Alternatives To Grass In Your Backyard: TOP Lawn Replacement Options

Alternatives To Grass In Backyard: Lawn Replacement Options

Natural grass lawns adorn front yards and backyards across the nation, but the cost, maintenance and water requirements for these high-maintenance landscaping features have many homeowners on the hunt for lawn alternatives that are better for the planet and their bank account.

Alternatives to Grass for your Backyard

For some, saving money is a key concern, and grass alternatives that require little or no water, pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides or gas-powered equipment is an appealing way to enjoy significant savings while still having a beautiful yard. For others, mowing, watering, feeding, weeding, edging and aerating a natural lawn is just too time consuming, and the cost of hiring landscape professionals to care for their lawn is just as undesirable.

Other homeowners look into grass alternatives as part of their efforts to lower their home’s impact on the environment, since conventional lawns require more than their fair share of water, and common lawn care products – like chemical-laden herbicides and pesticides – are harmful to the environment and are linked to a variety of health issues.

You can save money and time, limit your family’s exposure to harmful chemicals, decrease your environmental impact and still have a great-looking yard by replacing your lawn or decreasing your lawn space by choosing one of the alternatives listed below.

Low-Maintenance Grass Alternatives: Things to Consider

If you are looking into installing landscaping that does not include natural grass, replacing your current lawn or reducing the size of your lawn, there are a few things to consider to help ensure that you are making the right choice.

One of the most important considerations is determining how you want to use your yard.

  • Is your front yard just for looks, or do you want it to serve an additional purpose?
  • Do you want your backyard to be a place where your children or pets can play?
  • Do you plan on entertaining guests often?
  • Do you enjoy grilling and cooking outdoors enough to invest in an outdoor kitchen?
  • Are there particular features you would like to include, such as a vegetable garden, children’s playground, dog run or putting green?

How you want to use your yard will have a significant influence on planning your low-maintenance landscaping, so be sure to consider your needs before you begin the design process.

Alternatives To Grass

The Cost of Grass Alternatives

Once you have decided how you want to use your yard and what features you would like to include, the next step is considering your budget.

For example, an outdoor kitchen would be an excellent addition to any backyard, but they can become quite pricey quite quickly, particularly when you add in running electricity and a water line to your patio. But if your budget does not allow for a full backyard kitchen, you still might be able to install a built-in barbecue and design a wallet-friendly alternative.

Or, if an in-ground rock fire pit is above your budget, you could still create a cozy place to stargaze or entertain with an affordable, portable fire pit and inexpensive patio furniture.

Lawn Replacement Maintenance Requirements

The next thing on your to-do list for planning your yard is to decide just how low maintenance you want it to be.

Do you want a yard that requires the least amount of maintenance possible?
This might mean designing a yard that is mostly made up of hardscape features and low-maintenance ground covers, such as a large patio and walkways with gravel or bark as a ground cover. This type of design would require very little maintenance with just an occasional sweeping or rinsing off for the patio, and a bit of raking and freshening up on occasion to keep the gravel or bark looking sharp.

Or would you prefer a bit of greenery that requires just a little maintenance?
This option might include drought-resistant plants, artificial turf, or easy-to-care-for trees or shrubs.

If you know that one of your goals is to avoid having a natural grass lawn or to have just a small lawn, the grass alternatives below will help you design a yard that is inviting and fits your needs. I have also included some pros and cons for each idea in order to help you choose the right lawn alternative for your home and family.

Be sure to check local ordinances — or your CC&Rs, if you live in a community with a homeowners association — before removing your lawn and replacing it with alternatives to grass. Some neighborhoods and areas have specific requirements or regulations governing how you can landscape your property.

grass alternatives backyard

Low Maintenance Lawn Alternatives

1. Wildflower Meadow

If you are tired of weekly mowing and rising water bills, try replacing your lawn with a wildflower meadow. Seed mixes are easy to come by at your local garden center, and you can have a beautiful, flowering meadow to enjoy instead of a typical grass lawn.

