Pam Penick is the landscape designer behind green design guide, Lawn Gone. Full of inspiring images and ideas for sustainable, low-maintenance yards, Lawn Gone has us rethinking all of our spring plans and obsessing over what we could do with our outdoor space! Here are a few of our favorite ideas from Pam herself…
The default ground cover in neighborhoods around the country is a giant rectangle of fluffy lawn, and for decades we’ve been taught to douse our lawns with chemical fertilizers and pesticides to achieve putting-green perfection. Today, however, we’re concerned about the lawn’s impact on the environment: its heavy water use, the toxic chemicals used to fertilize and keep lawns pest-free, which often end up in our waterways, and the air and noise pollution created by maintenance equipment. When you realize that most people hardly use their lawns, especially the front lawn, it can seem an awful waste to maintain something you never use. Happily, there are many excellent alternatives to the lawn!
Go green in your yard by ditching the lawn – or at least shrinking it down to size. Plant less thirsty, no-mow substitutes. Add generous hardscape (like paths and patios) and fun features to entice you outdoors for relaxation or entertaining. You’ll find that ultimately you’ll use fewer resources and enjoy a more beautiful landscape for your home!
6 Lawn-free yard ideas:
- 1. Take your lawn off life support.
Nearly everyone has areas of lawn that struggle. Maybe your yard has grown shady over the years, and the grass is patchy and thin. Maybe it suffers in the hot, unwatered strip along the street or in rocky or damp areas of your yard. Rather than apply chemicals to bring it back to health or re-sod again and again, listen to your lawn. It’ll tell you where it doesn’t want to grow. Take note and replace areas of struggling grass with plants that do like those conditions.
- 2. Make more room for “people places”.
The amount of hardscape – paved areas like paths and patios – in most yards is insufficient and uninviting, perhaps only a meager concrete front walk and a small patio in back. A wider, gracious walk, an enlarged patio, maybe a gravel path leading to the shed or a hammock – these elements invite you to step outside and explore, relax or entertain, and they take up space formerly reserved for lawn. Plus they never need to be watered or mowed!
- 3. Try a no-mow grass substitute.
If you like the look of lawn, or if your HOA requires it, try growing a grassy, no-mow substitute. No-mow seed mixes of fine fescues or low-growing native grasses are available for every climate, or plant a grass-like groundcover like lilyturf or sedge. You can mimic the look of lawn without all the mowing, edging, feeding, and watering.
- 4. Treat lawn as a throw rug, not wall-to-wall carpeting.
Lawn grass, like other living groundcovers, should be used as an intentional design element: imagine an elegant, green throw rug rather than wall-to-wall carpeting. Reduce your lawn to a size that’s just right for playing with the dog or having a game of catch, with no excess lawn bleeding off into unusable corners that are difficult to mow. A smaller lawn uses less water and energy to maintain but still provides a lush, green look.
- 5. Use ground-covering mulch.
Do you have a cluster of trees that are time-consuming to mow around? Replace fussy lawn under your trees with a ground-covering mulch of shredded bark or pine needles. If you wish, plant shade-tolerant shrubs or perennials among the trees or leave it open and unplanted, like a forest glade.
- 6. Add a fun feature to your yard.
Water features, garden structures, playhouses for the kids, firepits, bocce courts – these are just a few of the elements you can add to make your yard a more attractive, enticing place to spend time. And as it turns out, features like these can take up much, if not all, of the space that used to be dedicated to boring, time-consuming lawn. Think about how you’d like to spend time outdoors and sub out that lawn for something more enjoyable.