Join our newsletter
Get the best home decor ideas, DIY advice and project inspiration straight to your inbox!
Thank you for signing up to Realhomes. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.
If you're exploring alternatives to grass, the chances are that your yard doesn't allow for it, you don't like the look of turf, or enjoy the upkeep... Regardless of your reason, looking for different types of ground cover is a really smart move for a lower-maintenance garden and to help conserve water also, no matter what climate you live in.
Sure, a grass lawn is often a 'traditional' part of a home's outdoor space, but now backyard landscaping ideas and trends are moving away from this conventional design feature. Although beloved by many as a space to relax and play with children and pets, lawns have their dark side: they are environmentally problematic because of the constant watering requirement, not to mention you may not be a huge fan of getting out your lawnmower... No matter how much of a breeze it is to use.
So, as many of us are moving towards lawn looks that don't exclude wildlife, razor-sharp lawns are naturally, becoming less popular.Fortunately, there are many cool alternatives to lawns that are super contemporary and low maintenance, no matter how big or small your outdoor space may be.
Why find alternatives to grass?
Lawns are child-friendly, wildlife havens, soft areas where you can sunbathe, and design-wise a necessary ‘neutral space’, but you can’t use them year-round and they need care, including spiking and scarifying, mowing, natural weed control, and watering.In fact, in drought-prone places, a lawn is not a suitable covering at all as it will need a lot of water to survive.
There are, however, a number of alternatives. Some are wildlife-friendly substitutes; others can cut maintenance time in half. All offer exciting garden design opportunities.
What we definitely don't want to see is everyone resorting to fake alternatives like plastic grass. Artificial lawn is not the low-maintenance solution it is pitched as and the last thing we want is to be adding more plastic to our properties. So if you hate mowing the lawn but also love biodiversity, we have plenty of options for you below.
Who best to confirm that an alternative to grass can be a good option than a lawn care professional? CEO of Lawn Love (opens in new tab) Jeremy Yamaguchi says: 'Though my company is centered on lawn care, I definitely acknowledge that there are more eco-friendly ways to adorn your front or backyard. If you want something beautiful that will increase your home's value and curb appeal but won't be as detrimental to the environment, consider planting local flora and using mulch. Make your own compost and be mindful of how much water you're using.'
1. Creeping thyme in high traffic areas
Planting a low-growing variety of thyme can be an excellent alternative to grass. Creeping thyme grows only a few inches tall and is hardwearing, making it a great option for high-traffic areas. It's also soft rather than scratchy underfoot, unlike edible thyme varieties. Finally, it's a perennial and will come back every year, producing bee-friendly fragrant flowers every summer.
2. Consider succulents for bare corners and crevices
Succulents are a beautiful option if you want your grass-free area to be more decorative. They come in a variety of shapes and colors and are easy to maintain, requiring little watering. All they need is a sunny spot. You can learn how to propagate succulents to grow some more in another area of your yard or in a container. Of course, if you used succulents as an alternative to grass, you won't be able to plant them in high-traffic areas as they'll get trampled on so use them in lonely corners for a decorative element.
3. Try xeriscaping
Xeriscaping is a great alternative to grass in dryer climates, although the landscaping technique can also be used in wetter regions also, provided you use appropriate plants. In its most basic form, xeriscaping is spaced out planting in a gravel-covered yard. It looks smart and modern and is very low-maintenance.
4. Start a Japanese garden
If you don't quite want the pared-back look of a xeriscaped yard but want a minimalist landscaping with a few good-looking shrubs and trees, you should explore Japanese garden ideas. Japanese gardens are traditionally low on grass, with schemes that emphasize individual plants. Even just one central tree such as an acer or cherry surrounded by gravel can be enough.
5. Small garden? Consider a rock garden
Small gardens are actually excellent candidates for grass-free designs; in a large yard it's more tempting to fill the space with grass. However, if your outdoor space is really tiny – think so small that you don't even have room to plant a small tree – you could consider planting a rock garden instead of using lawn for your entire space. Rock gardens typically include rocks and small Alpine plants that take up very little space but look colorful and impactful.
6. Convert your yard into a raised bed garden
If you're looking for an alternative to grass that's productive as well as good-looking, consider starting a kitchen garden. Raised garden beds are easy to build yourself or buy and you'll have fresh homegrown produce to supplement your diet. Jeremy Yamaguchi adds that 'no, you can't live off of a personal garden, but it will provide supplemental nutrition for you and your family and cut down on how much you need to buy from the store.'
7. Make a meadow
An increasingly popular option, a meadow works well as part of a wildlife garden and can be created by simply allowing existing lawn grass to grow longer than usual, and cutting it only once or twice in summer.
