A nice green grass lawn is still a priority with a lot of homeowners. In 2019, the National Association of Landscape Professionals released a study that said 79% of Americans believe a lawn is an important feature when buying or leasing a home. However, sometimes a grassy lawn isn’t the best solution in all parts of your yard. Areas around swimming pools can end up wet and muddy, and high traffic areas can end up worn down to only dirt. Shade and trees can also cause problems with your lawn. Bermuda, particularly doesn’t like to grow when there is too much shade, whether that is from a tree canopy or shadows from the neighbor’s house. It can also be difficult to maintain grass on a steep slope, both because it has a tendency to thin out and because the slope makes mowing more difficult and dangerous.
There are other reasons to seek alternatives to grass. It can be expensive and hard to maintain. In dry climates, the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that lawn watering is somewhere between 30-60% of water use. According to the American Time Use Survey, we spend 70 hours a year on lawn and garden care. That doesn’t count hiring a service to mow, fertilize or otherwise maintain the lawn.
So whether you are looking to replace your lawn altogether or just reduce the size, there are a number of possible alternatives to grass available. The best solutions depend on your goals and what type of currently grassy areas you want to replace.
Hardscapes as alternatives to grass
Hardscapes are nothing like grass. But in certain situations, they are a great alternative to grass lawns. Here are some times you might want to use hardscapes instead of grass.
- Heavy foot or dog traffic area that gets worn to the dirt
- Surrounding a pool
- Shaded area that also serves as a walkway, like the side of your house
- Anywhere you want to entertain or use as an outdoor room
Some great uses of hardscapes include:
- Fire pit area
- Pool surround (pool deck)
- Outdoor kitchen or living room
A landscaping bed with trees, bushes and/or flowers is a great alternative to grass in your yard. Landscaping beds shrink the amount of grass you have to mow, add interest to your yard and give it a more finished look. Finish the bed with a nice wood-chip mulch and you have an area that will both look nice and be more water efficient than a lawn. Here are some areas or reasons you may want to consider planting beds instead of grass.
- Along the foundation of your house on all sides
- In shaded areas that don’t grow grass well
- Along property lines to add some privacy to your yard
- In tight areas where it doesn’t make sense to have a small patch of grass
- On sloping front or back yards to break up the water runoff
Landscape beds are classic elements for any yard. Because we are used to seeing landscape beds, it doesn’t even seem like you are replacing grass when you put them in. Because you can vary the plants in the bed, they can provide visual interest that you don’t get from grassy lawns. They also cut back the amount you’ll need to mow.
There are a couple downsides to planting beds. You have to be careful about what plants you put in if you have dogs, as some common plants can be hazardous to pets. While planting beds will help prevent you from mowing as much lawn, they have to be weeded and the grass along the edges trimmed, which can actually end up increasing the amount of yard maintenance you need to do.
Natural Areas as alternatives to grass lawns
An alternative to grassy lawns that makes sense in some yards is a natural area. Although they aren’t really “natural,” the idea is to create a lawnless space. This might include some groundcover, plants, boulders, or a gravel or rock filled dry creek bed for drainage. Just like a more groomed planting bed, these areas add visual interest to the yard and reduce the amount of grass you have to maintain.
Most yards don’t have room for this type of luxury. If you do though, adding a half court basketball area, a pickleball court or a bocce court are all great ways to get you outside and enjoying the yard more. And they replace large areas of grass with a mostly maintenance-free surface.
If you have younger kids, a playground area is a great alternative to just a grassy yard. Surround some type of playset with an area of rubber mulch (or wood chips) and you have another option for replacing grass, but adding something useful.
Along the same lines as the previous two suggestions, if you have the space, the money and the desire to own a pool, they are great alternatives to grassy yards. Pools provide a place to exercise and have fun, but they also take up a lot of space. However, you’ll be replacing one type of maintenance for another, so if less work is your ultimate goal in replacing your grass, this isn’t the best solution.
Still want the look of grass, but not the maintenance. Artificial grass has gotten a lot better over the years. There are versions that look similar enough to a well-maintained lawn that they will give you the allusion of a grassy yard with very little maintenance. We’ve installed these along pools, along narrow walkways, and in small yards, but could be used much more extensively, if you want.