Go Ahead, Tear Out Your Lawn — Here's How To Create A Grass-free Yard You'll Love
For some people, the battle for grass isn't worth it. Fertilizing four times a year, fighting off bare and brown spots, weeds, burrs, the weekly mowing dragging into December: "A lawn is the highest maintenance feature you will have in a landscape," says Kevin Lenhart, design director for Yardzen, an online landscape design service.
So what are your options if that level of maintenance just isn't for you? "There is a popular misconception that the only alternative to lawn is a rock garden or a desert landscape, and that's just not true," explains Lenhart. "You can emulate literally any garden style without including lawn." He says it's useful to think of the lawn not as lawn, but as space. And there are many ways to fill it.Add seating areas and decorative elements.
Some HOAs have come around to grass-free yards, because they suit modern design really well and are more practical in drought-prone North Texas. Cate Singleton, the Dallas-based director of design and landscape architect for online service Tilly, says even if your HOA says no to a completely grass-free yard, reducing the amount of turf is still helpful both for your water bill and the environment.For a Dallas client, Yardzen designed a backyard with reduced grass. That area was replaced with rocks, pavers, a pergola and a fire pit seating area.(Courtesy Yardzen)
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"You can take out sections of your lawn, expand your landscape bed areas, add decorative gravel in, create a courtyard space and establish ground covers," Singleton says. More options include a deck, a pergola, seating area, a fountain, a sculpture piece, pavers in a pattern — there are plenty of choices for a front yard or a backyard, whether you're pulling out all your grass or just a portion.Plant a vegetable garden. Yardzen created this design that reduced traditional grass and incorporated raised beds for growing vegetables. A courtyard completes the look.(Courtesy Yardzen)
A vegetable garden can be an attractive option while also feeding your family, and it can go behind, to the side or even in front of your house. "We've found that vegetable gardens in the front are like a neighbor magnet. People always want to come over and chitchat when you're out there working on them," says Lenhart. "It's a really good thing, especially in single-family home neighborhoods where people often don't talk to their neighbors very much. The more that we can bring activity into the front yard by creating social spaces, the more that we are investing in healthier communities."Choose artificial turf. With artificial turf, this Yardzen-designed backyard is always ready to entertain.(Courtesy Yardzen)
For open green space without the work, you could replace grass with artificial turf. You'll save water and on your water bill while having essentially zero maintenance. There are durable, environmentally friendly options and even turfs designed specifically with pets in mind. And your yard will stay green year-round. Keep in mind, though, that the artificial status will be obvious when your neighbors' grass turns brown.Related:The 5 best landscaping tips for beginnersUse turf grasses and native plants.
Native plants are another option — and a good one. They tend to be healthier and stronger, since they thrive in the local region. Native plants have deeper root systems (anywhere from 2 to 13 feet), which enable them to access deeper water reserves and survive more easily without constant surface water once established. And Lenhart says once you put in the time and money to make the switch, you'll save time and money every year after that.The owners of this ranch-style home opted for an artificial turf lawn to conserve water while creating a play area for their children. The front pathway is lined with drought-tolerant and pollinator-supporting plants like English lavender, with natural mulch to prevent moisture loss.(Courtesy Yardzen)
You're also helping suppress weeds and invasive plants while supporting native pollinators and other wildlife. Finally, you're not only conserving groundwater, you're improving the ability of your property to absorb and soak up that precious rainfall instead of directing it into the streets and gutters. "Lawn replacement is a massive opportunity to have a more ecologically responsible and productive yard," Lenhart notes.
You can also use turf grasses to create the appearance of standard grasses. "In some areas that may be a little more shady, and possibly for HOAs that aren't particular on the type of turf grasses that are used, you could possibly look at the thunder turf option or a buffalo grass that still appears like grass, but is a much more drought-tolerant option," Singletary explains.
It takes about three years to transition from a grass lawn to a turf-yard, so even if you do want to go grass-free, doing it in stages is recommended, she adds. "Generally the first year of planting is an establishment year, and then the second is more of a growing year," Singletary says. "And the third is when you'll see a no-grass yard really start to fill in."
So what kind of plants should you look for lawn replacement?
Frog fruit: "It really spreads pretty well and it's got a nice little pink to white bloom in the spring that goes into the summer," says Singleton. "It's also very drought tolerant." Frog fruit grows to just 3-4 inches high and spreads to 12 inches around. It can handle sun, part sun and shade, and after regular watering the first year is extremely drought and heat tolerant.
Carpet sedum: Carpet sedum will start out lime green and transition into a rust color in the fall. It's an excellent ground cover for hot, dry areas with poor soil, and once established, it propagates easily. Just break pieces off in early summer to replant.
Buffalo grass: This hardy grass can survive on just 12 inches of water a year. (Other lawn grasses can require as much as 60 to 120 inches of water each year.) Buffalo grass grows to just 8 inches and has no natural diseases or pests. It can also withstand extreme heat and cold.
