Alternative to Grass in your Yard

Natural grass lawns adorn front yards and backyards across the nation, but the cost, maintenance and water requirements for these high-maintenance landscaping features have many homeowners on the hunt for lawn alternatives that are better for the planet and their bank account.

For some, saving money is a key concern, and grass alternatives that require little or no water, pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides or gas-powered equipment is an appealing way to enjoy significant savings while still having a beautiful yard.

For others, mowing, watering, feeding, weeding, edging and aerating a natural lawn is just too time consuming, and the cost of hiring landscape professionals to care for their lawn is just as undesirable.

Other homeowners look into grass alternatives as part of their efforts to lower their home’s impact on the environment, since conventional lawns require more than their fair share of water, and common lawn care products – like chemical-laden herbicides and pesticides – are harmful to the environment and are linked to a variety of health issues.

You can save money and time, limit your family’s exposure to harmful chemicals, decrease your environmental impact and still have a great-looking yard by replacing your lawn or decreasing your lawn space by choosing one of the alternatives listed below.

Low-Maintenance Grass Alternatives: Things to Consider

If you are looking into installing landscaping that does not include natural grass, replacing your current lawn or reducing the size of your lawn, there are a few things to consider to help ensure that you are making the right choice.

One of the most important considerations is determining how you want to use your yard.

Is your front yard just for looks, or do you want it to serve an additional purpose?

Do you want your backyard to be a place where your children or pets can play?

Do you plan on entertaining guests often?

Do you enjoy grilling and cooking outdoors enough to invest in an outdoor kitchen?

Are there particular features you would like to include, such as a vegetable garden, children’s playground, dog run or putting green?

How you want to use your yard will have a significant influence on planning your low-maintenance landscaping, so be sure to consider your needs before you begin the design process.

Once you have decided how you want to use your yard and what features you would like to include, the next step is considering your budget.

For example, an outdoor kitchen would be an excellent addition to any backyard, but they can become quite pricey quite quickly, particularly when you add in running electricity and a water line to your patio.

But if your budget does not allow for a full backyard kitchen, you still might be able to install a built-in barbecue and design a wallet-friendly alternative.

Or, if an in-ground rock fire pit is above your budget, you could still create a cozy place to stargaze or entertain with an affordable, portable fire pit and inexpensive patio furniture.

The next thing on your to-do list for planning your yard is to decide just how low maintenance you want it to be.

Do you want a yard that requires the least amount of maintenance possible?

This might mean designing a yard that is mostly made up of hardscape features and low-maintenance ground covers, such as a large patio and walkways with gravel or bark as a ground cover.

This type of design would require very little maintenance with just an occasional sweeping or rinsing off for the patio, and a bit of raking and freshening up on occasion to keep the gravel or bark looking sharp.

Or would you prefer a bit of greenery that requires just a little maintenance?

This option might include drought-resistant plants, artificial turf, or easy-to-care-for trees or shrubs.

If you know that one of your goals is to avoid having a natural grass lawn or to have just a small lawn, the grass alternatives below will help you design a yard that is inviting and fits your needs.

I have also included some pros and cons for each idea in order to help you choose the right lawn alternative for your home and family.

10 Alternatives to Natural Grass Lawns

1. Wildflower Meadow

If you are tired of weekly mowing and rising water bills, try replacing your lawn with a wildflower meadow. Seed mixes are easy to come by at your local garden center, and you can have a beautiful, flowering meadow to enjoy instead of a typical grass lawn.

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Pros:
Easy to grow
Requires less water than grass
Provides beautiful flowers during blooming seasons
Good alternative for slopes, rocky areas and uneven terrain

Cons:
Will need to be reseeded every few years
Requires weeding to remove wild grasses and weeds
Not a hardy option for play areas for pets or children

 

2. Vegetable Garden

A vegetable garden is a great addition to any backyard and can be an attractive landscaping feature when done right. Install raised planting beds for a tidy, uniform look, and you will have a great family project that lets you grow some of the food you eat.

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Pros:
Saves money by supplying some or most of your family’s produce needs
Provides a fun activity the whole family can enjoy
Reduces chemicals in your food if grown without pesticides and herbicides
Great way to teach kids about how food is grown

Cons:
Requires regular watering, which can be accomplished with a drip system
Requires regular weeding, which can be reduced by using ground covers around plants
Many plants will need to be replanted for each growing season

 

3. Moss

If you have a shady yard, or a shady area in your yard, moss can be a great, low-maintenance alternative to grass. This low-growing ground cover comes in many varieties, which allows you to choose between a smoother texture or options that look more like grass.