On a large scale, this is the most sensible option, since replacing the lawn with anything else will be prohibitively expensive – or back-breaking work. Leaving existing grass to grow also means you can revert to a close-cropped sward again relatively easily, by trimming the length low enough to take the lawnmower.
Of course, not all the lawn has to be left to grow long. Areas near the house can be cut as normal, with paths made with a mower through longer grass in areas that aren’t used regularly.
Letting lawn grass grow long doesn’t automatically mean masses of wildflowers will appear, however; grasses will dominate. If you want something akin to an idyllic country meadow, there are two options: the easiest is to plant wildflower plug-plants throughout the long grass, chosen with your soil type in mind. For example, poppies don’t like thick clay, but knapweed does.
The alternative is to sow a special meadow mix instead (try MAS Seeds (opens in new tab)). It’s extra work but results in a more colorful display. Traditionally this meant stripping off the rich topsoil beforehand (wildflowers love poorer soils), but there are now lots of blends available for all soil types and situations. Some come pre-germinated and supplied on mats that you simply lay like normal turf (try MeadowMat (opens in new tab) or Wild Flower Turf (opens in new tab)) – use these for an instant effect, but expect to pay a lot more.
Most meadow mixes fall into two categories. Annual mixes are quick to flower, but need re-sowing each spring for best results. Perennial meadows last a lot longer, but need TLC and time to establish, so don’t expect an attractive display until at least two years after sowing.
Prepare the ground thoroughly before sowing – you can’t simply sprinkle meadow seed over an existing lawn, so unfortunately you will need to start from scratch.
To keep perennial meadows looking good, cut them once or twice a year. The timing of the cut is important: spring meadows are left uncut until mid-summer, whereas summer meadows are mown to 10cm in spring then left to flower and seed before cutting again in the fall.
8. Use fluid materials such as gravel
Gravel is an ideal lawn alternative, being easy to use and suitable for both traditional and contemporary garden designs. However, replacing a large lawn in the garden of a suburban semi with a sea of gravel is rather boring, and impractical for families with children. Where gravel really proves useful is in the front garden, where a tiny lawn can be a pain to mow. It’s permeable, and the crunch factor makes for a useful security measure, too. Plants are essential for interest, though, so always aim for a healthy ratio of two-thirds plants to one-third gravel.
There are numerous different gravels available, so choose gravel that is subtle and natural-looking and won’t detract from any planting. Water-worn weathered flint and cockleshells are favorites, but your choice should be guided by local stone, other hardscape materials in the garden, and the house. Choose a diameter of 5-20mm so that it’s easy to walk on – rounded gravels are better for children, and larger angular gravels are best where cats are a problem.
Spreading gravel isn’t just a case of splitting the bag and pouring it out. First, lay sheets of heavy-duty, semi-permeable landscape fabric (from DIY stores), to stop weeds coming through. Overlap each edge by 30cm and fix down securely using 10-25cm U-shaped wire staples. Where gravel meets a lawn or planting you’ll need an edge of metal strips, granite setts, terracotta ‘rope-top’ tiles or bricks laid in a saw-tooth pattern to stop it spilling.
Porous resin-bound gravel is useful where a hard surface would work better, and it’s cheaper than paving. There are many colored aggregates available – again, choose a natural-looking one for anywhere other than children’s play areas. Also use a specialist contractor, as it’s not a DIY job.
9. Use bark in shady areas
Ideal for dark corners under trees where even shade-tolerant types of grass struggle to grow well, bark feels more at home, although simple water-worn gravels work too. Choose natural stripped pine bark or similar and, for color and texture, add plants in areas not used for seating. Easy-care woodlanders such as wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae), Siberian bugloss (Brunnera), white wood aster (Aster divaricatus), dusky cranesbill (Geranium phaeum) and lungwort (Pulmonaria) are tough and need no maintenance once established.
With bark, you can simply spread an 8-10cm layer over the soil, but it will need topping up every other year. Alternatively, use landscape fabric to keep weeds down, make slits with a Stanley knife and plant through.
10. Opt for fragrant ground cover plants
For areas where daily usage isn’t important, fragrant chamomile lawns are popular, but require a sunny spot and free draining soil. They also go a little patchy in wet summers, and for this reason scented thyme lawns are preferable, which need similar conditions and also don’t tolerate heavy foot traffic, but are generally a lot tougher and more reliable. If the soil is prepared properly, thyme grows fast, too. A spring planting of small coffee cup-sized plants spaced 15-25cm apart will see a pleasing effect the following year, and in 18 months, the carpet should be at its best.
