A well-tended, emerald green lawn can be both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because it provides a soft green area for children and pets to play, but can be a curse because it requires a fair amount of work and maintenance. From weekly summertime mowing to fertilizing and treating your lawn for unwanted weeds, a lawn can take up space where you could plant a more natural, carefree ground cover that serves the same purpose.
Some Lawn Weeds are Pretty
Dandelions, English daisies and plantain are considered lawn weeds, but you can grow them instead of lawn. These plants, two of which produce pretty little flowers, are telling you something---"we want to be here," they seem to say. Stop weeding them out---they will spread and create a low input lawn. Dandelions have edible greens and the root is medicinal for bladder and kidney ailments. English daisies are cute little white flowers that add joy where they grow. And plantain (not the banana, but Plantago major) is always green and you can use the leaves boiled down into a decoction to treat wounds and other skin ailments. Other low-growing plants, such as clover and sweet alyssum, are often included in seed mixes designed as lawn substitutes. In the publication "Low Maintenance Alternatives to Conventional Grass Lawns: Ecolawns revisited," by the Oregon State University Horticulture Department, the author explains, "Low input lawns are not intended to replace grass lawns. They are intended to provide an alternative for people who don't want or can't maintain a conventional lawn."
Consider Creeping Herbs
Creeping mint (Corsican mint), creeping thyme and Roman chamomile all add color, softness and fragrance to walkways and play areas. You'll never need to mow them because they don't grow tall, and if the conditions are right and they receive enough water and sun, they will last indefinitely.
Wildflowers Require No Care
Baby blue eyes, yarrow, monkey flowers, penstemon and many other wildflowers are good choices for planting in old, unhealthy lawn. Choose wildflowers that are native to your part of the country---you can start by scattering seeds, and the ones that are best suited to your area will grow with no help from you. Or you can purchase bedding plants of natives at some nurseries. Plant them randomly throughout your lawn and the hardiest ones will begin to take over your lawn area within a couple of years.
To Pave or Not to Pave
Lay down paver stones, gravel or bark or spread concrete on top of your lawn if you truly want an area that requires no maintenance. But consider the long-term effects of limiting the amount of greenery on your property---plants, even lawn, help keep an area cooler in hot weather, and if you have kids or pets, they will benefit from a soft, green area on which to run and play.
Making Better Use of Your Property
Improve the appearance and the potential of your lawn areas by planting fruit trees every 10 to 15 feet in your lawn. Just dig out the grass where you want to plant them and then keep it trimmed so it doesn't compete with the trees' roots. The trees will last for decades and will provide your family with fresh, natural nutrition. If you have a lot of lawn, you might want to transform some of the area it covers into a vegetable garden. You can also plant grape vines, ornamentals such as roses, and many other useful and attractive plants to take the place of your high maintenance lawn areas.