An estimated 40-60% of family water use goes to landscaping. However a grassy garden is the hallmark of the American panorama. With rising issues about drought, herbicide use, and upkeep, thirsty decorative grasses might must be changed with extra sustainable garden options.
Opposite to well-liked perception, you may take pleasure in a beautiful verdant inexperienced garden with out fixed irrigation or chemical use. And no, that doesn’t imply plastic synthetic turf or a weedy, ugly mess. These various garden crops are drought-tolerant, eco-friendly, low-maintenance, and aesthetically pleasing. A lot of them even have added advantages for pollinators and aesthetics.
Let’s dig into 18 garden options you may seed instead of high-maintenance turfgrass.
What’s a Garden Various?
A garden various is a low-growing or creeping groundcover plant that can be utilized as a substitute for grass. Typically, these substitutes require little to no irrigation, decreased weeding, and no pesticides or fertilizers. They’re simpler to look after than a conventional garden and extra sustainable than turfgrass.
Clover, thyme, chamomile, and moss are examples of crops that sprawl over the bottom and simply stand up to drought, strolling, and neglect. These crops additionally present ecological advantages like habitat for native species, pest deterrent properties, air filtration, and a cooling impact in your summer time residence.
18 Various Garden Crops to Change Grass
If you happen to’re able to make the leap and rip out your high-maintenance, nutrient-demanding grass, these low-growing crops will eagerly populate your yard with out requiring a lot care past institution. Earlier than you plant, ensure you’ve got completely killed your present garden by smothering the grass with a tarp, newspaper, cardboard, rototilling, leaf mulch, or a thick layer of compost.
Clover (Trifolium repens)
Clover is a well-liked garden various that pulls pollinators with pretty white or pink flowers. It is usually the most affordable garden substitute on the market! To sweeten the deal, clovers enrich your soil.
You possibly can select from purple or white clover or plant a combination for a fairly show. With its year-round lush greenery, clover is ideal for areas the place your garden turns brown and boring in the summertime. It requires much less water and is extra drought-tolerant than grass, however it could require a little bit mowing in case you don’t need bees visiting the nectar-rich flowers.
Clover has the additional advantage of being a legume. Legumes are nitrogen-fixing members of the Fabaceae plant household, which means they add nitrogen to the soil and don’t sometimes require nitrogen-dominant fertilizers.
They do that by working symbiotically with a root-borne micro organism known as Rhizobium. This micro organism colonizes clover roots and transforms atmospheric nitrogen into soil-available plant meals.
The very best time to seed a clover garden is early spring or early fall earlier than heavy frosts. This plant could be very aggressive and spreads shortly, so generally you solely must mow your garden tremendous low after which sow clover seeds into the present grass. The aggressive nature of clover means it’s nice for outcompeting weeds, but it surely’s not so nice to have in your vegetable or decorative backyard beds.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Creeping thyme is a aromatic groundcover cousin of the favored Italian culinary herb. This selection has tiny, fragrant leaves and types a dense mat of greenery that may stand up to foot visitors. It additionally feels fairly good to stroll barefoot!
If you happen to mow your thyme garden just a few instances all through the summer time, creeping thyme will merely produce a cushion of pointed, shiny blue-green leaves. If you happen to let it flower, the plant turns into a decorative deal with with vibrant fuschia flowers that appeal to a spread of bees and helpful bugs.
Like clover, creeping thyme spreads shortly and shouldn’t have an enormous drawback outcompeting the present grass. If you happen to unfold a 1-2” thick layer of compost over the garden earlier than planting, the thyme ought to take off very quickly.
It must be watered day by day throughout institution, however as soon as it has rooted in place, the crops want soils on the dry aspect. In lots of climates, pure rainfall is loads. It actually received’t want as a lot irrigation or consideration as your earlier garden.
The primary draw back of this garden is its expense. Creeping thyme is pricey to purchase from plugs. I like to recommend straight sowing the seeds. Fortuitously, when you seed this perennial, it received’t go anyplace.
