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Top 5 Alternative Lawn Ideas

Connie knows how very important natural habitats are to our bird populations. That's why she loves bird-friendly flowers, shrubs and trees.

Off mowing the lawn again!

Off mowing the lawn again!

What’s your idea of a relaxing day? In this busy life we lead we need downtime; time to relax and unwind. I don't know about you, but for me relaxation does not include mowing the lawn! Although there are people who really do enjoy that activity, this article is not aimed toward them. This dissertation is , however, intended for those of us who would rather do almost anything other than haul out the old mowing machine, fill it with expensive fuel, and then spend the afternoon in the hot sun going in circles

Birds Foot Trefoil produces nectar-rich tiny yellow flowers we used to call 'Dutchman's Britches'.  This plant fixes nitrogen in the soil, as do all clovers.

Birds Foot Trefoil produces nectar-rich tiny yellow flowers we used to call 'Dutchman's Britches'. This plant fixes nitrogen in the soil, as do all clovers.

General Benefits of Alternative Lawns

  • Tough and Drought Tolerant
  • Little to No Mowing, depending upon which alternative you choose
  • Attractive Nectar Source for Birds, Beneficial Insects and Bees
  • Beauty and Fragrance
  • Little to No Fertilizer Necessary
  • Covers Areas That Are Hard to Mow

Bricks or pavers make an interesting walkway between flower beds.

Bricks or pavers make an interesting walkway between flower beds.

5 Alternative Lawn Ideas

  1. Low growing maintenance-free drought tolerant ground covers.
  2. Fragrant herbs that are tolerant of foot traffic and drought.
  3. Wildflowers with bricks or pavers used as walkways.
  4. Naturalized bulbs flanking stepping stone avenues.
  5. Flower beds that include old-fashioned fragrant varieties like lily of the valley, roses, etc.

1. Ground Covers

This type of lawn is low growing, drought tolerant, and virtually maintenace free. It will spread easily and be successful even where nothing else grows. If you have hard-to-mow hillsides or other areas that are difficult to access, ground covers will work very well.

One of my favorite ground covers is vinca. In the spring it sports tons of blue, pink or white flowers which are full of nectar. I have this planted on a slope where I also put in stone steps. It looks very rustic and stays green right through frost. Vinca spreads by using tendrils both above and underground, so it can be invasive if used in flower beds.

Vinca is not fussy about soil or light conditions or moisture. Mine grows lavishly in hardpan clay under a thick tree canopy. It receives approximately 3 to 4 hours of morning sun, and then about 3 hours of hot afternoon sunshine. I have never watered or fertilized it!

Vinca has tiny blue flowers in the spring, and quickly covers any area.  Its height never exceeds 2" to 21/2".

Vinca has tiny blue flowers in the spring, and quickly covers any area. Its height never exceeds 2" to 21/2".

More Ground Covers

NameAttractive ToPreferred Soil Conditions

Low-Growing Sedum


tolerates dry soil

Creeping Thyme

Bees and Other Beneficial Insects

tolerates dry soil

Ajuga (Bugleweed)

Bees and Butterflies

grows under trees

Cinquefoil (False Strawberry)

Butterflies, Bees & Beneficials

grows anywhere


Birds, Bees, Beneficials

slightly moist but tolerates dry

Lamium (Dead Nettle)

Birds, Butterflies & Bees

grows in shade or sun, any soil

Speedwell (Veronica)

Bees & Beneficials

sun or shade, any soil

Mix of low-growing herbs and grass makes up the majority of my 'lawn'.

Mix of low-growing herbs and grass makes up the majority of my 'lawn'.

Cinquefoil (False Strawberry)

Cinquefoil (False Strawberry)

Wild strawberries are bird, bee and butterfly magnets.  It takes a lot of these tiny berries to make a shortcake!

Wild strawberries are bird, bee and butterfly magnets. It takes a lot of these tiny berries to make a shortcake!

2. Herbal Lawns

A strictly herbal lawn would be expensive and not as successful as a 50/50 herb-to-grass lawn. There are new eco-friendly types of low-growing fescue grasses that grow slowly and are more drought tolerant.

These types of grasses mixed with fragrant low-growing herbs make for a luxurious and textural carpet. They are tough and tolerant of foot traffic. Mowing should be done about once a month only, to insure the grass stays between 2 1/2" to 3" tall, which shades the roots and helps retain soil moisture.

If you would like to plant a small area with fragrant herbs, there are many varieties available from which to choose. Some feature herbs like Roman chamomile, sweet alyssum, dwarf yarrow, baby blue eyes and strawberry clover.

Butterflies, honeybees and birds depend on native herbs and grasses for both nectar and seeds. Additonally, many birds use grass for nest building material.