Pros:

  • Easy to grow
  • Requires less water than grass
  • Provides beautiful flowers during blooming seasons
  • Good alternative for slopes, rocky areas and uneven terrain

Cons:

  • Will need to be reseeded every few years
  • Requires weeding to remove wild grasses and weeds
  • Not a hardy option for play areas for pets or children
  • Not suitable for high-traffic areas and walkways

2. Vegetable Garden

A vegetable garden is a great addition to any backyard and can be an attractive landscaping feature when done right. Install raised planting beds for a tidy, uniform look, and you will have a great family project that lets you grow some of the food you eat.

Pros:

  • Saves money by supplying some or most of your family’s produce needs
  • Provides a fun activity the whole family can enjoy
  • Reduces chemicals in your food if grown without pesticides and herbicides
  • Great way to teach kids about how food is grown
  • Helps to create functional landscaping

Cons:

  • Requires regular watering, which can be accomplished with a drip system
  • Requires regular weeding, which can be reduced by using ground covers around plants
  • Many plants will need to be replanted for each growing season

3. Herb Garden

An herb garden is an attractive lawn alternative that adds color and texture to your landscaping. Herbs can be planted in borders, raised garden beds or in the ground with meandering pathways that lead through your garden. Aside from colorful blooms and easy care, an herb garden also allows you to grow useful plants that can be used for culinary or medicinal purposes or that can be used in cut flower arrangements.

Pros:

  • Adds color and texture
  • Versatile planting and design options
  • Adds plants for culinary or medicinal purposes
  • Most herbs are low maintenance
  • Most herbs are easy to grow with children

Cons:

  • Some herbs can be toxic or skin irritants for pets or children, so choose plants that are right for your situation
  • Some herbs require extra water during times of drought
  • Requires regular weeding, which can be reduced by using ground covers around plants
  • Some herbs require pruning or deadheading to maintain appearance and health of plant

grass alternatives

4. Moss

If you have a shady yard, or a shady area in your yard, moss can be a great, low-maintenance alternative to grass. This low-growing ground cover comes in many varieties, which allows you to choose between a smoother texture or options that look more like grass.

Pros:

  • Low-maintenance ground cover that thrives in shade
  • Attractive appearance

Cons:

  • Most varieties cannot stand up to traffic or playing
  • Requires regular watering in drier climates

5. Gravel

Gravel is an economical, simple alternative that can be used anywhere you need a ground cover. Your local garden center or rock yard will have a variety to choose from, giving you some choice in the size and color of gravel you use in your yard.

Pros:

  • Essentially no maintenance, unless leaves need to be raked away
  • Inhibits weed growth
  • Inexpensive
  • Requires no water
  • Can enhance drainage
  • Provides an easy-to-clean surface for dog runs and pet areas
  • Inexpensive option for walkways and driveways

Cons:

  • Not a good choice for children’s play areas
  • Requires additional landscaping features to add color and texture to your yard
  • Can pose a choking hazard for small children
  • Can be tracked indoors in the tread of shoes

6. Wood Chips or Bark

Using wood chips or bark is a great way to cover ground with a low-maintenance material that is attractive and easy to care for. This affordable option is available at garden and home centers, and can easily be used as a lawn alternative. You may also be able to find free or low-cost wood chips in your area by contacting local tree trimming and removal services or through local programs. For example, San Diego residents can purchase natural wood chips for $24 per cubic yard at Miramar Greenery.

Pros:

  • Attractive appearance
  • Inexpensive
  • Inhibits weed growth
  • Requires no water
  • Minimal maintenance (raking leaves, refreshing with new wood chips or bark periodically)
  • Great for use around plants

Cons:

  • Loses color and breaks down over time
  • Can pose a choking hazard for small children
  • Smaller pieces can be tracked indoors on shoes or paws
  • Dyed wood chips and bark should not be used around food plants
  • May attract ants, fleas or termites

real grass alternatives

7. Mulch

Mulch is a low-cost, low-maintenance, attractive alternative to grass that adds color to your yard, limits weed growth and helps to control erosion. You may be able to find free or low-cost mulch through local programs or from tree trimmers in your area. For example, San Diego residents can obtain up to two cubic yards of mulch for free at Miramar Greenery with proof of residency.