Every plant lives about 3-5 years and prolifically self-seeds. Nevertheless, it could get woody after just a few years in case you don’t mow or minimize it again. A fast pruning can regenerate the expansion again to its lush greenery. If you happen to don’t need it to develop into groundcover in your backyard beds, add a barrier like bricks or stones across the beds to cease the thyme from creeping in.
Dwarf Carpet of Stars (Ruschia lineolata ‘Nana’)
This high-quality garden various is amazingly hardy and vibrant inexperienced, making for a beautiful manicured show. The drought-tolerant carpet of stars is technically an evergreen succulent that continues to be beneath 2” tall. No mowing is required!
The candy-striped pink flowers are daisy-like and bloom from late spring to early summer time. This plant grows in gentle shade to full solar and prefers well-drained soil with occasional irrigation. It tolerates gentle frosts however shouldn’t be grown in extraordinarily chilly areas. Some folks report that it tolerates strolling visitors, whereas others counsel solely planting it in low-traffic areas.
The mat-forming plant is available in a number of varieties, with ‘Nana’ being the most well-liked garden substitute. It’s best to take away present sod, loosen the soil, and add a skinny layer of latest topsoil.
Buy some dwarf Carpet of Stars plugs and plant them 6” aside. Water day by day for simply 5-10 minutes in the course of the first few weeks, and shortly, your garden might be full of a verdant inexperienced mat.
Creeping Mazus (Mazus reptans)
Mazus reptans is a unbelievable groundcover plant that blooms stunning purple-blue flowers in early summer time. Its fast-growing foliage covers your garden in a dense mat of vibrant inexperienced leaves that don’t thoughts being walked on. The plant is remarkably sturdy and drought-tolerant, which means it received’t want a lot upkeep apart from occasional mowing.
All this plant asks for is medium moisture and an annual utility of slow-release fertilizer or compost. It wants extra water than different choices on this record, however not almost as a lot as grass. It tolerates full solar or partial shade and fills an space shortly. Simply six small crops per sq. yard will unfold into a stunning groundcover mat.
In case your garden grows in closely compacted clay, this various received’t do nicely. The soil must be loamy and well-drained. If I had been shifting from turfgrass to creeping mazus, I’d begin by smothering the grass with a tarp for 2-3 weeks.
Then, unfold a 1-2” thick layer of compost excessive and use a long-tine broad fork to loosen the whole garden. This can be a sweaty activity, however you solely need to do it as soon as! Lastly, direct seed or transplant creeping mazus within the spring or fall and use overhead sprinklers a few times per week till established.
Low-Rising Sedum (Sedum spp.)
When you have a garden space with little or no water the place most grasses or different crops fail to develop, that is the garden various for you! Sedums or stonecrops are groundcover succulent crops that are available numerous shapes and colours, making them a flexible and low-maintenance choice for a garden.
Relying on the species, they develop 1-6” tall and require little or no upkeep. They’re remarkably drought-tolerant, making them good for areas the place summer time water restrictions are in impact. The delightfully textured crops virtually develop like weeds.
The one actual caveat to sedum as a garden is it doesn’t tolerate heavy foot visitors very nicely. The delicate succulent leaves and stems break off simply if they’re recurrently trodden throughout.
This isn’t the groundcover for households the place youngsters need to play within the yard all summer time lengthy. As a substitute, plant low-growing sedum in lesser-used decorative areas like rock gardens or aspect edges of your own home.
When you have constantly confronted pale or brown grass points in a shady garden, moss is your new greatest good friend. Moss lawns require minimal upkeep and create a lush, inexperienced carpet in your panorama.
They really feel so comfortable and cushiony to stroll on barefoot, nearly like nature’s rug. Better of all, they don’t thoughts soggy or compacted soils.
Loads of Water
Unsurprisingly, moss lawns are very thirsty. In case your garden receives vibrant sunshine and lengthy durations of drought, don’t plant moss! Reserve this floor cowl for shady, cool areas beneath bushes or the place water doesn’t drain nicely. In contrast to most crops, moss really prefers to develop on tougher surfaces, so that you don’t have to fret about broad forking or tilling the bottom.
