Alternatives to grass lawns provide several benefits. Maintaining alternative lawns requires less effort, time and money while also protecting the environment from chemicals, water shortages and pollution. Washington State University Extension service estimates mowing a lawn for just one hour equates to the air pollution caused by driving for 350 miles in your car.
A low-growing combination of perennial flowering plants and foliage plants can create an attractive yard. Early blooming bulbs planted throughout the yard provide color in the spring. Snowdrops, crocus, winter aconite and Siberian squill bloom from early to late-March and naturalize readily. A mixture of perennial seeds planted in spring will fill the lawn with color. Choose pre-made lawn mixes or prepare your own. Plants to use include clover varieties, Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum), snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) and English daisies (Bellis perennis). The plants you choose should grow no more than 12 inches high. The plants can tolerate light traffic and occasional mowing to promote more blooms.
Groundcover plants can replace grass for small lawns. Many plants form masses and spread, providing year-round color. While ivy varieties often top the list for groundcovers, opt for plants that do not have a tendency toward invasiveness. Groundcovers work well in shady locations where traditional lawns may not grow. Plants to use for a lawn alternative include wild ginger (Asarum canadense), dead nettle (Lamium maculatum), bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), rock cress (Arabis blepharophylla) and sweet violet (Viola odorato). Adequate spacing prevents the plants from becoming crowded while allowing the area to fill quickly. A layer of mulch between the plants before they spread will prevent weeds and retain moisture.
If groundcovers and flowering lawn mixes don't suite your style, change your lawn into a lush garden. Plant a tree and surround it with shade perennials. Weeping cherries (Prunus subhirtella Pendula) have fragrant spring flowers. A bed underneath filled with varieties of hosta, heuchera and ferns will create visual diversity throughout the growing season. If you prefer a sunny garden area, choose a cottage garden theme. Use a variety of flowering annuals, perennials and shrubs. The plants should appear almost haphazard in design. Turn a corner into a seating area with a small arbor, climbing roses and a bench. Be creative when planning a garden in place of a grass lawn. A variety of colors, textures, heights and scents will please all the senses.