Science, Tech, Math › Social Sciences Low Maintenance Alternatives to Grass Share Flipboard Email Print Francois De Heel / Getty Images Social Sciences Environment Green Living Climate Change and Global Warming Environment Health Pollution Alternative Fuels Psychology Sociology Archaeology Economics Ergonomics Maritime By EarthTalk is a regular feature of E/The Environmental Magazine. Selected EarthTalk columns are reprinted by permission of the editors of E. our editorial process Earth Talk Updated March 08, 2019 Grass lawns first appeared in Europe in medieval times, status symbols for the rich that had to be kept trimmed by fairly labor-intensive methods, often by grazing livestock and certainly not by polluting lawn mowers and poisonous weed killers. Lawns actually did not become popular in North America until the middle of the 20th century, but are now as common as the middle-class suburban homes they surround. It Takes Water and Money to Keep Grass Lawns Green Besides hogging public water supplies—over 50 percent of U.S. residential water usage goes to irrigate lawns—a 2002 Harris Survey found that American households spend $1,200 per year on residential lawn care. Indeed, the booming lawn care industry is more than eager to convince us that our grass can be greener—and then sell us all the synthetic fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and leaky lawnmowers to make it so. Groundcover Plants and Clover Require Less Maintenance than Grass Lawns There are many alternatives to a carpet of monochromatic grass for one’s property. A variety of groundcover plants and clover can be used instead, as they spread out and grow horizontally and require no cutting. Some varieties of groundcover are Alyssum, Bishops Weed, and Juniper. Common clovers include Yellow Blossom, Red Clover, and Dutch White, the best suited of the three for lawn use. Groundcover plants and clovers naturally fight weeds, act as mulch and add beneficial nitrogen to the soil. Flowers, Shrubs and Ornamental Grasses Consider using flower and shrub beds, which can be “strategically located to add color and interest while expanding the low maintenance areas of your yard,” and planting ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses, many which flower, have numerous benefits over conventional grasses, including low maintenance, little need for fertilizer, minimal pest, and disease problems and resistance to drought. However tempting, though, try to avoid planting invasive plants. Anyway, native plants often require less water and general maintenance. Moss Plants are Another Alternative to Grass Lawns According to David Beaulieu, moss plants should also be considered, especially if your yard is shady: “Because they are low-growing and can form dense mats, moss plants can be considered an alternative ground cover for landscaping and planted as ‘shade gardens’ in lieu of traditional lawns.” Moss plants do not possess true roots, he points out, instead deriving their nutrients and moisture from the air. As such they like wet surroundings and also soil with a pH that is acidic. The Benefits of Grass Lawns In all fairness, lawns do have a few plusses. They make great recreational spaces, prevent soil erosion, filter contaminants from rainwater and absorb many kinds of airborne pollutants. So you might still keep a short section of lawn, one that can be mowed with a few easy strokes. If you do, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends avoiding traditional synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. The Best Ways to Care for Grass Lawns A number of all-natural alternatives are now widely available at nurseries. Natural lawn care advocates also advise mowing high and often so that grass can out-compete any nascent weeds. Leaving clippings where they land, so they can serve as natural mulch, helps prevent weeds from getting a foothold.