Thunder Turf: This is a drought and heat-resistant combination of buffalo grass, blue grama and curly mesquite that is a self-seeding native perennial. It can survive temperatures of 1 degree all the way to 110 degrees. "It shouldn't be mowed to lower than maybe 3-4 inches, and it gives you some really great movement," Singleton shares. "It looks beautiful on more modern properties, and it's very low-maintenance and drought tolerant."
A no-grass yard is a different feel altogether, but one that can fit in well to any neighborhood or architecture, says Lenhart — even with turf grasses and native varieties. That's because your reimagined yard doesn't have to be unruly.
"There is a concept in landscape architecture of 'messy planting, orderly frames,' he says. "If you take these kind of shaggier planting designs and frame them with clean hardscape elements, decorative stone or even a minimal amount of lawn, that can go miles toward making it look presentable and certainly up to par with community standards of tidiness."
More ideas for a no-grass or reduced-grass yard:
Easy Garden Plants That 'live For 50 Years' Without Any Maintenance
Gardening rewards you with a lawn flourishing with plants and life, but it's a hobby that can be backbreaking.
It can be relaxing, but it also requires maintenance and the carrying of heavy loads to and fro through the seasons. Fortunately, there are more low maintenance that can thrive for years.
To save you time and energy, Blythe Yost, landscape architect, CEO and co-founder of Tilly Design, has shared plants that can last for "up to 50 years".Read More Related Articles Read More Related Articles
Perennials are plants that live more than two years. Whilst some will decline after a few seasons, others can live for decades. Blythe says certain plants like peonies and irises have true lasting power, but they may cost more upfront.
As reported by the Express, she said: "Plants like peonies and iris will easily live on for 50 years if left undisturbed."
Peonies are fragrant flowers with huge bowl-shaped blooms that can become heavy. To avoid them from toppling over, just add grid stakes to support the blooms. Gardeners should be also be mindful to plant them in their forever home as they don't like to be moved.The Siberian iris are among one of the longest living perennials (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
As for irises, Siberian and African irises are two species that persevere with little attention. All irises, including those that rebloom, need to be divided every few years to promote flowering, but they'll live on even without the extra attention.
Meanwhile, other plants like coreopsis and nepeta have shorter life spans, but they can be lengthened with regular division. Typically, gardeners will tend to opt to plant "showy" annuals that need to be planted again and again after they've died off.Top Trending Stories Today
There is one downside to perennials - their blooms won't last as long as shorter-lived annuals. Some perennials have shorter bloom cycles and may go dormant during resting periods when they don't show flowers.
Blythe explained to Real Simple: "Perennials typically have a shorter bloom cycle than annuals."
To extend the lifespan of the blooms and increase them season to season, a little work goes a long way. She advised gardeners to cut back perennials in autumn and that simple maintenance task will create brilliant full blooms come spring.
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5 Of The Worst Garden Weeds And What You Can (or Can't) Do About Them
"Fall is in the air. Time to plan spring blooms."
These words of horticultural wisdom come from Jenna Christensen who gardens in Manhattan Beach. New beginnings in the garden come twice a year: In the fall, when we plan and plant according to what we want to bloom next year and beyond, and in the spring when whatever we plant now puts on a spurt of growth and bulbs, at least, sprout glowing, smile-producing flowers that make the winter wait for them worthwhile.
According to Jewish tradition, the world was created in the fall and Adam and Eve were created on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish year. The idea of fall creation makes sense since the first couple had an immediate source of food in the form of tree fruit – much of which ripens in the fall – ready to be picked. And there was lots of fruit to choose from as God tells Adam: "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" (Genesis 2:16-17). Of course, Adam and Eve could not resist the forbidden fruit and, as they say, the rest is history.
But what were the horticultural consequences of this regretful act? Weeds! To quote the Biblical account: "Because you ate from the tree I commanded you saying: 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed be the ground … it will grow thorns and thistles for you" (Genesis 3:17-18). Indeed, the curse of the garden is weeds and we can only dream of what life would be like without them.
Here is a list of five of our most pernicious weeds:
1. Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon)
As a lawn grass, Bermuda is desirable for its drought tolerance. In order to thrive, it needs regular water in hot weather, if not daily irrigation, but it can survive virtually without water owing to its triple insurance policy: underground rhizomes for long-term energy storage in the form of starch; above-ground stolons or runners that root wherever a node touches the soil surface; and deep roots, which may go down as far as 10 feet. In an ornamental or vegetable garden, hand-pulling will keep Bermuda grass under reasonable control and four inches of mulch above a layer of newspaper will have a depressing effect on its growth.
2. Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)
Convolvulus is a wiry-rooted weed with attractive white or pinkish-white gramophone-shaped flowers. It's called bindweed because it binds itself and winds itself around the stems and leaves of everything in its path and, if nothing is in its path, it winds itself around itself. It can never be completely dug out owing to its Bermuda-like rhizomes and its taproot that defies deracination. In addition, its seeds remain viable for more than 20 years.