Pros:

  • Attractive appearance
  • Adds color to your landscaping
  • Inexpensive
  • Great for high-traffic areas
  • Can be used in play areas and under play structures
  • Inhibits weed growth
  • Helps to control erosion
  • Requires no water
  • Minimal maintenance (raking leaves, refreshing mulch periodically)
  • Breaks down over time to add nutrients to soil
  • Great for use around plants

Cons:

  • Breaks down over time and will need to be replenished
  • Can pose a choking hazard for small children
  • May be tracked indoors on shoes and paws
  • May attract ants, fleas or termites

8. Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch made from recycled tires is available in a variety of colors and is an easy lawn alternative that can last many years with minimal maintenance. Shredded rubber mulch looks like organic mulch and functions in much the same way to limit weed growth and control erosion as a colorful ground cover.

Pros:

  • Attractive appearance similar to organic mulches
  • Inhibits weed growth
  • Requires no water and minimal maintenance
  • Generally does not need replenishing for up to 10 years
  • Recycled rubber product that keeps tires out of landfills
  • Provides soft ground cover for play areas and under play structures
  • Cons:

    • Does not increase soil health
    • Should not be used around plants dues to the potential for leaching zinc into the soil
    • Significantly more expensive than organic mulch
    • Flammable and has been shown to catch fire easier, burn faster and burn hotter than organic mulch
    • Questions remain about the safety of recycled rubber products, which is being looked at by the EPA

    Grass Alternatives for Backyards

    9. Artificial Grass

    Synthetic turf is an ideal option for anyone who wants the look and feel of a natural grass lawn without the extreme water usage, chemicals and maintenance requirements. This low-maintenance option allows you to enjoy a lush lawn that you can use just as you would use a natural grass lawn, but without the frequent, ongoing water usage and high level of maintenance.

    Pros:
    Provides a lush, green lawn for your front yard or backyard
    Good option for areas where pets and children play
    Allows you to use your yard just as you would with a conventional lawn
    Requires minimal maintenance (learn more about artificial grass maintenance)
    Requires no mowing, aerating, weeding, watering, edging or fertilizing
    Durable and long lasting

    Cons:
    Initial installation costs are higher than some other options
    Requires some maintenance and water to keep it clean and free of bacteria in pet restroom areas

    Find out how much artificial grass will cost for your backyard with our fake turf calculator.

    10. Patio

    Hardscape features of any type will take up space in your yard to allow you to avoid a grass lawn or limit its size. Patios, in particular, are a good option since they provide a high level of utility and can be used to entertain, relax at the end of the day or cook family meals on your grill or in your outdoor kitchen. This is also a good option for combining with an artificial grass lawn for an overall low-maintenance, functional backyard design that can be enjoyed throughout the year.

    Pros:

    • Low-maintenance option
    • Many attractive designs available if you choose paving stones or stamped concrete
    • Provides a good surface for outdoor entertaining, grilling and more
    • Could potentially increase the value of your home
    • Easy-to-clean surface for pet areas

    Cons:
    Can result in scraped knees and elbows if used in children’s play areas

    Concrete patios can crack over time

    Initial installation costs are higher than some other options

    11. Wood or Composite Deck

    Replacing a natural grass lawn with a wood or composite deck is an ideal way to increase your functional outdoor living space and lower your property’s irrigation needs. This option is particularly well suited for families who enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors or who entertain regularly.

    Pros:

    • Low-maintenance option
    • Many attractive designs available
    • Provides space for outdoor living and entertaining
    • Could potentially increase the value of your home
    • Composite decks last for many years with minimal upkeep

    Cons:

    • Wood decks require regular maintenance, including painting or staining and sealing
    • Initial installation costs are higher than some other grass alternatives

    12. Gazebo

    Adding a gazebo to your backyard is a great way to reduce lawn size and can also be included in an overall plan for a no-lawn backyard when used with ground covers, patios and flowerbeds. This attractive addition also provides a space for reading, relaxing, meditation or entertaining.

