In my humble opinion, the root of homeowner dissatisfaction with lawns stems in large part from the Kentucky bluegrass sod used by builders and sold by garden centers as the only available option. Three strikes against it: it needs full sun, has shallow roots and therefore dries up easily and is the primary food source for the nightmare chinch bug. You’ve heard the old saying…three strikes and you’re out.
For folks tired of the thirsty, temperamental, time- and fertilizer-hungry Kentucky bluegrass lawn outside, here’s three great alternatives you can try.
Groundcovers - Selected for their low maintenance and weed suppressing carpet forming qualities, the best groundcovers are ones that grow well in your zone (check out your zone at planthardiness.gc.ca) and that are not invasive.
Plant them closer together than the recommended mature size on their tag so they fill in more quickly. Labor saving when selected wisely, they are water permeable and need little or no mowing. They are the ultimate alternative to lawns and provide soft and cushiony green textured spaces. Excellent choices for our area include:
Thyme: We love thyme for its fragrance underfoot and its mow-free, fertilizer-free, low water, sun loving characteristics. It’s a bit slower to spread so plant it closer together (and budget accordingly) and expect to weed until it forms a carpet.
Mother of Thyme (thymus praecox)
Elfin Thyme (thymus serphyllum)
Clover: We’ve been espousing the wonders of clover as an excellent alternative or addition to the lawn. It’s deep roots mean less watering and it stays green throughout the season, it is self-fertilizing and thrives in areas where grass has a hard time growing. It is low maintenance, a great groundcover, is first to green up in spring and it thrives in sun and part shade areas. What’s not to love? Our pick:
Pipolina microclover for its tiny leaf and low growing habit, which makes it a much better choice than white Dutch clover.
Cotoneaster or Vinca: Lawns on slopes can be hard to mow and difficult to keep thick. Consider low maintenance plants that suit elevations such as cotoneaster or evergreen vinca with its pretty spring blue blossom. These plants also help reduce erosion and stabilise elevation areas in the garden.
Garden or Raised Beds - Eliminate problem lawn areas or reduce the size of your lawn with in-ground or raised garden beds. Resolve bare, hard to grow areas under shade trees by creating new beds that incorporate the tree and a lovely shade tolerant shrub or perennial planting. Raised beds can go right over lawns and include massed pollinator friendly perennials, shrubs or even varying sizes of natural stone with uniquely textured plants to create architectural interest. The trick to making this look great is to incorporate the area into a thoughtful design that includes but is not limited to the offending patch.
Hard and Softscaping - Ditch the grass completely and get creative with a mixed hardscape and plant based design. Step away from the traditional lawn and envision stepping stones or pebble paths lined with lush plantings of perennials and ornamental grasses that lead to the patio or picnic table. You are limited only by your imagination in terms of what you can achieve when lawns are no longer your priority.