The hot button is to smother the grass with cardboard or newspaper, after which press chunks of moss into the soil and safe it with landscaping pins whereas it will get established. Apparently, moss is an historical Bryophyte that spreads by spores fairly than seeds.
The one actual demand that moss makes is for acidic soil. These low-growing verdant species sometimes develop in coniferous forests the place the continual falling of evergreen tree needles acidifies the soil. In case your soil is simply too alkaline, moss will wrestle.
Most turfgrass lawns have soil that’s too alkaline for moss. Nevertheless, these with heavy clay soil could also be naturally acidic. You should use a sulfur powder to amend the soil down to five.0 or 5.5. Use a house soil pH take a look at to examine the acidity earlier than planting.
Buffalo Grass (Bouteloua dactyloides)
If you happen to nonetheless need an aesthetically pleasing grassy garden for afternoon picnics or playtime with youngsters and pets, this native grass is the proper various to turfgrass. Native to North America, buffalo grass is a drought-tolerant grass that types a verdant lush carpet. The fine-textured blades keep deep inexperienced even in sizzling, arid climates, making it very best for xeriscaping or low-water landscaping.
Advantages of Native Grasses
This grass species grows wild all through the Nice Plains and was a typical supply of Native American meals and drugs in wild prairies. Buffalo grass has a really deep root system that may entry water deep within the soil, even throughout essentially the most intense summer time droughts. It is usually extremely aggressive with weeds, which means that no herbicides or hand-pulling are wanted!
Native garden options are superb for offering habitat and meals for native bugs and wildlife. This can be a extremely ecological choice that mainly cares for itself.
Simple Institution and Care
All it’s essential to do is smother or until your present garden and straight sow the seeds about ¼ to ½ inch deep, then add a positive layer of topsoil over it to make sure seed-to-soil contact. Don’t plant any deeper than ½ inch within the soil! Just some rounds of overhead irrigation, and your buffalo grass will take off very quickly! In wet months, the one care that it wants is mowing to maintain it low to the bottom.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
For a wildflower garden, take into account the attractive and resilient native yarrow plant. Yarrow is a hardy perennial with fern-like foliage and clusters of small, colourful flowers. The beautiful umbel-shaped white flowers are extremely helpful companion crops that appeal to butterflies, bees, and helpful predatory bugs to your backyard.
Top and Mowing
Yarrow can develop fairly tall (as much as 36”) if left to its personal gadgets. This garden various requires mowing each month or so in case you’re used to a manicured look. The bonus is the foliage smells delightfully paying homage to honeysuckle. Nevertheless, you received’t get any flowers with this method.
If you happen to’re OK with a wildflower prairie look, you may actually depart yarrow to develop into a wonderful knee-high floral show. It tolerates compacted and poor soils, rising nicely alongside different native wildflowers like purple coneflower, coreopsis, and black-eyed Susans.
Dwarf Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
This grass-like floor cowl has darkish inexperienced, strappy leaves and is a good garden various in shady low-traffic areas. It’s an evergreen perennial that naturally suppresses weeds with its dense mat-like development. Requiring nearly no upkeep, this visually interesting grass gives nearly all the advantages of turfgrass with none of the drawbacks.
Dwarf mondo grass can adapt to a spread of soil varieties and situations, from average shade to full solar. For the darkest inexperienced hue, develop within the shade. Develop in filtered daylight beneath some tree cowl for a lighter inexperienced shade.
This perennial is nice for these areas the place conventional garden grass struggles to develop or as an edging and pathway plant. Whereas it might probably’t tolerate as a lot foot visitors, it’s remarkably lush and fast-growing.
Dwarf mondo grass is a bit finicky about seeds. The seeds are greatest harvested recent from a neighboring patch as a result of store-bought ones are likely to have low germination charges.
Divisions and transplants are extra dependable means of building your garden planting. This species is a reasonably gradual spreader, so be affected person and plant nearer collectively (as shut as 4-6” between crops) for faster protection.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.)