If you go for low-growing varieties such as Thymus serpyllum ‘Snowdrift’ or ‘Pink Chintz’, you shouldn’t need to trim them either. But if you want to keep the plants bushy, trim after flowering with shears, or if you have a lawn mower with a height setting, use this carefully. For a thyme tapestry effect, plant each variety in large teardrop-shaped drifts and mix them up throughout the design.
If you don’t need to walk on parts of the lawn at all, seas of weed-smothering ground cover plants such as bugle (Ajuga), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), self-heal (Prunella), and even ivy works well. White clover is a possible option, too, and useful to feed both the bees and your soil. If you want to go to extremes, rip up the lawn in favor of one giant ‘open’ border instead, where there’s room for multi-layered mixed plantings.
This isn’t an easy-care option, however, and some knowledge of planting design is important, unless you hire an experienced garden designer. Sedum mats, commonly used on green or living roofs, are good ground cover, if given enough sun. Whichever plants you choose, paths made from paving, gravel, or timber sleepers are essential throughout, so you don’t crush the planting when you walk.
11. Put down patio paving
Want to create a patio or outdoor living area in a small courtyard garden? Opt for paving for a smart finish that's durable, too. Choose a paving material that flatters the style, period and materials of your property, but also one that complements that of the flooring indoors if you want to create an indoor outdoor link.
A small, traditional patio will benefit from stone paving blocks in sandstone or limestone in honey or brown shades; more modern properties can experiment with quartz, versatile porcelain or even concrete. Avoid using multiple materials in a small space, such as a courtyard garden, to prevent it from looking too busy.
Eyal Pasternak, a real estate expert and CEO of Liberty House Buying Group (opens in new tab), advises that laying a patio yourself 'is the simplest and least expensive option. You can save a ton of money by doing this.' Laying a brick patio yourself is the easiest option, achievable in a weekend.
12. Conquer a sloping garden with decking
If you have a small outdoor space that's an awkward shape or on a sloping site, installing decking is a speedy way to create a usable surface, perfect for outdoor lounging and dining. There are so many cool decking ideas around for inspiration, and a ton of decking materials to choose from including hardwoods and no-maintenance composite wood lookalikes for budget-friendly alternatives.
What is the best alternative to grass?
The best alternative to grass is the one that is best suited to the size, aspect, and general style of your yard. Smaller yards will benefit from a rock or Japanese garden, while larger yards may look better with a gravel and flowering planting scheme. There aren't any hard and fast rules here. If you're not sure what will work best for you, hire a professional landscape designer for a day to help you if you have some spare budget.
What is the cheapest alternative to grass?
Most alternatives to grass are inexpensive, especially compared with having to maintain a lawn and buying a lawn mower. Plants, gravel, rocks, and mulch are all inexpensive materials you can use in a number of ways to create a grassless yard. If you go down the kitchen garden option, you also won't be out of pocket as raised beds are cheap to build.
A sod cutter slices under the grass, enabling you to pull up strips of old turf. Using a hoe or sod cutter will be easier if your lawn soil is moist. Remove old lawn after heavy rain or deep watering. First, make 2-inch deep cuts in the turf every 2-feet using either a manual or a power edger.Why you need a lawn? ›
Lawns are for more than just looks. Maintaining a healthy, thick lawn also benefits the environment. Unlike hard surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, and wood, lawn grass helps clean the air, trap carbon dioxide, reduce erosion from stormwater runoff, improve soil, decrease noise pollution, and reduce temperatures.Can I Rotavate grass? ›
Garden Maintenance with a Rotavator
Rotavating is a necessary part of lawn maintenance and helps to maintain the quality of the grass. Before rotavating your lawn there are a few steps you need to take to ensure your grass is ready to be rotavated as it needs to be in prime condition for this.
Why Is America Obsessed with Lawns? (Michael Pollan) - YouTubeHow wasteful are lawns? ›
Every year across the country, lawns consume nearly 3 trillion gallons of water a year, 200 million gallons of gas (for all that mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides.Why do people want perfect lawns? ›
A properly maintained lawn tells others you are a good neighbor. Many homeowner associations have regulations to the effect of how often a lawn must be maintained. So important is this physical representative of a desired status that fines can be levied if the lawn is not maintained.Can I just put gravel over grass? ›
If you're building a driveway, you might be wondering “Can I pour gravel on top of grass for a driveway?” The answer is no. You need to dig it up. Even if you're laying pea gravel right on top of grass, it's still going to be a problem.Can you just lay gravel on top of grass? ›
At this stage, you might be wondering: do I really need to remove all the grass before laying gravel? The answer is yes – you need to remove the grass and expose the soil before laying down gravel. It's not a good idea to gravel over grass without removing the lawn first.Is gravel better than grass? ›
Gravel Instead of Grass
With increased concerns over water conservation and chemical use in yards, many people are exploring lower maintenance options for their properties. Stone and gravel landscaping are smart alternatives to grass, especially where frequent drought and heat make turf grass impractical.
