From prehistoric romps on the savannah to aristocratic strolls in the 17th century, humans have always had a romance with a grass lawn. When it comes to landscapes, the turfgrass yard is as American as apple pie. But times are changing. Between mowing, watering, and fertilizing, the American dream that includes a picture-perfect lawn has become a high-maintenance headache. The good news is that there are plenty of eco-friendly ways to rethink the traditional lawn.

    If you’re looking for some low-maintenance grass alternatives, you’re not alone. There are many tried and tested lawn substitutes that are drought tolerant and need little maintenance. Check out this list of lawn alternatives to find which option is right for you.

    8 Grass Alternatives

    1. Clover
    2. Ground covers
    3. Ornamental grass
    4. Wildflower meadow
    5. Artificial turf
    6. Gravel
    7. Decks and patios
    8. Mulch

    1. Clover

    Let’s first consider living alternatives. Once considered a weed, clover is an excellent choice if you want an eco-friendly lawn that uses less water. Dutch white clover may be just the solution. It’s drought-resistant and self-fertilizing. You can incorporate it into an existing lawn, or you can use it to replace the turf and never have to worry about weeding again. Clover erupts in fragrant white flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. The green plants also perform well in shady areas as well as full sun.

    2. Groundcovers

    From creeping thyme to chamomile, the range of ground covers you can use to replace grass is almost infinite. Many native plants such as creeping jenny or shade-loving sweet woodruff can fill in areas of the lawn where grass struggles to grow. Many ground cover plants will also bloom year-round.

    3. Ornamental Grasses

    Grasses in this category range from fescues and sedges that can replace the lawn entirely,  to clumping grass that thrives in sunny areas and bursts into colorful haloes of seeds in the fall.

    4. Wildflower Meadow

    If you want to create an eco-friendly haven for pollinators and wildlife, convert part of your yard to a wildflower meadow. Jessica Spencer of Green Room Landscapes in northern Michigan says, “As your meadow grows, matures, and changes over time, you will be able to observe it change depending on the weather, wildlife, or latest mowing.” She suggests hiring a professional to plant it correctly. But she assures us that once it’s established, a native meadow is a long-term source of seasonal interest and beauty.

    There are also options that will make lawn care a thing of the past.

    5. Artificial Turf

    Once considered tacky or dated, artificial grass has come into the modern spotlight as homeowners and builders look to create zero-maintenance yards. It is thick, green, and deceptively life-like.

    6. Decks and Patios

    Never underestimate the power of pavers or decks to transform your yard into an entertaining oasis. In warm-seasons, chilling and grilling on your hardscape will let you spend more time enjoying your yard and less time maintaining it.

    7. Gravel

    Installed properly (with a thick weed barrier beneath), gravel offers an option for walkways and driveways with good drainage. It requires little maintenance other than a bit of leaf-blowing in the fall. Gravel comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors and holds up under a lot of foot traffic. You can add a few succulents to a patch of gravel to give it some life.

    8. Mulch

    A perfect way to dress up under tree areas in deep shade where grass won’t grow. Mulch is an attractive, economical way to replace turf. Use different colors and textures around plants, playscapes, and walkways. Mulch also creates clean, well-defined edging around flower beds and helps to enrich poor soil in planting beds.


    Before you tear up your turfgrass and get rid of the lawn mower, determine what purpose you want your yard to serve.

    • Are you concerned with aesthetics, or do you have a practical use for your yard?
    • Do you have pets or children who play in the back yard?
    • Is your yard a place where you entertain guests frequently?
    • What percentage of your yard is in shade?
    • Would you like to construct a feature (gardening shed, outdoor kitchen, pool house) that could take up some square footage?
    • Are there any features that could use up yard space, such as a vegetable or herb garden, a playscape, or a dog run?
    • What is your budget for lawn replacement?

    While grass lawns may be the traditional standard, you can break free if it’s not for you. Grass alternatives can create more biodiverse, seasonally interesting yards that use fewer resources. 

    Main image credit: “Xeriscape,” Jeremy Levine, CC 2.0