Designing a Nontraditional Lawn

2succulent-landscapeThere exist two schools of thought when it comes to mowing the lawn. One school of thought is the dread of having to mow the lawn. The amount of time that is wasted doing this chore is viewed as a negative when it comes to homeownership.  The second school of thought is one of pure joy.  The thought of being outside in the fresh air, getting exercise, and the feeling of accomplishment makes having a lawn worth it.  But what can the homeowner do who dreads the first day of spring and the thought of another mowing season or the homeowner who can no longer mow the grass. The solution is to create a nontraditional grassless lawn.

Native Grasses

Native grasses are excellent for front yards that want to be different, but still give the look of a traditional lawn.  They give any yard a regional flare when native grasses are used in this design.  When planting this native grass lawn add two inches of organic matter to the yard and till under the first four to five inches. At this point the lawn can be seeded with one type of native grass or a mixture of native grasses.  These grasses include Meadow Barley (Hordeum brachyantherum), Buffalograss (buchloe dactyloides), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Purple Needle Grass (Nassella pulchra), Broomsedge (andropogon virginicus), and Silver Bluestem (Bothriochlow saccharoides).

Once the native grass lawn is seeded keep moist after germination and pamper the first year.  This type of lawn has a very low water requirement, low maintance, and only requires mowing once a year.


Succulents are not just for the desert anymore, but instead can find a home as a front lawn plant.  If one lives in a desert area, has a rock yard or a location where water is limited succulents are the answer.  They require no additional water, no mowing, creates a unique texture to the landscape, and provides seasonal interest when they flower.


Many homeowners have fought the war against moss growing in the lawn. But instead of fighting the moss why not welcome it with open arms. Moss thrives in moist, shady areas where grass has a hard time growing. But if you convert your lawn into a mossy oasis do not fear grass coming up through the moss and creating an unkept appearance. Grass in this environment can be taken care of by painting an herbicide on the grass blades or running a rake over the surface of the moss lawn.  The rake going over the surface will pull the grass out while leaving the moss alone.  Cotoneaster horizontalis, Cotoneaster damperi, and golden moss all work well as an alternative to grass in a lawn.


Perennial herbs work well as a lawn alternative. They must be low growing and not mind being tread upon.  Prostrate thyme is such a plant.  This plant comes in two forms. The first form grows less than 3-inches in height in a ground cover habitat.  The second form grows taller than 3-inches and grows in mounds.  Other herbs that can be used in place of grass in a lawn include creeping thyme, and woolly thyme.


Hardscape can be defined in landscaping terms as any hard surface such as concrete or asphalt. But covering the lawn surface in concrete may be the dream of a lot of homeowners but it is impractical in cost and the environmental effects of runoff are astronomical in nature.  But there does exist a hardscape that creates a pure, carefree lawn without the environmental problems that occur from using an impermeable hard surface. The hardscape that reduces lawn work without the environmental issues is the simple pea gravel.  Many homeowners have chosen this approach but have not simply laid landscape cloth down on the soil surface and dumped pea gravel. Instead they have created visual interest by changing the shape of their lawns and creating hills and valleys. Container gardens are placed throughout the lawn for visual and seasonal interest and other elements of hardscape such as stepping-stones are used as additional points of interest.  While this approach may not be for everybody and may seem drastic it does literally create a carefree lawn.

No longer does owning a home mean that you have to be stuck with the dreaded chore of mowing the grass.  One could pay the kid down the street in the neighborhood to mow the grass but some still like the feeling that the “lawn care” is theirs.  For those individuals and others who want a simple solution to lawn care the suggestions provided are the answer.  Some are simple while others are more complex but utilizing one or more in your landscape plan will help reduce lawn care work.  But most of all it will help you create a lawn with your own personal style.


Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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