Many homeowners love having a front lawn full of green grass, but, for some people, the traditional lawn is more trouble than it’s worth. With growing awareness of sustainable design and ecological approaches to landscaping, more home gardeners are ready to get rid of their lawns and explore lawn grass alternatives. Others are simply looking for a low maintenance lawn.

Mixed Green Lawns

The fastest way to a low maintenance lawn is to just do less maintenance! Instead of weeding, feeding and obsessing over your lawn, just mow it every week or two as needed. Over time, you will end up with a mixture of grass and weeds, but as long as they are mowed regularly, you will have the same general appearance as a regular lawn.

lawn alternatives include mulch

Mixture of stone and bark mulch as a lawn alternative

How to Remove Grass

If you are ready to take the big step and install a lawn substitute, you need to get rid of the existing grass. The size of your lawn may influence the method. One option is to spread black plastic or any opaque tarp over the lawn and wait several weeks. Don’t do this if the grass is dormant. Starved of light and, to a lesser extent, water, the lawn will die off. You can also spray a glyphosate-based herbicide over the lawn. This should be done during growing season. Depending on what you have planned, you can then till the area and rake out the old grass clumps or just mulch over the dead lawn.

Gravel and Stone Lawn Substitutes

Stone or gravel mulch is one of the simplest lawn substitutes. Decorative white gravel is a favorite of many, but best suited for smaller areas. For a more natural look, smooth or rounded river rock is available in a variety of sizes. Brown and gray colors are easier to keep clean than white stone. A layer of landscape fabric under the stone keeps weed seed in the soil from sprouting. Remember that weed seeds also blow in from above, so some maintenance will be needed.

woodland as a lawn substitute

Multi-story woodland as a lawn substitute

Woodland as a Lawn Alternative

If you like having a natural yard that will be a nature sanctuary for birds and butterflies, consider transitioning your lawn into an open woodland. A mixture of hardwood trees such as oaks and maples provide the canopy layer. Flowering trees like dogwood and redbud are intermixed with the other trees. A three to four inch layer of bark mulch should cover the entire ground plain, though you may want to implement this in stages as the trees mature. Flowing arrangements of shade tolerant perennials can be planted on the forest floor.

Be aware that this approach requires patience. Start with the largest size shade trees you can afford and know this is a three to ten year project. Still, the final result, a house nestled into a natural woodland, is a beautiful lawn grass alternative.

Even if you are not ready to totally get rid of your lawn, consider reducing the expanse of turf in your yard. Expand the size of a couple of planting beds or plant a loose grouping of trees in part of the yard, mulching around the entire group.

Lawns are beautiful, but they are not for everyone. Low maintenance lawns are nice enough for most people. But, if you really want a lawn substitute, head to your local garden supply store for some landscape fabric, plants and stone or bark mulch. Then, put your lawn mower up for sale!