    Pros:

    • Provides space for outdoor activities
    • Attractive backyard feature
    • Increases shade in outdoor living areas

    Cons:

    • Initial installation cost is higher than some other options
    • Requires some maintenance, such as periodic painting or staining

    lawn replacement

    13. Playground

    If your natural grass lawn is functioning primarily as a play area, but you would like to remove it to save water and reduce the time you spend caring for your yard, installing a playground might be your best option. Once you remove your lawn and choose the play structures to install, you can use mulch or artificial grass as a ground cover beneath the play equipment.

    Pros:

    • Creates a fun, inviting space for your children and their guests
    • Designates an area for play, leaving other areas for different purposes
    • If using artificial grass or similar ground cover, can be used all year and right after rain (unlike natural grass)

    Cons:

    • Children will outgrow installed play structures
    • Limits use of area
    • Play structures can be expensive to purchase and have installed
    • May require maintenance, depending on the ground cover and play structures you choose

    14. Fire Pit

    Adding a fire pit with a seating area is a great way to use space in your yard while adding an attractive, useful landscaping feature. A simple rock or paving stone fire pit can be surrounded by gravel, or a patio made from concrete or pavers, to provide a wonderful spot for entertaining guests or roasting marshmallows with your kids.

    Pros:

    • Low-maintenance option
    • Provides space for entertaining and family activities
    • Could potentially increase the value of your home

    Cons:

    • Depending on design and materials, installation costs may be higher than other options

    15. Island Flowerbed

    Island flowerbeds are good choices for people who either want to reduce their lawn size or replace their grass completely. For reducing lawn size, this type of flowerbed allows you to remove as much or as little as you want of your natural grass lawn. That area can then be planted with low-water, low-maintenance plants that add texture and color to your yard. To replace your lawn completely, you can pair and island flowerbed with another of the options on this list, such as artificial grass, mulch or gravel.

    Pros:

    • Adds color and texture to yard with or without lawn
    • Increases curb appeal

    Cons:

    • May require regular watering and maintenance, depending on plant choice
    • Limits use of area, which can no longer be used in the same manner as a lawn

    16. Rock garden

    Rock gardens can be small areas with strategically placed boulders and rocks, or they can be the basis of your entire landscape design. By using a variety of rocks and gravels in various sizes, textures and colors, you can create a beautiful, inviting outdoor living area that requires little to no water or maintenance.

    Pros:

    • May be able to source rocks locally
    • Can enhance curb appeal with proper design and installation
    • Requires little to no water, depending on inclusion of plants
    • Low-maintenance landscaping option
    • Can be installed anywhere regardless of heat or freezing temperatures

    Cons:

    • Can have stark appearance if succulents or other plants are not included
    • Small rocks can pose a choking hazard for children

    Lawn Replacement Options

    17. Xeriscape/Succulent Garden

    If you are replacing your lawn to save money on your water bill and lower your home’s environmental impact, then you really cannot go wrong with xeriscaping. This type of low-water landscaping is popular in Southern California and can be seen throughout the Southwestern United States. The basic principle is to use drought-tolerant native plants and succulents to create a low-maintenance, low-water alternative to natural grass lawns and other water-wasting landscaping options.

    Pros:

    • Requires very little water
    • Very low-maintenance grass alternatives
    • Can be combined with a rock garden for added visual interest

    Cons:

    • Can be time-consuming and costly to initially install and maintain
    • Requires some water and care while plants become established

    18. Fruit Trees

    Replacing your natural grass lawn with a family orchard transforms your lawn area into a functional, food-producing space you can enjoy with your family for years to come. To limit weed growth and make it as low-maintenance as possible, install a drip system and cover the bare earth between trees with mulch, gravel, wood chips or bark.