Chamomile lawns should not solely visually charming however delightfully aromatic. If you stroll on them, they fill the yard with the candy aroma of chamomile tea. This herb’s carpet has a comfortable, frilly meadow look with feathery foliage and daisy-like flowers. What a romantic garden addition!
This low-growing perennial requires minimal upkeep aside from occasional mowing to maintain it tidy. Chamomile can develop as much as 24” tall, so maintain it pruned or mowed for garden functions.
Daylight and Soil
That is the proper garden substitute for full solar areas with well-drained areas. The plant tolerates drought and direct daylight whereas attracting helpful bugs and pollinators.
It additionally establishes in a short time in high quality soil so long as the seed is sown densely. You possibly can rototill or smother your grass earlier than planting and optionally unfold a layer of compost or topsoil excessive to speed up institution.
Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis)
This ground-hugging perennial has delicate star-like blue flowers much more engaging than a normal turfgrass yard. Blue star creeper enjoys partial shade to filtered daylight beneath panorama bushes or shrubs. The dazzling pastel blue and inexperienced show will captivate passersby all summer time lengthy, and since it stays lower than 6” tall, little to no mowing is required!
The dense mats of foliage are aesthetically pleasing and naturally suppress weed development. This versatile choice can develop as a garden or border plant that naturally fills between stepping stones and pathways.
The plant grows quickly and spreads by underground runners, so it might probably simply overtake a grass garden. Your major problem might be containing the plant, as it might probably choke out different low-growing perennials in case you aren’t cautious. Fortuitously, it’s not invasive, and you’ll management blue star creeper by preserving it in a restricted area (like a garden lined with a sidewalk or rock borders), watering much less, and avoiding fertilizer.
Planting and Irrigation
You could find this perennial at most nurseries and divide the foundation balls to get extra bang in your buck. Seeds are additionally out there, however the propagation course of is extra difficult.
Blue star creeper can adapt to many moisture situations and doesn’t require a lot irrigation besides throughout lengthy droughts. In truth, it’s possible you’ll need to keep away from irrigating so the plant doesn’t unfold too far and vast. The fragile flowers are surprisingly powerful, so you may freely stroll on them.
Irish Moss (Sagina subulata)
Irish moss is an emerald-green velvety garden various that thrives in damp, cool areas of your yard. This groundcover moss is greatest for rock gardens, rain gardens, crevices, or darkish, moist areas the place different crops wrestle to outlive.
The dense development of Irish moss is engaging within the yard whereas stopping erosion and weedy overgrowth. The verdant show produces lovely white flowers within the spring. Better of all, Irish moss feels plush and alluring to stroll on, good for a tranquil backyard ambiance.
Primarily for Shady, Moist Areas
The important thing disadvantage to Irish moss is its incapability to thrive in sizzling areas of your yard. Like most mosses, it wants to remain constantly moist and funky. With sufficient water, it might probably tolerate extra daylight, however it’s possible you’ll must irrigate a few times weekly.
Fortuitously, this implies the plant stays exceptionally low on the bottom. Maxing out at simply 2” tall, you by no means have to fret about mowing!
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
As one of many best perennials to propagate by division, bugleweed is the proper garden various for spring or fall planting.
The low-spreading groundcover is said to mint and grows nicely in solar or shade. Some take into account the dense protection to be extra engaging than turfgrass, and it produces pretty purple flowers all through the summer time.
Keep away from planting bugleweed in small areas, as it might probably unfold fairly quickly by way of runners. This plant is aggressive and might choke out extra fragile crops in case you aren’t cautious.
That is nice information for overtaking your present grass however not so nice if you’re attempting to ascertain decorative or annual flower beds close by. Maintain your beds raised up with a border so bugleweed received’t ramble its means in.
Inexperienced-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
When you have a lot of bushes in your yard, green-and-gold is the garden various for you! This native perennial groundcover has pretty heart-shaped leaves and vibrant yellow flowers that improve any garden from bland to beautiful. It loves shade and works excellently in tree-covered yards, woodland gardens, or any damp, cool space the place grass received’t develop.
