Lawns are a tried-and-true option for filling in one’s yard space. However, with such a high level of maintenance required to keep grass perfectly even and green, more and more people are turning to alternatives. Ornamental grasses generally need much less maintenance and require little to no watering, infrequent trimming and no pesticide or herbicide treatments. Ornamental grasses are hardier than the typical lawn and are capable of growing in areas where lawn grass simply can’t (for example, in dry or moist soils, heavily shaded areas or steep embankments). Some ornamental varieties can endure being tread upon just as effectively as lawn grass, and they all grow at a rapid rate, covering the soil and preventing the spread of weeds.
If you’re considering making the transition away from a conventional lawn, there are several ways to get started. You could begin by planting ornamental grasses in areas of your landscape where the lawn grass is receding, or you could simply overseed or transplant new species directly onto your existing lawn.
If you aren’t actively growing anything in your yard and are interested in alternatives to a conventional lawn, start by removing any weeds and rocks from the areas you’d like to plant in. Next, it’s a good idea to rejuvenate the soil by spreading some compost or fertilizer into it, making sure to mix it in thoroughly before leveling it off with a rake. Autumn is generally the best time to start planting ground covers, as this will provide them with ample time to establish themselves in a cool, moderate climate. However, if your region experiences frigid winters, get your plants started in the spring instead to lengthen their growing season.
Simulating the conditions of the natural environment is a great way to create a beautiful landscape aesthetic. Gain some inspiration by looking at wild meadows and prairies, then fill your yard with similar species of grass and flowering perennials. Bulbs such as blue squill, dwarf iris and spring starflower are beautiful spring-blooming embellishments that will enhance your landscape’s look. It’s also important to consider your region as a whole. Tall groundcovers such as barberries, Indian grass, big bluestem and ceanothus thrive in regions that receive at least 30 inches of annual rainfall. Conversely, shorter species such as blue grama or little bluestem tend to grow better in drier areas, as do buffalo grass and western wheatgrass. Sunlight, or the lack thereof, is another consideration. Plants that are able to thrive in shaded areas include wintergreen, ferns, partridgeberry, azaleas and rhododendrons, while dwarf coyote brush, bearberry and many types of ceanothus fare better in sunnier spots.
Landscapes tend to appear the most natural if grasses comprise roughly 70% of the ground cover. Try to mix between 2-4 different grass species with 8-12 wildflower varieties in order to create a balanced aesthetic. If you live in the southeastern United States, consider mixing Mexican evening primrose alongside little bluestem and tickle grass. In the Southwest, buffalo grass and blue grama blend well together with desert marigolds, perky Sue and wine cup plants. Other complimentary flower varieties include golden aster, California poppies and seaside daisy. If you’re purchasing some sort of pre-packaged seed mixtures, pay close attention to their contents, as they can often contain invasive or non-native plant species.
Landscaping may appear to be a daunting task, and conventional lawns are a safe and seemingly straightforward solution. However, in considering alternatives to lawn grass you not only open yourself up to a world of creative possibilities, you may also save yourself a headache in yard maintenance. Ornamental grasses and other native groundcovers and wildflowers are a beautiful way to replace the conventional lawn and craft a unique landscape for your home.