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Herbal Lawn Mixture


I have wildflower patches here and there to accommodate the butterflies and bees that like to visit them.  When they set seed in the fall, birds will eat some of those seeds all winter long.

I have wildflower patches here and there to accommodate the butterflies and bees that like to visit them. When they set seed in the fall, birds will eat some of those seeds all winter long.

Benefits of Wildflower Gardens

  • Attracts beneficial insects, bees, butterflies and birds.
  • Produces nectar and host plants for butterflies.
  • Re-seeds itself throughout the season.
  • Seed heads provide nutritious food and harbor tiny insects for overwintering birds.
  • Maintenance free.
  • Needs no weeding and little watering!

3. Wildflower Meadows

If you have room for even a small wildflower meadow, it will reap long-lasting benefits for the visitors who find it. Prairies and tall grass meadows were once the norm, but urban and suburban sprawl has all but eliminated this rich ecosystem.

Many host plants for butterflies are among the wildflowers in a meadow setting.

The meadow is a very important place for all kinds of wildlife, bees, butterflies, birds and beneficial insects. In fact, if you have a hillside that you would rather not have to mow, why not consider planting it with beautiful care-free tall grasses and flowers?

Source for Wildflowers

How to Naturalize Flower Bulbs

Summer Lily Garden comes back every year -- zone 5.

Summer Lily Garden comes back every year -- zone 5.

4. Naturalized Flower Bulb Garden

Bulb gardens are easy and care-free sources of fragrance and beauty in the spring. But did you know there are many kinds of bulbs you can plant that will last throughout the summer and fall?

To naturalize bulbs, simply toss a few onto the lawn or prepared bed and then plant them where they land! It's that easy. I like to add 1/2 tsp. to a full tsp. of bonemeal to the planting hole and mix it into the soil. This helps feed and strengthen the bulb so it can produce beautiful blooms.

Fall is the best time to plant spring bulbs, and summer bulbs can be planted in the spring when all danger of frost has passed. Just imagine a winding walkway flanked on either side with flowering bulbs of all sizes and colors.

Rule of Thumb for Planting Bulbs:

Plant bulb 3 times the width of the bulbs: ex. 2" wide bulb should be planted 6" deep.

Invest in a bulb-planting tool. If you are planting a large amount of bulbs it is invaluable, easily punching a hole at the proper depth (gradation lines on the planter). Pull out the plug of dirt and/or sod cut by the planter tool and drop in your bulb!

Tip: Plant summer flowering bulbs that are sensitive to freezing temperatures in small containers so the bulbs can be stored in a heated garage or basement over the winter.

Summer Flowering Bulbs

Store your bulbs for the winter in a space that stays above freezing; then replant them in the springtime.

BulbsCold Hardiness Zones



Oriental Lily


Asiatic Lily


Surprise Lily








Tuberous Begonia


Calla Lily




Cold Hardiness Zone Map from Arbor Day.Org

Benefits of Bulb Gardens

  • No mowing!
  • Inexpensive--bags full of bulbs are available for reasonable prices.
  • Produce a beautiful show all spring, summer and fall, depending upon your zone.
  • Provide lots of flowers for arrangements.
  • Some varieties of lilies, hyacinths, iris, alliums, lilies of the valley, and many other bulbs are very fragrant.
  • Attract bees, butterflies and beneficial insects.
Flower gardens can provide many fragrant cut flower bouquets.

Flower gardens can provide many fragrant cut flower bouquets.

5. Cut Flower Gardens

Can you imagine your whole yard filled with flower beds with pathways in between! You can use most any material for the access lanes. Gravel, bricks, pavers, ground covers, stepping stones, etc. would all make beautiful walkways.

If you love cut flower bouquets, then this is the type of alternative lawn for you! Color, fragrance, and variety add up to a gardener's dream 'lawn'. Select flowers that will bloom at different times of the season so that there will be a constant show.

Planting densely is the key here. That way few weeds have a chance to gain a foothold. Use the best organic garden soil you can, amending with aged compost, sawdust, peat moss or whatever you have access to. If your plants are healthy, they will naturally fend off insect infestations and weedy usurpers.

Birds, butterflies and bees will all appreciate a yard full of fragrance, nectar and seed-producing flowers. Old-fashioned cut garden selections would include:

White Peony blossom.

White Peony blossom.

Lady's Mantle.

Lady's Mantle.

White Bearded Iris.

White Bearded Iris.

Blue Salvia.

Blue Salvia.



Siberian iris



pincushion flower

Lady's mantle


sweet peas



purple coneflower

blazing star




garden phlox



bee balm

obedient plant

blanket flower



bearded iris





Tips for Best Cut Flower Gardens

  • start with good organic soil and lots of sunshine
  • mulch is essential
  • water regularly and enjoy armloads of cut flowers all season long

We need to do all we can to help re-establish natural food sources for all the pollinators. The most important thing you can do, or rather not do, is use toxic chemical pesticides. After all, pesticides are non-discriminate; they kill all insects, including beneficial bugs and our most important pollinators--bees.