One of the easiest ways to convert lawn to garden is the sheet mulch technique. Cut the grass as short as possible, then cover it with a layer of cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper. Make sure the pieces overlap to keep sunlight from reaching the lawn. Cover with at least 4 inches of mulch or compost.
Speaking of gravel, pea gravel is one of the cheapest and easiest ground covers to lay and complements all styles of plot.Why are lawns bad for the environment? ›
To attain lush, fertile, green lawns, homeowners will use nitrogen based fertilizers, approximately 3 million tons a year. These contribute to climate change due the manufacturing process and their use on lawns.
How to Replace Grass & Mulch With Groundcover : Green SavvyHow do I replace my lawn with rocks? ›
How to Remove Grass & Replace It With Rocks - YouTubeDo I need to remove old grass before laying new turf? ›
If you have an existing lawn this needs to be removed first. We do not recommend laying turf on existing grass, as this will prevent the new turf from rooting well. It's also possible for weeds to come through the new turf.What machine removes grass? ›
How To Remove Grass - Pro Sod Cutter Rental - YouTubeWhat is the fastest way to dig up a lawn UK? ›
Simply using a bit of strength, elbow grease and a good garden spade is the most popular way of removing lawn. Cut squares into the grass (around 10 x 10 inches) and dig each square out individually. This will ensure you remove the majority of the roots.Are lawns an American thing? ›
Lawn History. The lawn appears to be a European invention, which makes ecological sense because the moist, mild, climate of Europe supported open, close-cut grasslands. (The less temperate climate of North America does not.)When did people start having lawns? ›
1700s: Landscape designers in England and France premiered the concept of closely cut, well-kept grass areas in gardens. Drawing on the word "launde," which referred to a grassy woodland clearing, they coined the term "lawn" in the process.How did they mow lawns in the 1700s? ›
Formal, well-maintained lawns first appeared in Europe in the 1700s, but methods to maintain them were labor-intensive and inefficient, using grazing animals or scythes, sickles and shears to hand cut the grass.
- Grass needs cut regularly. ...
- To look good, a lawn needs fed on a regular basis. ...
- Lawns have a bad reputation as being the cause of polluting water sources. ...
- Do-it-yourself homeowners are more likely to apply too much product that might result in excess run-off under the right conditions.
“In a stable climate, trees store more carbon than grasslands,” said co-author Houlton, director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis.What is the most eco friendly lawn? ›
- Ground covers.
- Native plants.
- Wildflower meadow.
- No-mow and low-mow grasses.
- Rain garden.
- Rock garden.
- Mulch and gravel.
Today, over 80 percent of Americans have lawns.Why do people mow their lawns? ›
If done properly (which is discussed in this lawn care article), mowing stimulates the grass of your lawn to lushness and better health. Think about the way you pinch an annual plant or prune a shrub to make it more compact and cause it to put out healthy new growth, rather than becoming leggy.How did lawns become a status symbol? ›
Grassy lawns originally became popular to prove a person was wealthy enough to waste land rather than farm on it. That status symbol no longer applies, since we no longer live in a sustenance farming economy, yet it's still mandated by law all over America.What should I put down before gravel? ›
Experts from Gardenista suggest adding a based layer of crushed rock on top of the dirt. This should be about 2 inches deep, then top that with 3 inches of the pea gravel. That added base will keep the smaller pea gravel more stable.How do you replace grass with pavers? ›
- Prepare the Patio Area. Laying pavers is a DIY project that takes about one weekend to complete. ...
- Clear Out Grass and Soil. ...
- Add Paver Base. ...
- Add and Level the Paver Sand. ...
- Place the Paver Stones. ...
- Cut Pavers. ...
- Add Edging Stones or Paver Edging. ...
- Finish the Patio.
There is no need to remove the dead grass—just dig it in along with whatever amendments and extra soil you have added. The dead grass will naturally decompose and add nutrients to the soil.How do I permanently get rid of grass in my gravel driveway? ›
Boiling Water Grass Killer
Boil a large pan of water and carefully pour the boiling water into a watering can. Carry the can outside before it has a chance to cool down and use it to water all of the grassy areas that you want to eliminate. Repeat once a day until the grass has withered, turned brown, and died.