    Pros:

    • Adds shade to your yard
    • Can lower cost of heating and cooling your home, depending on tree placement
    • Adds food-producing trees to your property
    • Can increase the perceived value of your home when selling

    Enhances privacy of outdoor living areas, depending on tree placement

    Cons:

    • May block views as trees grow
    • Requires regular watering, which can be accomplished with a drip system
    • Requires some regular maintenance, such as fertilizing and pruning

    top Lawn Replacement Options

    19. Lantana

    Lantana is incredibly easy to grow in Southern California, is drought-tolerant once established and grows quickly. Make sure you choose a variety that is used for ground cover, because some can grow into sizable shrubs. Plants can be found with white, red, pink, blue, orange or yellow blooms, so you are sure to be able to find one that suits your needs.

    Pros:

    • Non-invasive, perennial ground cover option
    • Adds additional color during blooming seasons
    • Deer resistant
    • Low-maintenance, living ground cover
    • Once it fills in, it will completely cover the ground and limit weed growth

    Cons:

    • Not appropriate for high-traffic areas
    • Requires some maintenance to keep it within the borders as this is a good grower (but not a thug)
    • Spiders like to spin webs between the stems (this can be a pro or a con depending on how you feel about spiders)

    20. Clover

    Clover is a great choice for people who want the look of a natural grass lawn, don’t mind a bit of mowing and are not concerned about a lot of traffic. This pretty ground cover requires little water and stays green all summer without the need for chemical fertilizers. It is an inexpensive option that looks great and can stand up to some traffic.

    Pros:

    • Lush, green look
    • Requires little water and minimal mowing
    • Inexpensive option
    • Unlike natural grass, can withstand dog urine without brown spots

    Cons:

    • Requires some mowing
    • Not a good option for high traffic areas
    • Active pets may damage it more easily than a conventional lawn

    21. Creeping Ivy

    Creeping ivy is a vigorous grower that will be more than happy to cover your entire lawn area for you. This easy-to-grow option will take root almost anywhere and can even be grown from cuttings or divisions acquired at no cost from a friend or neighbor. While it is beautiful to look at, it can be a bit monochromatic if not paired with other plants.

    Pros:

    • Easy to grow
    • Requires little water once established
    • Can thrive in poor soils and poor conditions
    • Provides shelter for small wildlife (this can be a pro or a con)

    Cons:

    • Can be invasive
    • Requires regular maintenance to tame it and keep it from taking over your yard
    • Can be monochromatic when used in large areas without other plants
    • Can slow or stop the growth of other plants
    • Provides shelter for small wildlife, such as rodents and snakes (this can be a pro or a con)

    22. Creeping Thyme

    Creeping thymes are low-maintenance ground cover plants that can even be harvested for culinary or medicinal purposes, depending on the variety you choose. It can be used in light traffic areas or around stepping stones, which allows its fragrance and tiny flowers to add character to walkways. Be sure you choose a variety of thyme that is appropriate for the size of the area you need to cover, since there are both slow- and fast-growing varieties. If you plan to harvest it for culinary or medicinal purposes, it is best to use this lawn alternative away from areas that are used for parking, walking or pet restroom areas.

    Pros:

    • Drought tolerant once established
    • Adds both color and fragrance to your landscaping
    • Low-maintenance ground cover that requires no mowing or fertilizing
    • Can tolerate light traffic

    Cons:

    • Can be a slow grower so requires patience to fill in large areas
    • Requires regular weeding until filled in
    • Not good for high-traffic areas

    Lawn Replacement ideas

    23. Oregano

    Oregano is another herb ground cover option that can be used to replace a natural grass lawn. This attractive choice brings a delightful fragrance to your yard and can handle light-to-moderate foot traffic, depending on the variety you choose. Creeping oregano is a fast grower that only gets about three inches tall, which makes it among the best choices of oregano varieties to use as living ground covers. Remember, if you plan on using your oregano for culinary or medicinal purposes, it is best to use it to replace lawns that are not near areas used for parking, walking or pet restrooms. Alternatively, you can always plant a separate crop in a container or in your herb garden for household use.