Put together an excellent soil combination upfront with loads of natural matter to retain water. Inexperienced-and-gold is extraordinarily resilient and doesn’t require way more than constant moisture. The crops bloom from spring via early fall and welcome an unlimited range of native pollinators and helpful bugs.
Select a Stolon-Producing Selection
These are greatest propagated by divisions or transplants in late spring. Remember to discover a selection that’s produced by stolons (runners) so it would unfold shortly. This plant types a dense carpet of leaves that naturally suppresses weeds, so that you don’t have to fret about herbicides.
Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii)
This extremely aromatic mint selection has pretty little leaves and a creeping behavior. Corsican mint is low-growing, good for planting between pavers, raised mattress pathways, or in rock gardens. This garden various does greatest in partial shade and cooler climates. Don’t swap to a mint garden you probably have lengthy, sizzling, dry summers!
This fragrant herb is visually interesting for little or no upkeep. Because it’s simply 4” tall with dense self-sowing development, you don’t must mow or weed, and it doesn’t thoughts foot visitors. Nevertheless, if it’s essential to management this mint from creeping into neighboring beds, a really low mow or snip might be helpful for decreasing its development. Like most mints, the leaves are edible and scrumptious, good for tea!
Dichondra (Dichondra spp.)
You’d be hard-pressed to seek out turfgrass that solely wants mowing 3-4 instances per yr! However Dichondra suits the invoice. This low-maintenance and good-looking groundcover tolerates gentle foot visitors and stays low to the earth. It’s a warm-season perennial that enjoys gentle situations with full daylight. Its spreading behavior can simply outcompete present grass.
The colourful inexperienced, heart-shaped, and rounded leaves solely develop 3-4” tall. Better of all, Dichondra is remarkably drought tolerant. It requires much less water than any common garden however enjoys well-drained soil. Don’t plant this species in a waterlogged space.
The one issues with Dichondra are its low tolerance to strolling visitors, its disdain for shade, and its susceptibility to pests. Plant it in a garden space that doesn’t get closely used. Keep away from this plant you probably have main issues with cutworms or flea beetles, as they feed on the leaves aggressively and will unfold to your vegetable backyard.
Kurapia (Lippia nodiflora)
This herbaceous floor cowl requires 75% much less water than a normal garden. Kurapia is an intriguing Japanese evergreen that has develop into more and more well-liked in drought-stricken areas of the USA in addition to wet areas. It’s easygoing about nearly all the pieces besides frost. The tender plant dies again throughout frosts and comes again within the spring.
You should purchase kurapia as sod or plugs to put in a brand new garden shortly. The crops require good aeration and watering in the course of the institution section. As soon as rooted, it’s extremely efficient at controlling erosion and suppressing weeds with minimal water necessities. It is usually disease-resistant and adaptive to many soil varieties.
Low-Rising with Fairly Flowers
Kurapia solely grows to about 3” tall and produces pretty white or pale purple flowers in the course of the summer time. It resembles clover in development behavior and floral show. The ultra-deep root system goes 5-10 toes into the soil, making a sturdy construction for slopes and hillsides. This additionally means it might probably discover water even within the driest of climates.
Candy Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
As a remaining aromatic, frilly garden choice, candy woodruff is a stunning creeping perennial that effortlessly colonizes shady areas. It grows from rhizomes and spreads right into a dense floor cowl that successfully outcompetes weeds. The rough-textured leaves are organized in whorls across the stems, making a uniquely charming vibrant inexperienced visible in your garden.
Beware that this plant is taken into account poisonous to pets and other people, so it’s not really helpful in lawns with canine. The plant may also develop 6-8” tall, so it could want some mowing to stay compact.
With so many groundcover choices, eliminating your high-maintenance grass is a no brainer. The important thing to a profitable garden substitute is species choice. In case your yard will get blazing sizzling direct solar, attempt clover or creeping mazus. Attempt Irish moss, creeping thyme, or blue star creeper in case your yard is especially shady or cool. Pay shut consideration to the anticipated plant top. If you happen to don’t need to mow in any respect, follow ultra-low-growing species like Corsican mint or Dichondra.