Monday, October 10, 2011

Goodbye Lawn! Part 1

For a while now, I've been in my husband's ear about getting rid of our front lawn. Planting the seed, so to speak, of the idea that there are alternatives to grass, and that we can be unique while using fewer resources. He's been resistant to the idea mainly, I think, because it's tradition - all the other homes in our area grow grass in their front lawn. But lawns can be labor-intensive and expensive. Consider all of the resources used while mowing, blowing, edging, trimming, watering, seeding, weeding, de-thatching, aerating, and fertilizing the lawn. Granted, we don't do all of these (we don't water or fertilize) but still spend about 1-1.5 hours a week on the lawn. The funny thing is, we don't even walk on the front lawn! Since we live on a semi-busy street, we do all of our outdoor living in the backyard.

So, I think I've broken him down. Between my rambling on about the labor, financial, and environmental savings, and the fact that it's looked pretty bad all summer, I think he is coming over to my side. Just last week, I brought up the great lawn debate again, and got a positive response! That is, if you consider a very defeated sounding, "I don't really care anymore," a positive response. Yippee! More room for plants!

The standard front yard is changing, and becoming more eco-friendly. And there are so many alternatives. 

A turf-free front yard is unique and sustainable. Credit

Hundreds of groundcover options are available including sedums, clovers, thyme, mint, moss, and so many other low-growing and spreading plants. Sunny front yards like mine have the most options. Lo-grow grasses such as buffalo grass, prairie smoke, or blue fescue; sedges; and many flowering groundcovers would work well. For yards with partial sun, liriope is a good option. It spreads quickly and blooms a white or purple flower.

Homeowners with shady yards have undoubtedly spent lots of money and time trying to grow grass. Groundcovers that tolerate shade are perfect for this type of yard and include pachysandra, ajuga, corydalis, or wild strawberry.

Artificial groundcovers are also interesting, and decorative rocks, a paver patio, decking, or artificial grass should be considered.

Freshly planted liriope as a lawn replacement. Credit 

Choosing Natives 
Our region’s native plants are a great option when considering what to replace your lawn with. Not only do native plants support much more wildlife and beneficial insects than grass, but their deeper root systems help water to infiltrate, relieving pressure on our already stressed sewer systems and allow recharging of our underground aquifers.

Once established, native plants are easier to care for than grass, requiring little to no watering or fertilization. Watering and weeding are necessary until the plants are established, but after that, they will thrive without if sited correctly. 

I was so excited to design a front yard potager for one of my first clients this season. The homeowner is an energetic mom of three kids and wants to grow the vegetables that her family eats, however, her backyard is shady. Your sunny front yard can be put to more use than just growing grass! We designed a square potager using brick pavers, a small seating area, updated shrubs and perennials near the foundation and sidewalk, and enclosed it all in a beautiful short fence. You can grow your own vegetables in an elegant way that complements your home and welcomes guests.

Put your sunny front yard to work growing vegetables.

Important Considerations
Before choosing a lawn alternative, consider how much foot traffic the yard will endure. Some groundcovers cannot handle heavy traffic, so more durable materials should be used. Other important things to assess are the amount of sun the yard receives, soil type, climate, and slope.

In Goodbye Lawn! Part 2, you'll see the "Before" pics, and I'll tell you what plants I've chosen for my grass-free front lawn.


  1. Can't wait to see! Maybe now you'll use the front yard too!

  2. When we were first engaged and talking about how to divide household chores, Mister Doctor W. advised me he did not like to mow the lawn. I told him I had a solution for THAT.

    The only remaining turf in our yard (and it's shrinking year by year as we steal more of it to expand flower beds!!) is in the far back yard beyond the main garden beds.

    Our entire front yard aside from the driveway is cottage gardens... and I can't tell you how many people have pulled into our driveway just to gaze at it!

    But even at that, it is an evolving project... we are always adding, moving, pruning, propogating.

    I can't wait to see what you did with your front yard. ;)

  3. I am all about tearing out grass - I hate maintaining it! The kids like playing on it, so I keep some areas. In the backyard, I've been keeping the pretty groundcover weeds and trying to get them to spread!
    Can't wait to see what you chose as an alternative!

  4. Thanks Cathy and Steve and Indie! We are not planting until spring, so we have lots of time to pick the plants. On Monday I'll post what I've chosen so far.