    Pros:

    • Beautiful, fragrant, fast-growing ground cover
    • Some varieties can withstand moderate traffic
    • Can be harvested for culinary or medicinal purposes
    • Limits weed growth once established
    • Natural pest repellent for mosquitoes and a variety of other insects
    • Can be mowed or left to grow naturally
    • Flowering perennial

    Cons:

    • Mowing every other week is necessary for those who want to maintain a well-groomed look
    • Not a good choice for high-traffic areas

    24. Prostrate Rosemary

    Prostrate rosemary (also called creeping rosemary and trailing rosemary) is an attractive, drought-tolerant option that is ideal for use on slopes and hillsides, particularly if you have a paving stone retaining wall that it can spill over. This type of rosemary has a good root system for controlling erosion and is perfect for replacing a natural grass lawn in a low-traffic area, like a hillside. While it can withstand traffic, it is too bushy to walk on, so this is best used in areas where it can show off its white or bluish-lavender blooms and give off its lovely fragrance without encumbering walking paths. This also keeps it away from children, pets and parking areas if you intend to harvest it for household use.

    Pros:

    • Adds beautiful color and welcoming fragrance
    • Drought-tolerant lawn alternative
    • Helps to limit weed growth and control erosion
    • Can be planted on hillsides
    • Low-maintenance grass replacement
    • Attracts pollinators
    • Repels mosquitoes

    Cons:

    • Not easy enough to walk on for use in high-traffic areas
    • May not be a good choice near play areas, since it attracts bees when blooming

    25. Rosemary Hedges

    If you have narrow strips of natural grass bordering walkways, you can replace the grass with rosemary hedges. This will enhance the visual appeal of your yard, add lovely color and fragrance, and allow you to enjoy drought-tolerant greenery along your garden paths. You can also replace a larger lawn area with a maze or labyrinth made from rosemary hedges. This whimsical addition will give your yard an old-world touch and take up plenty of space with an attractive, low-water, living grass lawn alternative.

    Pros:

    • Adds beautiful color and welcoming fragrance
    • Drought-tolerant lawn alternative
    • Helps to limit weed growth and control erosion
    • Low-maintenance grass replacement
    • Attracts pollinators
    • Repels mosquitoes
    • Can be harvested for culinary or medicinal purposes

    Cons:

    • Requires regular pruning and shaping if you want a clean look
    • May not be a good choice near play areas, since it attracts bees when blooming

    26. Low-Growing Shrubs

    Low-growing shrubs, such as dwarf myrtle, can be drought-tolerant lawn alternatives that can be left to grow wild, or trimmed for a ground cover that is about one foot in height. Dwarf myrtle does fine in full sun and requires little water once established. It will also crowd out weeds once it fills in and has tiny, white blooms beginning in spring and lasting through summer. Low-growing shrubs are good for erosion control, so they can also be used as a lawn alternative on a slope.

    Pros:

    • Can be trimmed or allowed to grow naturally
    • Low-maintenance grass alternatives when left to grow naturally
    • Drought-tolerant
    • Enhances erosion control
    • Limits weed growth

    Cons:

    • Not appropriate for traffic areas
    • Limits the use of the area
    • Will need to include walkways if you need to traverse the area

    27. Silver Ponyfoot

    The silvery-green foliage of this drought-tolerant ground cover can seriously enhance the visual appeal of your lawn area. Fast growing and low to the ground, silver ponyfoot can thrive in part shade or full sun, which makes it a versatile option for Southern California gardens. It can be grown around stepping stones in a walkway or allowed to spread to fill in an entire lawn area. This one is not a thug, so you can also intersperse it with other low-water ground covers to replace grass.

    Pros:

    • Drought tolerant once established
    • Limits weed growth
    • Can be grown with other low-water ground covers
    • Spreads quickly

    Cons:

    • Not good for traffic areas
    • Not good for play areas

    28. Moneywort (Creeping Jenny)

    Moneywort is an invasive thug, which means that it will spread quickly and overtake pretty much anything in its path. Invasive thugs are usually not wanted in gardens, but it does make them a good choice for folks who have a large lawn area to replace. With proper edging and regular efforts to control the spread, moneywort can be an attractive grass alternative that will even grow in shade. Just keep in mind that this thug really will creep, so be aware of this before you plant it.