A good landscape fabric beneath a layer of pebbles or gravel goes a long way in preventing weed seed germination. Even the best landscape fabric won't stop 100% of the weeds. Some seeds will inevitably germinate and sprout, however having a weed block barrier will keep the roots from getting a foothold in the soil.Does grass grow through crushed concrete? ›
Although the concrete is crushed into a sand-like texture, it's too heavy for use in soil when growing a grass lawn. For that reason, grass will likely have a hard time growing through crushed concrete. However, it isn't impossible for a few sprouts to make their way to the surface.What is the cheapest rock for landscaping? ›
But what are the cheapest landscaping rocks? The cheapest landscaping rock available is pea gravel. This is a versatile landscaping rock that looks great for many types of landscaping, including driveways.Do pebbles stop weeds? ›
Gravel is an ideal covering for paths, driveways and to add some decoration to your green space. However, weeds can easily grow up between the pebbles if the right conditions allow.Will gravel stop weeds? ›
Pebbles are an excellent ground covering. They come in different colors and sizes, can be used in many different areas, and suppress unwanted plant growth. However, some pesky weeds can grow quickly through pebbles and pea gravel.What kills grass and weeds permanently? ›
A non-selective weed killer, such as Roundup, is a great option for killing weeds and grass permanently. The Glyphosate in Roundup works by infiltrating the plant through the leaves. From there, it attacks all plant systems and kills them completely, including the roots.What is the easiest way to remove grass? ›
The fastest way to remove a lawn is to physically remove the sod by cutting it into strips with a sod cutter, rolling the strips up, and either taking them away or turning them over and letting them compost in place.Should I reseed or Returf? ›
Returfing is usually the more expensive option, but you do get an instant lawn. However, avoid walking on newly laid turf for at least three weeks to help it establish. Re-seeding or overseeding is a slower process, but it will cost you considerably less. You should see new growth within 10 days of sowing.Can you put top soil over grass to level? ›
Spread a layer of debris-free topsoil or potting soil into the hole—enough to bring the turf patch level with the surrounding lawn. As you work, water the soil lightly to remove air pockets; this helps to prevent future settling. Replace the turf patch, pressing the grass back into place with your hand or foot.Will grass grow back after vinegar? ›
Will Grass Grow Back After Vinegar? Yes, unless the grass seedlings are under two weeks old. In that case, the roots are not developed enough to grow new blades. Broadleaf grasses are more likely to die back to the soil, but the roots will grow new leaf blades anyway.
If weeds are a problem in the cracks of your sideways or driveway, boiling water makes a quick and easy solution! Boil a kettle of water, then take it outside and pour it directly onto weeds to kill them instantly.What kills weeds down to the root? ›
For it to work, you have to wait for the vinegar to sit in the weeds from your garden for a few days. The vinegar will kill the weed's roots.
Cut the grass to a short length and then cover the area with plastic or glass. Black plastic works best but you can also use clear plastic. Hold the plastic down with rocks, soil staples, boards or whatever you have handy. It can take a few weeks to a month to kill the roots completely.Do I have to dig up grass before landscaping? ›
There is no need to remove the dead grass—just dig it in along with whatever amendments and extra soil you have added. The dead grass will naturally decompose and add nutrients to the soil.Do I need to remove old grass before laying new turf? ›
If you have an existing lawn this needs to be removed first. We do not recommend laying turf on existing grass, as this will prevent the new turf from rooting well. It's also possible for weeds to come through the new turf.Is it cheaper to turf or seed? ›
Sowing grass is at least ten times cheaper than turf. So, from a cost perspective, sowing is the way to go. But, of course, seed takes a while to establish. With turf, you get an instant lawn.Is turf better than grass? ›
The reason turf is used for outdoor play and sporting events is that it can maintain its looks better than natural grass. Additionally, turf can protect players from injury, and it's easier to play on even when it's wet outside. It is softer than turf, but it's also highly durable depending on the material.When should you Returf? ›
Both returfing and renovating should be carried out in the early autumn or spring, as this is when grass will establish most easily, giving your lawn the best chance of success.Is topsoil the same as lawn soil? ›
Lawn soil and topsoil are different in composition, density, and nutritional contents: Lawn soil is composed of rocks, stones, clay, and dirt, while topsoil contains loose dirt, sand, healthy microbes, and other organic materials. Lawn soil is denser and more compact than topsoil.What causes lawn depressions? ›
Excessive rain is the most common culprit of depressions in a lawn. When your area experiences torrential rains, the ground may become oversaturated, which leads to standing water in your yard since the water has nowhere to go.