Beneficial insects, butterflies and birds will flock to your yard while you sit and sip your iced tea. A lot less mowing and a lot more homegrown beauty, fragrance and songbirds--sounds like a win-win situation to me!

You Can Create Awesome Yard and Garden Wildlife Habitats.

 Grandma Pearl  a/k/a Connie Smith

Grandma Pearl a/k/a Connie Smith

Tell Me About Your Dream Alternative Lawn!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on November 27, 2013:

Hi Gail, Thanks for your supportive comments! I know what you mean, if I had more room, it would be filled with flowers and herbs and some pathways for walking. I run out everyday in the spring and summer to see what's new in the garden, and what the birds, butterflies and bees are liking the most. My love of flowers is almost as great as my love of wild birds! I'm so glad you stopped by for a visit ;) Pearl

Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on November 26, 2013:

Connie, I love flowers so much it is hard to decide what to grow sometimes when you can't grow EVERYTHING! lol This is a well written hub full of great ideas. Thanks!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 19, 2013:

Hi Deb! There's no way you can go wrong when you put birds and insects and flowers together, is there?! Every day I walk around my gardens looking for the newest flower, bug or butterfly, and of course birds!

There is such a thick canopy here that I am only able to hear the beautiful birds' voices. Ovenbirds, orioles, thrushes all seem to elude my view. But I certainly enjoy their wonderful songs.

I did spot a grackle perched so that the sunshine illuminated its amazing sapphire blue head--what a sight that was!

And the butterflies this year are phenomenal. The more I let nature take its course around here, the more wild creatures and insects I see! There are some aspects to this global climate change that are positive I think. Thanks for stopping by, my friend ;) Pearl

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on June 18, 2013:

You sure said it Connie! Flowers, birds, and beneficial and beautiful insects, too. What a great trio.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 18, 2013:

Hi Mary! I'm so glad you stopped by. I know about those husbands! My uncle has always thought that a lawn should be just grass. He hates mowing around flower beds. So one day he 'accidentally' mowed over my aunt's iris! He claimed he thought it was just another patch of grass (he didn't have his glasses on). I think she finally let him out of the doghouse a year or two later.

By the way, she now has several flower gardens!

I'm always pleased to see you my friend and fellow New Yorker; and thank you for your great comments, support and votes ;) Pearl

Mary Craig from New York on June 18, 2013:

How right you are! No one likes to mow the lawn, however, there are still those among us who insist we have a lawn (my husband), I, however, have managed to sneak in many small flower gardens.

Your information is so helpful as is your lists of flowers. Thank you for sharing.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 18, 2013:

Aw, thanks bravewarrior! Right back atcha, my friend ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 18, 2013:

Thank you bac2basics! I loved reading about your garden challenges. 25 years ago now I started with the hard pan clay that had been dumped here and there after the area was excavated for our house. So I can definitely empathize! My first garden soil came from an old stump that had been uprooted and laid on its side. That's where I used my sweat equity to 'harvest' that dirt. Little by little I have added amendments as you have. It's tough, but the rewards are worth it!

We must be sisters twice removed or something! I love the smell of newly cut grass as well. Second to lilacs and spice bushes, the aroma of fresh grass just makes me feel so calm somehow. It is great that you have access to manure--that will get you the best roses if you are so inclined to plant them.

I'm so glad you stopped by for a visit! And thank you very much for your supportive comments and votes, my friend ;) Pearl

Anne from United Kingdom on June 18, 2013:

Hi Connie.

I just love your hubs. We are so alike in the way we garden too. In my garden here in Spain the soil is rubbish, when I make a new bed it costs a fortune in compost to get it even halfway decent for planting, I also add small grade pebbles or grit to open up the soil a bit. The soil is actually subsoil because when my house was built the top was taken off the hill it´s on and where my garden is, is where it was dumped. To give you an indication of how poor it is I have only seen about half a dozen worms in the whole time I have been creating my flower beds and those were possibly the ones I imported from a friends garden. I have used free manure from a stud farm just up the road but have been fighting a losing battle ever since to keep the weeds and grasses at bay in my flower beds. I don´t mind some of the wildflowers and grasses which have sprung up, but some are just too invasive and strangle or smother what I have planted.

Trying to make a lawn here would be impossible so I have flowerbeds edged with stone I have dug out of the ground and the walkways between are gravel. I do love the smell of cut grass but am already planning a lower maintenance garden for when I get back to the UK and intend to create a courtyard garden feel there with raised beds and paving on the ground. As lawns are so popular in the UK and the climate more suited to them, I can still enjoy that wonderful smell but without the work..I just hope my neighbours will not be the type who insist on getting the mower out every Sunday morning during the summer LOL.