    Pros:

    • Spreads quickly
    • Can withstand light traffic when used around stepping stones
    • Low-maintenance lawn alternative (except for controlling the spread)

    Cons:

    • Requires regular irrigation
    • Must be controlled with edging and regular cutting back or pulling
    • Invasive thug plant

    29. Creeping Charlie

    Like Creeping Jenny, Creeping Charlie is an invasive, fast-spreading ground cover. However, unlike Creeping Jenny, Charlie is not a thug. So, while it will take over your lawn area and every flowerbed and border in sight, it actually can be used among other plants without killing them. Generally considered a weed, Creeping Charlie has soft, attractive leaves and is often grown as a salad ingredient when not being used as a ground cover.

    Pros:

    • Spreads quickly
    • Creates a matted ground cover
    • Can withstand light foot traffic
    • Can be used around stepping stones
    • Can be used to quickly replace an entire lawn

    Cons:

    • Invasive plant generally considered a weed
    • Requires regular maintenance to control spreading behavior

    30. Mint

    Most gardeners know that all varieties of mint are best planted in containers so that they do not take over the entire garden. However, this invasive quality is precisely what makes mint such a great lawn substitute. If you want an attractive, fragrant, grass-free lawn, mint might be the right choice for you. As an added bonus, you can harvest it for making tea, cooking or medicinal purposes. If you do plan to harvest it, be sure to only take cuttings that are not close to parking areas, pet restroom areas or walking paths.

    Pros:

    • Fast growing and spreads quickly
    • Low-maintenance requirements (except for controlling spread)
    • Adds great color and fragrance to yard
    • Tolerates some traffic, which releases aroma

    Cons:

    • Invasive, aggressive grower
    • Requires some maintenance to control spread
    • Requires regular irrigation

    Lawn Replacement Options ideas

    31. Chamomile

    Some chamomile varieties can be used as lawn alternatives, such as English chamomile and Roman chamomile. While this grass replacement is fairly time consuming in the beginning, it becomes an attractive, low-maintenance option that can even withstand traffic once it is well established. The small, white flowers on many creeping and low-growing varieties make chamomile lawns particularly appealing.

    Pros:

    • Low maintenance once well established
    • Can be mowed periodically to shear and deadhead
    • Attractive, fragrant lawn alternative
    • Grows well in sunny areas
    • Can withstand traffic once established

    Cons:

    • Requires a lot of care in the beginning, including watering, weeding, thinning and seeding
    • Requires regular watering, particularly in times of drought
    • Does not do well in heavy clay soil, which is common in San Diego and surrounding areas
    • Cannot walk on a chamomile lawn for at least three to four months after planting

    32. Yarrow

    Several varieties of yarrow can be used as a dense, traffic-tolerant lawn alternative. Dwarf yarrows are often the best choice for those who want something that looks and acts more like a traditional lawn. Flowering varieties are also a popular choice, since they add more color to your yard. While yarrow is not drought tolerant, it only requires about half of the water needed to keep a natural grass lawn healthy, so it is a water-saving lawn replacement. To create a lawn that can withstand a lot of traffic, mow your yarrow regularly for a denser ground cover.

    Pros:

    • Requires about half of the water needed for a natural grass lawn
    • Attractive, popular grass substitute successfully used in Southern California
    • Can withstand traffic

    Cons:

    • Requires regular irrigation
    • May require regular weeding if not mowed regularly

    33. Ornamental Grasses

    Drought-tolerant ornamental grasses are a good choice for folks who know they need to give up their conventional grass lawn for the sake of the environment, to save money and to save time on yard care tasks but who are not quite ready to completely give up grass. These attractive lawn alternatives require no mowing and little water once established, plus the clumping varieties will grow only where you plant them, so you do not have to worry about invasive spreading. The biggest downside is that most ornamental grasses are only for looks, so this lawn alternative will not work in areas where you actually want to use your lawn. Check out mondo grass for low-growing varieties if you are looking for a shorter grass that will look a bit more like a conventional lawn but without the regular mowing requirements.

