A pristine green lawn is the goal of many homeowners. But lawns can require much time, effort and expense---you must water the lawn, keep it weed-free, fertilize and mow. Alternatives exist in the form of evergreen ground covers that are just as attractive and usable as a traditional grass lawn. Many non-grass lawns are also easier to maintain because they never require mowing or fertilizing. Native ground cover plants also need less water than most grasses.
Several herbs form low, spreading, fragrant ground covers that substitute well for a traditional grass lawn. Included are corsican mint, creeping thyme and Roman chamomile. One of the benefits of an area planted in low-growing herbs is that when you walk on these plants they are not harmed; instead, they release their fresh fragrance to the air around them. These herbs do require that you water them, especially during hot weather, and some prefer a slightly shady place to grow. They work well under trees, arbors and other areas that receive partial or filtered shade.
Flowering Grass Alternatives
Some small flowering plants are suitable for use in place of lawn. English daisies, which are often considered a lawn weed, are attractive little white flowers that will spread readily in areas formerly occupied by lawn. If you scatter their seeds on top of your existing lawn, they will eventually take over the area. Other flowering ground covers that work well in place of lawn include vinca, campanula and liriope.
Lawn Alternative for Problem Areas
If you have an area on your property that has heavy clay soil, poor drainage or excessive shade or sun, consider planting clover seeds to improve the appearance of this area where a grassy lawn might not have succeeded in the past. Choose from yellow blossom clover, red clover or Dutch white clover for a fast-growing lawn alternative that will help your poor soil by adding nitrogen.
Native Grasses Are Carefree
Wherever you live and garden, there is a native grass that you can introduce in place of a standard lawn. Some native grasses are ornamental and will create a natural looking environment that can attract native birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Several native grasses are common in California, for example: they include June grass, Idaho fescue, purple needlegrass, California brome, blue wildrye and California meadow barley. All are fast-growing and can help prevent erosion on denuded hillsides (see Resources). Check for varieties of native grasses that will perform best in your climate zone.