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Pros:
Low-maintenance ground cover that thrives in shade
Attractive appearance

Cons:
Most varieties cannot stand up to traffic or playing
Requires regular watering in drier climates

 

4. Gravel

Gravel is an economical, simple alternative that can be used anywhere you need a ground cover. Your local garden center or rock yard will have a variety to choose from, giving you some choice in the size and color of gravel you use in your yard.

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Pros:
Essentially no maintenance, unless leaves need to be raked away
Inhibits weed growth
Inexpensive
Requires no water
Provides an easy-to-clean surface for dog runs and pet areas
Inexpensive option for walkways and driveways

Cons:
Not a good choice for children’s play areas
Requires additional landscaping features to add color and texture to your yard
Can pose a choking hazard for small children

 

5. Wood Chips or Bark

Using wood chips or bark is a great way to cover ground with a low-maintenance material that is attractive and easy to care for. This affordable option is available at garden and home centers, and can easily be used as a lawn alternative.

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Pros:
Attractive appearance
Inexpensive
Inhibits weed growth
Requires no water
Minimal maintenance (raking leaves, refreshing with new wood chips or bark periodically)

Cons:
Loses color and breaks down over time
Can pose a choking hazard for small children

 

6. Artificial Grass

Synthetic turf is an ideal option for anyone who wants the look and feel of a natural grass lawn without the extreme water usage, chemicals and maintenance requirements. This low-maintenance option allows you to enjoy a lush lawn that you can use just as you would use a natural grass lawn, but without the frequent, ongoing water usage and high level of maintenance.

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Pros:
Provides a lush, green lawn for your front yard or backyard
Good option for areas where pets and children play
Allows you to use your yard just as you would with a conventional lawn
Requires minimal maintenance (learn more about artificial grass maintenance)
Requires no mowing, aerating, weeding, watering, edging or fertilizing
Durable and long lasting

Cons:
Initial installation costs are higher than some other options
Requires some maintenance and water to keep it clean and free of bacteria

 

7. Patio

Hardscape features of any type will take up space in your yard to allow you to avoid a grass lawn or limit its size. Patios, in particular, are a good option since they provide a high level of utility and can be used to entertain, relax at the end of the day or cook family meals on your grill or in your outdoor kitchen.

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Pros:
Low-maintenance option
Many attractive designs available if you choose paving stones or stamped concrete
Provides a good surface for outdoor entertaining, grilling and more
Could potentially increase the value of your home
Easy-to-clean surface for pet areas

Cons:
Can result in scraped knees and elbows if used in children’s play areas
Concrete patios can crack over time
Initial installation costs are higher than some other options

8. Gazebo

Adding a gazebo to your backyard is a great way to reduce lawn size and can also be included in an overall plan for a no-lawn backyard when used with ground covers, patios and flowerbeds. This attractive addition also provides a space for reading, relaxing, meditation or entertaining.

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Pros:
Provides space for outdoor activities
Attractive backyard feature

Cons:
Initial installation cost is higher than some other options
Requires some maintenance, such as periodic painting or staining

 

9. Clover

Clover is a great choice for people who want the look of a natural grass lawn, don’t mind a bit of mowing and are not concerned about a lot of traffic. This pretty ground cover requires little water and stays green all summer without the need for chemical fertilizers. It is an inexpensive option that looks great and can stand up to some traffic.

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ros:
Lush, green look
Requires little water and minimal mowing
Inexpensive option
Unlike natural grass, can withstand dog urine without brown spots

Cons:
Requires some mowing
Not a good option for high traffic areas
Active pets may damage it more easily than a conventional lawn

 

10. Fire Pit

Adding a fire pit with a seating area is a great way to use space in your yard while adding an attractive, useful landscaping feature. A simple rock or paving stone fire pit can be surrounded by gravel, or a patio made from concrete or pavers, to provide a wonderful spot for entertaining guests or roasting marshmallows with your kids.

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Pros:
Low-maintenance option
Provides space for entertaining and family activities
Could potentially increase the value of your home

Cons:
Depending on design and materials, installation costs may be higher than other options

Natural Grass Alternatives: Final Thoughts

If you simply must have at least a small patch of natural grass, you can still save money and limit your environmental impact.

You can do this by choosing drought-tolerant grasses, such as ornamental grasses, zoysia or switchgrass, that require less water and by using a push mower, instead of a lawnmower powered by gas or electricity.

Low-maintenance, drought-resistant grasses also require less weeding and fewer chemical lawn care products, making them a better choice than conventional lawns.

You can also limit the space you dedicate to natural grass by including walkways, flowerbeds and plant borders in your landscape design.

Limiting your lawn space, or replacing a grass lawn completely, can help you lower your water bill, save time on maintenance and limit the chemical products required to keep your yard looking great.

With the alternatives listed above and a bit of creative landscaping design, you will find that you can have an inviting, visually appealing yard with little or no natural grass.