To control bindweed in the garden, don rubber gloves and spray a systemic herbicide onto a sponge. Sponge the leaves and shoots of your bindweed and watch it wither away. If you are adamant about the avoidance of toxic chemicals in the garden, you can kill it and most other weeds, for that matter, with a 20% vinegar solution (4 parts water: 1 part vinegar). The problem is that whatever vinegar touches it will kill so you have to exercise caution in targeting weeds while directing spray away from desirable plants.
3. Wood sorrel or oxalis (Oxalis corniculata)
Wood sorrel is another attractive weed. Novice gardeners often mistake it for clover, because of its shamrock foliage. It also has the look of an ornamental ground cover, due to its mounding growth habit and attractive, butter-yellow flowers. There are two commonly seen types, one with green and one with maroon to deep violet-colored leaves.
The problem with oxalis eradication is its wiry tap root and explosive seed capsules. If you scrape or hoe it off to ground level, it will simply grow back. If you try to dig out its roots, you will be at great pains to remove them completely because they grow in a web, easily break apart and defy smooth extraction.
You may decide that, well, this plant is actually kind of attractive, so why not just let it take over the flower bed? You may even excuse your inactivity by recalling that famous maxim of weed scientists, namely that "a weed is a plant for which no useful purpose has yet been found." The problem with oxalis is that it does not stay confined to a single flower bed, but shoots its seeds six feet in every direction so that it will soon become a garden-wide headache. Control it like you would field bindweed.
4. Black mustard (Brassica nigra)
This is the most widely distributed weed in California. It's a winter annual which means it dies in summer but comes up with winter rain, flowering in spring and summer. It is actually quite a spectacle to see a mass of it in bloom with its heavy load of yellow flowers. Control it through solarization which involves soaking it when actively growing, after which it is immediately covered with clear plastic, after which it dies in the steam heat that is generated and trapped under the plastic when the summer sun beats down upon it.
5. Nutsedge or nutgrass (Cyperus esculentus)
This is widely considered to be the worst weed in California. It is easily identifiable by its shiny leaf blades and hard, nutlike underground tubers. Complete eradication may not be possible. But there are some anti-nutsedge chemical products, available in garden centers and through the Internet, that you might want to try. If you are opposed to chemical use, you will probably have to sell your house and move to another, after carefully inspecting the garden of your home-to-be to make sure no nutsedge is present. Still, heavy mulching, as in a six-inch layer of wood chips, may be effective for nutsedge control if you can keep that thickness of mulch present at all times.
There are relatives of nutsedge that are more garden-friendly. Umbrella plant (Cyperus alternifolius) grows up to 5 feet tall with many parasol-shaped leaves. It is valued, in some quarters, for its durability as a container plant, whether on the patio or indoors. The problem with umbrella plant is that it, too, may become weedy. However, if you begin to see too much of it, you can eliminate it through simple excavation.
The most famous nutsedge relative is papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), encountered both as an aquatic and partial-shade garden specimen, growing to 6 or 7 feet tall. Misled, perhaps, by its somewhat wispy and delicate-appearing foliage, some people make the mistake of giving papyrus too much shade, which will inhibit its growth or kill it outright. Make sure that papyrus has good ambient light, but take note that 'King Tut,' a 2-to-3-foot-tall dwarf papyrus, is a bit more shade tolerant.
California native of the week: Blue-eyed grass (Sisrynchium bellum) is actually a perennial member of the iris family although its foliage gives it a grassy look. It's one of the few natives that prefers heavy soil and you should probably not have to be concerned with over-watering it. Its half-inch, star-shaped blooms come in the spring and the plant may go completely dormant in summer. It may grow up to two feet high and wide although there are dwarf cultivars that stay beneath a foot tall, one of which is available at Artemisia Nursery (artemisanursery.Com) in the El Sereno area of East Los Angeles, which is described on the nursery's website as "good under oaks, full sun to part sun along the coast to part shade inland." The San Simeon cultivar grows to only four inches tall with white flowers, while golden-eyed grass (Sisrynchium californicum) also grows up to two feet tall with shiny yellow flowers and a strong capacity for self-sowing. Most native plant nurseries should carry blue-eyed grass and the Theodore Payne nursery (theodorepayne.Org) has its seeds available as well.
I am seeking a way to keep nocturnal visitors – raccoons, skunks, and rodents – from chewing on my irrigation lines. I have made countless repairs to these lines due to animal damage. This is the first year I have experienced this problem and I am wondering if the heavy rains led to the proliferation of urban wildlife in search of water.
In any case, if anyone has experienced this problem and found a solution to it, please share your success in an email to [email protected]. Your questions, comments, and descriptions of garden problems or pests are always welcome, too. If you have a plant in your garden that more of us should know about, please take a photo of it with horizontal orientation and send it to this same email address for possible publication.