Lawn Alternatives: Low-Maintenance Yards

By Kathy Jentz


We’re coming up on the season for lawn renewal. Before you go to all that trouble, take a few minutes to consider replacing all that turf with some easier, more attractive, and Earth-friendly alternatives.

   Maintaining a lawn of turf grass is one of the most expensive and time-consuming uses for your land. Constant mowing, fertilizing, weeding, watering, re-seeding, edging, and aerating not only eat up your resources, but it can be harsh on the environment. Lawns do not absorb water run-off as well as planting beds and many of the chemicals you use to maintain it are toxic to the nearby streambeds and Chesapeake Bay.



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DC area lawns are not necessarily the green dream we envision. For a
better part of the summer and again in the winter, your yard is a brown
mess. In additions, with encroaching weeds and attacking insects (such
as grubs), the dream of a solid green field of glossy grass is next to
impossible to achieve.

put yourself through the stress and heartache? Here are a few ideas to
get you started in reclaiming that lawn for better use:

Expand your planting beds and establish new ones. Fill them with a mix
of perennials, annuals, bulbs, ornamental trees, and shrubs. Once
established the maintenance is minimal, just cut back the perennials in
late winter and replant the annuals in late spring.

Cover slopes with shrubs that grow to form solid plantings. You’ll be
relieved not to have to push a mower up and down that hill ever again.
For full sun look at groundcover roses and for slopes in shade try out
cotoneaster. Both will give you year-round interest and will flower
nicely each spring.

Replace wide-swaths of lawn with green ground covers: ajuga, vinca,
ivy, and pachysandra do well here under many growing conditions.
Bishop’s Weed, hardy Geranium, and Lamium are all also nice lawn
alternatives especially under shade trees. Others to try include
different varieties of sedums, lily of the valley, liriope, daylilies,
creeping phlox, and creeping jenny.

Get trendy. One of the newest ground cover fads is moss. From a
distance, you’ll achieve the same solid green look without anywhere
near the maintenance. Moss is an ideal lawn alternative for areas in
deep shade that stay moist such as near your gutter drains. You can
also lay it out in interesting color patterns and styles. For a touch
of whimsy, try a checkerboard or plaid.

Go to back to basics: growing your own edibles at home is a vast
improvement on constant lawn grooming. Start a vegetable patch, plant a
fruit tree, or an herb garden. Get the kids involved and make it a
family project.

Dig in and build a water feature. A pond, waterfall, or stream-bed is
one of the most charming and desirable elements you can add to your
home landscape. You’ll soon find that your water feature is a gathering
place for friends, family, and many types of wildlife as well.

Map out hard-scaping. Is there a space where lawn is being worn into a
natural path from foot traffic? Stop fighting it and go with the flow.
Put in pavers, stepping stones, or formal brick walkways. Line it with
interesting plants. Add a bench or hammock at convenient resting points.

Let it go wild. Establish a wildlife habitat by re-seeding part of your
property with native wildflowers. Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed susans, and
goldenrods are just a few of the flower seeds you can buy by the pound
and grow to attract birds, bees, and butterflies to your yard.

Consider other uses for your lawn. Look at places where your turf grass
or other ground covers never get established. If nothing will grow in
an area, maybe that is the place for your deck/patio, children’s
playhouse, compost pile, storage shed, or wood pile.

ahead and try one of these lawn alternatives out this weekend. Once you
get started reclaiming that sod for better uses, you won’t want to stop!


lawn-free yard picture here was on the 2010 Takoma Park Home and Garden
Tour. This well-traveled corner in Takoma Park, MD, on Darwin Avenue is
all garden and a wonderful example of what can be done with an unusual


has worked diligently to rid her yard of turf grass and is now down to
just one small patch that is slowly being overtaken by moss. She is
editor of Washington Gardener magazine ( and a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast.  Kathy can be reached at and welcomes your gardening questions.

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About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.

1 Comment on "Lawn Alternatives: Low-Maintenance Yards"

  1. I find it great when people have creative alternatives to the typical green Serbian lawn. People are obsessed with their lawns. Homeowners spend billions of dollars not to mention countless hours and energy on their lawns every year. Some so much so that they have riding mowers that they drive back and forth across acres of front lawn.

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