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Lawns . . . Or No-Mow Yards?

There are any number of lawn alternatives that require less work and water than grass.

Thyme LawnNo mow lawns are gaining a lot of attention and for good reason. In times of drought and increasing water bills, a water-intensive carpet of grass may not be practical. Some homeowners find raising their own organic vegetables where grass once grew a more effective use of space. Others find lawns just too much work and expense, especially when cared for using conventional, fertilizer-and-herbicide methods that result in harmful runoff and other environmental hazards.

Lawn alternatives are gaining in popularity what with the rise of xeriscape gardening and native-plant gardens. Evelyn J. Hadden’s book Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (Timber Press) makes plenty of arguments for replacing your grass with landscaping rocks and paving stones, with drought hardy indigenous plants, with vegetable gardens, or with shrubs and fragrant mixes of perennial and annual flowers and herbs. But before you plunge ahead, there’s still one important thing to consider… do you really want to get rid of your lawn?

Perfect for backyards, road ditches and golf course roughs! This drought-tolerant mix combines native grasses with a beautiful selection of both annual and perennial wildflowers. Remains green through late fall and will grow to a mature height of 6 to 12 inches — mow once or twice a year, if at all! Apply 3 to 4 lbs. covers 1,000 square feet.

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, a firm believer in function over form (but a lover of beautiful form as well), suggests you consider the use of your lawn. Is it a family gathering spot? Do you use it for play and recreation? Do you have children and pets with a need for outdoor activity? Do you like to picnic and just lay out on the grass? For all or any of these reasons (especially that one about children), you have a need for a lawn. But if its just a place to admire, walked on only when you’re mowing? Maybe not.

Hadden herself makes the lawn question one of practicality. “Often these valuable spaces go unused,” she says. “Fitted with a pristine carpet they remain as empty as a formal dining room that gathers dust while the family crowds around a too-small kitchen table. Meanwhile the real living happens in backyards that are crowded with play areas, seating areas, flowerbeds, and vegetable patches, all in less-than ideal sizes and locations.”

The front yard-backyard comparison is a good one. If your kids do most of their playing and roughhousing in the backyard, maybe you should move the flower and vegetable beds to the front where, for whatever reason, your kids don’t play as much. In establishing no-mow spaces it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to go 100%. The front yard-back yard consideration may yield valuable results, one that keeps some patch of lawn where it’s most needed. Remember: half-way is better than no way at all.

Of course, if you’re going to pour lots of chemical fertilizer and herbicide to your lawn, then what’s the point? You wouldn’t want your kids playing there anyway. If you’re going to have a lawn, then you should use good organic practice in caring for it.

But if your lawn is just a pretty (or not so) feature of your landscape that drinks up water and your time, then why not consider expanding your vegetable garden, planting some xeric-efficient native plants or otherwise using the space for something other than grass? Here are some practical tips from Hadden about getting started converting your lawn, not all at once, but bit by bit. You might want to peruse the entire website — it’s a good one — for other tips and plans.

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7 Responses to “Lawns . . . Or No-Mow Yards?”

  1. Pauline on April 15th, 2013 at 3:17 am #

    A lawn is a living, growing thing, a better carbon sink than concrete, and even more so if you leave the clippings in place, which also reduces the need for chemical fertilizer. And most people find a well-tended lawn pleasant-looking.

    • Anonymous on February 21st, 2014 at 8:24 am #

      All of the grass in the world combined carbon sequestering capabilities would equal to about 3 mature Oak trees.

  2. evenstar227 on February 21st, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Check your city’s laws and/or homeowners association rules before tearing up your front lawn and planting veggies. There have been a lot of folks being fined and harassed by cities and HOAs for daring to plant “unsightly” fruits and vegetables in the front yard.

  3. Robyn on March 9th, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    In the top picture of the article, what is the purple flowering groundcover? It’s beautiful! I could definitely see myself growing that in my front yard.

  4. Lindacay on June 30th, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    I really like this idea, more fruits and vegetables to grow and preserve. Perfect gift of these is wonderful

  5. Brianna Rogers on February 12th, 2019 at 7:31 am #

    Loved this article and many others you have. Thank you!

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