    Pros:

    • Drought tolerant once established
    • Clumping varieties are non-invasive
    • Low-maintenance landscaping option
    • Requires no mowing

    Cons:

    • Limits use of the area
    • Not good for traffic areas

    34. Creeping Lilyturf

    Lilyturf is an ornamental grass that is a popular lawn substitute but needs to be addressed separately, because its qualities differ from the ornamental grasses mentioned above. Creeping lilyturf, as the name implies, is a creeper, which means it send out runners and will continue to spread if not controlled. While it can withstand a little traffic, lilyturf makes for a pretty lumpy lawn, so it is not ideal for play areas or walkways.

    Pros:

    • Drought tolerant once established
    • Deer resistant
    • Can grow in sun or shade
    • Limits weed growth
    • Spreads quickly

    Cons:

    • Not good for traffic areas
    • Invasive when not controlled

    35. California Meadow Sedge

    California meadow sedge is one of several sedge varieties that can grow well in Southern California. In terms of living lawn alternatives, sedges are among the fastest growing in popularity and, once you have seen just how conventional-grass-like some of these sedges can be, you will know why. While they do require regular irrigation, sedges require little to no mowing, thrive in a variety of soils, and can withstand foot traffic. For higher-traffic areas, California meadow sedge is a particularly good choice. Plus, this variety can grow well in the clay soils we see throughout San Diego, as well as the sandier soils near the coast.

    Pros:

    • Sedge lawns are natural grass lawns
    • Native sedges require little maintenance once established
    • Mowing a few times a year keeps sedges looking more like conventional lawns
    • Requires less water than conventional grass if you choose a native variety

    Cons:

    • Requires regular irrigation
    • Requires regular weeding until established as a ground cover

    36. Ice Plant

    Ice plant is the type of plant folks either love or hate. It can be seen everywhere in coastal California, often taking over a large area, since it can be quite invasive. This invasive tendency can be a problem, but it also makes it an easy-to-grow choice as a grass alternative that will quickly cover your lawn area with greenery and seasonal blooms.

    Pros:

    • Grows well in coastal California
    • Drought-tolerant
    • Will easily cover a large area
    • Limits weed growth
    • Controls erosion
    • Forms a thick ground cover

    Cons:

    • Invasive thug plant that will crowd out native plants
    • Not good for traffic areas
    • Requires maintenance to cut it back or remove it as it spreads
    • California Department of Fish & Wildlife has it listed as an invasive plant to avoid

    37. Stonecrop

    The terms stonecrop and sedum refer to a large range of succulents that thrive in sunny spots and require little water once established. Creeping varieties are particularly good choices as grass alternatives and can be planted from clippings, which makes this an inexpensive option. This option is just for show and cannot be used in areas with traffic or where children or pets play.

    Pros:

    • Drought-tolerant ground cover
    • Limits weed growth
    • Helps to control erosion
    • Can be planted almost anywhere that receives sun
    • Many varieties have colorful blooms

    Cons:

    • Cannot withstand foot traffic
    • Some varieties have thuggish qualities and will choke out native plants or other stonecrops

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    Natural Grass Alternatives: Final Thoughts

    If you simply must have at least a small patch of natural grass, you can still save money and limit your environmental impact. You can do this by choosing drought-tolerant grasses, such as buffalo grass, zoysia or switchgrass, that require less water and by using a push mower, instead of a lawnmower powered by gas or electricity. Low-maintenance, drought-resistant grasses also require less weeding and fewer chemical lawn care products, making them a better choice than conventional lawns.

    You can also limit the space you dedicate to natural grass by including walkways, flowerbeds and plant borders in your landscape design. Limiting your lawn space, or replacing a grass lawn completely, can help you lower your water bill, save time on maintenance and limit the chemical products required to keep your yard looking great.

    With the alternatives listed above and a bit of creative landscaping design, you will find that you can have an inviting, visually appealing yard with little or no natural grass. Do you have a favorite grass alternative that you have used in your yard to reduce the use of water and chemicals? If so, we would love for you to share your landscaping tips in the comment section below.