fertilizer, pesticides or mowing (although you can occasionally mow it if you want to keep it short). Micro clover can grow in poor soil and actually improves and naturally fertilizes the soil through nitrogen-fixation.
Clover grows very densely so it crowds out and prevents weeds (hooray for less weeding 🙌) and if you’re a dog owner this is also a good one to look into as it doesn’t get those ugly dead patches from urine!
Bee Turf is a blend of clovers and low wildflowers developed by West Coast Seeds to reduce maintenance costs and provide a healthy habitat for pollinators. Bee Turf can be trimmed monthly for a shorter, more manicured looking lawn, or can also be grown for a flowered pasture look.
This is what we’re replacing our backyard grass with this spring and I honestly can’t wait! (I’ll post an update about how it works out!
Unlike turf grass, native plants are perfectly suited to thrive in your yard and incredibly valuable for biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. They tend to be more drought-resistant, grow deeper roots which prevent erosion, and generally don’t require much maintenance.
Which grasses and plants to choose will of course depend on where you live, so start by researching native plants in your area. If you’re in the US, Native Plant Finder should be a helpful tool and starting point, and you can often find local native plant groups or resources specific to your area.
A bright, softly-swaying wildflower meadow seems like the stuff of dreams… but you could have one right in your yard!
There are lots of wildflower blends designed for lawn, West Coast Seeds has a beautiful mix and Wildflower Farm has a bunch of meadow blends for different soils or purposes. Or look for local seed suppliers who might have native wildflower options.
One important note though: don’t just use a random wildflower blend as they can include invasive species. Check what types of seeds are included and make sure they’re suitable to plant in your area!
Learn more about how to successfully turn your lawn into a meadow.
This is a type of landscaping specifically designed for water conservation and works well for drought-afflicted areas or if you just want to save water!
Xeriscaping does require a lot more planning than simply re-seeding a lawn, but it’s a great option if you want to get more involved or do some more creative landscape design.
Learn more about how to get started with xeriscaping.
“Ungardening” or “Rewilding”
This approach is simply to let things grow!
Now at first blush people typically either love or hate this idea, but to clarify there are different ways of doing this:
- You can either just go hands-off and see what happens (although you should still try to keep invasive species in check and ideally encourage the native ones).
- Important note though – some municipalities do actually have grass-height laws and fines, which is something to investigate before just letting your lawn go.
- Or you can landscape with native (or closely-related) grasses, flowers, and plants with the intention of letting them do their thing with minimal or no maintenance.
Grow Food Not Lawns!
There is an incredible movement towards edible landscaping or “foodscaping” and replacing lawns with vegetable gardens, and don’t just think rows of vegetables – while some are practically designed there are also beautifully landscaped edible gardens! (Check out some of these yards)
Ready to get planting? I highly recommend the seeds and mixes from West Coast Seeds, it’s where we’ve gotten all our lawn-replacement and wildflower seeds and they have even more lawn alternatives than I’ve mentioned, such as the Easy Care Envirolawn which is another great option!
A few things to consider when deciding which lawn replacement is right for you
What type of lawn works best for home will depend on some factors:
- What are you mainly using it for? This should guide any landscaping decisions so you have a functional yard you enjoy!
- Who is using it? If pets or children are playing on your lawn, look for more durable options.
- Climate and growing conditions – be sure to select something that will grow well where you live, for example if you live somewhere dry, make sure your lawn choice is drought-tolerant.
- City bylaws or HOA rules – sometimes there are rules about how your lawn can look, make sure to look into these and you might have to keep your lawn at a certain height or go with something that looks “grass like” to abide by the guidelines.
- Maintenance requirements – some lawn alternatives are very low maintenance while others are definitely for gardening lovers, choose an option that works for your lifestyle.
So with all that, I’d love to know about your lawn! Are you planning on replacing it? And if so, which option seems like a good fit for you?
Or are you looking for more info before making the switch? Jen over at Honestly Modern has 5 compelling reasons to ditch the grass as well as some other lawn alternatives!