Great hub Connie and lots of useful ideas and information. voted right up.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 17, 2013:

Pearl, you're one of my favorites. I always, ALWAYS look forward to your hubs!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 17, 2013:

Hi Carol, I'm so glad to see you! I'm afraid I would not survive very well in Arizona. High temperatures and me do not do very well together. Besides, I would definitely miss my gardens and the woods. My parents visited Tucson, Arizona many years ago and loved it. They took my much younger sister along with them, and she enjoyed it, too. Even at the ripe old age of 4 she decided she would live in a warm climate someday.

She now lives in Big Bear, California, and visits the high desert regularly!

Thanks for your visit, and your comments. You never know, maybe one of these days your desert will bloom!

;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 17, 2013:

Actually, Joe, that hammock belongs to a cottage on Seneca Lake where my brother and sister-in-law were staying 2 years ago, when they came to visit from Illinois! That was a wonderful yard right on the lake. If I had a hammock like that in my backyard, I dare say I would never be in the house! The lawn was highly manicured because the cottage was a rental, but I would have loved to have seen lots of flowers rather than grass. It would have been awesome with the lake in the background!

Thanks for stopping by, and for your support my friend ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 17, 2013:

bravewarrior, I very much enjoyed reading about your not-so-grassy 'lawn'. One of these days you might just have a guest turn up! I would absolutely love to see all the wonders of your yard. I am so glad that we have met here, as we most definitely are fellow 'nature lovers' . The more I can let Mother Nature do her thing, the happier I am. And so it seems are all the butterflies, bees and other cool creatures that visit my yard every day.

I know from your comments that you too have oceans of beneficial insects. birds and butterflies actively using your lovely plants. Isn't it great to be surrounded by such fun activity! We'll get things turned around yet, you and I!!

Thank you for all the great support you always send my way, my friend, and all of your entertaining comments that I love to read ;) Pearl

carol stanley from Arizona on June 17, 2013:

As I am looking at my blank backyard with only small stones. At least there is nothing there that cannot survive. One of these days..However, living in arizona...lots of dryness and bad soil..SO raised beds...Anyway you did a super job on this topic. Voting up.

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on June 17, 2013:

Connie, you are a landscaping genius! What a beautiful lawn and great-looking hammock! I bet many a hub idea was conceived while lounging peacefully on that comfy outdoors furniture. : ) Thanks for sharing this virtual encyclopedia of information regarding the different kinds of lawns available to us. Aloha, my friend!


Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 17, 2013:

Pearl, I sure wish Lily of the Valley grew in Florida. We had them in Philly and I just love their dainty flowers with huge scent!

I have Asiatic Jasmine growing wildly in my backyard. It's a ground cover and can be mowed. It helps to keep the back green. I have huge trees in my backyard, so grass doesn't do so well. I also have these beautiful low-growing pink plants with green spots on them. I have no idea what they are called but they are spreading thru the backyard also. They seem to be self-seeding and are creating an interesting addition to the lawn.

On one side of my yard I've got tiny little pink flowers growing. I believe they are part of the Portuluca family. Interspersed are tiny little yellow flowers, which are a species of the Purslane family. I'm hoping they take over because they are so pretty. If they can push the grass out, I won't have to mow.

We also have what's referred to as Florida Wild Onion. It's a bulb that throws pups all over the place. One entire plant bed has been taken care of for me by Mother Nature spreading these beautiful bulbs. They grow to about 12" tall and have a beautiful light pink lily-type flower when they bloom.

I, too have Vincas in my beds. As you say, they are prolific growers and scatter themselves about. However, the ones we have in Florida grow to be about 2 1/2' tall. I have some that are white, some are a deep pink others are a light pink. They're all very pretty and require no maintenance.

Great article, but then I've come to expect that from you!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 16, 2013:

Billy, I thank you sir for your kind and supportive words. They truly mean a lot to me. I wrote this one with you in mind. From other comments you have made, I gathered that you would rather not spend your free time mowing the lawn anymore than I would. I knew you were working toward an alternative lawn situation.

If you look really hard, you will find a bit of real grass in my lawn. That is for the benefit of the birds that like to use that stuff for nest material. The more flowers and herbs I can plant, the happier I am!

I am crossing my fingers that this internet connection remains solid for me tomorrow so I can read your hub! I'm really looking forward to it.

Thanks for your visit my friend ;) Pearl

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2013:

Well my friend, you are a fountain of knowledge for sure. I like the way you constructed this hub and the information is first rate. We are slowly moving in this direction, using a little of each of these types with more to come next year.

Your hub is coming tomorrow. Stay tuned. :)


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