Ask any southerner what their least-favorite summertime chore is and they’d probably say mowing the lawn. Turns out, physical discomfort isn’t the only motivation to reduce the surface area of your yard. There’s also an environmental incentive, as the Environmental Protection Agency reports lawn-maintenance equipment burns 17 million gallons of fuel a year, while 7 billion gallons of water per day are used for landscape irrigation.
The end result has been a blooming market for lawn alternatives that enable homeowners to achieve the coveted curb appeal of a beautiful lush yard at a fraction of the cost and care of conventional grass. Here are the top choices for 2018:
For many homeowners, a huge fraction of landscaping resources are being allocated for parts of the yard that rarely see the light of day; for example, under trees, along hillsides, between stepping stones, or beneath trampolines and swing sets. These areas are ideal for ornamentals, a category of hardy, low-light thriving, tightly contained plants that virtually fend for themselves, ensuring maximum efficiency for those areas that actually need nurturing.
Ornamentals replace the underused parts of the lawn while providing a maintenance-free visual complement to the area as a whole. Many ornamentals like speedwell, lantana, and black scallop bugleweed create a rich canopy of color that resemble the ephemeral petals of poppy flowers.
Other varieties like corsican mint release a refreshing, menthol aroma when its leaves are crushed. Ice plant is a favored ornamental that produces bright pink flourescent blooms all summer long, while its blanket of pale grey leaves resemble a heavy dusting of snow in the spring and fall, a perfect contrast to any dark natural stone paver or patio.
Low-Mow Ground Cover
Before natural grass lawns made their debut in the U.S. during the postwar economic boom, a wide variety of stout perennials composed residential landscapes, many of which are taking root as the low-maintenance, low-mowing cover of today.
- Thyme, the common cooking herb, is also a popular grass alternative that produces bright blooms of amber, crimson, and violet. This evergreen plant forms a dense mat that crowds out weeds and can withstand regular mowing and light foot traffic. The most popular varieties of ground thyme are spicy orange, creeping lemon, and a favorite for bare feet, the plush wooly thyme.
- Roman chamomile also falls into the dual category of edible and perennial. With its small yellow flowers and white petals, Roman chamomile achieves the bucolic look of a daisy field, all the while emitting an apple-like fragrance when stepped on.
- Moss is a highly favored grass alternative, especially in the southeastern U.S. where it thrives in deeply compact, clay soils. Moss is as low-maintenance as it gets, gleaning nutrition from moisture in the air, dew and fog.
- Clover ties moss for favorite, easy-care and low-ware lawn choice. Once considered an evil “weed” to eliminate at all cost, clover is incredibly beneficial when left alone. Clover is a self-fertilizing legume that absorbs soil-enriching nitrogen and withstands heat, drought, animal urine, and moderate foot traffic. The most popular varieties of clover are white, Dutch, and microclover.
Moss, clover, chamomile, thyme (not to mention Korean velvet, Acacia redolens, and Dymondia) create a ground-hugging, shroud-like lawn, while other grass alternatives develop as tight-bunching vertical blades. The top three species in this category include:
- Monkey grass (above), also known as creeping lilyturf, is a tough-as-nails “running” plant whose close binding creates a lush blanket that resembles wooly mammoth fur. Monkey grass is weed, disease, heat, humidity, deer, rabbit, and drought resistant, making for an ideal lawn alternative.
- Fescue is grass on steroids. Its brawny blades fold over on themselves to create a thick verdant sea that ripples in the wind. Fescue has a dense, self-regulating root system that requires very little watering outside of natural rainfall, and at most mowing twice a year.
- Sedges are one of the most diverse plant groups in North America, with a species to match and thrive in any region, from boggy marsh to desert sand. Simply pick the one that’s appropriate for your terrain.