12 Inspiring Grass Alternatives

close-up of various wild flowers in a grassy area

Is grass a thing of the past? If you want to free up your weekend from mowing, decrease your environmental footprint, save money, or just want a change of scenery, it’s time to forget the classic green carpet and switch to something bolder. From stepping stones to wildflower meadows, your options are far from garden-variety. 

We’ll walk you through 12 creative landscaping options to leave you asking, “Grass? What’s that?” 

Why switch to a lawn alternative?

Going grass-free makes sense for homeowners in a variety of situations. You may want to make the switch from a traditional lawn if:

1. You live in an area inhospitable to grass.

Drought and heat: In regions with hot, dry summers, yellow patches and weeds can frustrate homeowners. Plus, some local governments offer rebates for landscapes that conserve water. In arid regions, it makes financial sense to rethink your grass lawn. 

Clay and sand: In soils with high clay content, root growth may be stunted, which leads to poor grass health. Likewise, sandy soil may not retain the water and nutrients your plants need.  

Shade: Though certain grasses can flourish in shade, growing grass in shaded areas can be difficult and requires routine maintenance.

2. You want to reduce your environmental impact. 

Even in areas with good growing conditions, fertilizer and herbicide runoff can spill into waterways and harm the environment.

3. You want to ditch your lawn mower. 

Many lawn alternatives are low-mow or no-mow, so you can relax and enjoy the view out your window. 

4. You’re looking for a change of scenery.

From chamomile lawns to kitchen gardens, grass alternatives can show off your creativity and give your lawn a unique flavor.

12 types of grass alternatives

From fragrant ground cover to charming patios, there’s a treasure trove of grass alternatives ready to make your lawn the star of the neighborhood. We’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each, so you can decide on the grass alternative that inspires you and fits your lawn’s profile. 

1. Ground covers 

Ground covers may just be the eco-friendly, no-mow answer to your prayers. They are low-growing plants (often perennials) that will quickly spread out to fill your grassless spaces. You can choose from a variety of gorgeous flowering plants along with hardy evergreens like creeping juniper

With little maintenance required, ground cover is a visually appealing, inexpensive lawn option. The downside? Some ground covers do their job a little too well: Depending on where you live, certain ground cover plants (such as creeping Jenny) are classified as invasive species. Check your state’s invasive species list before you plant. 

  • Amethyst in Snow (Centaurea montana): With delicate bi-color flowers and deep green leaves, Amethyst in Snow is a drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly showstopper.
  • Hosta: Known for their broad, distinctive leaves, hostas are an excellent perennial for shady yards with rich soil. They tolerate drought and resist diseases (just be careful of slugs!).
  • Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata): A sun-loving semi-evergreen with cheerful spring blooms, creeping phlox resists drought, disease, and pests — all while attracting a host of beautiful pollinators.
  • Carpet sedum (Sedum lineare): An evergreen succulent perfect for rocky areas, sedum (also known as stonecrop) will thrive where other plants cannot survive, as long as it has plenty of sun. It prevents erosion and tolerates nutrient-poor soil. 
  • Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile): With aromatic daisy-like flowers and feathery, fern-like leaves (3-6 inches tall), chamomile requires no mowing and little fertilization and watering. A chamomile lawn enriches the soil, attracts pollinators like honey bees, and deters mosquitos. It just needs a sunny location and well-draining soil to thrive. 
  • Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens): Clover is a powerful legume that controls weeds, prevents erosion, and decreases the need for herbicide and fertilizer. Plus, its tiny white flowers are pollinator-friendly. It grows best in moist, cool areas. 
  • Creeping thyme: Creeping thyme is an aromatic semi-evergreen with lovely, tubular flowers that attract bees. It grows about a foot tall and prefers sunny areas with well-draining soil. A special bonus? You can cook with it!

Pros of ground covers

✓ Low-maintenance
✓ Low or no mowing required
✓ Often inexpensive
✓ Many perennial and evergreen options
✓ Insulate the soil, keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter
✓ Protect against erosion and weeds
✓ Can be aromatic and edible
✓ Many pollinator-friendly options

Cons of ground covers

✗ Can be invasive
✗ Take time to establish
✗ May require fertilizer, watering, and trimming

Where to grow ground covers: 

  • Your soil type, region, and level of sunlight will determine the best ground cover for your lawn. 
  • Check your plant hardiness zone to determine what ground covers will thrive in your region.
  • Ground covers can blanket your lawn, or they can be placed around a footpath or in a rock garden to accent boulders and stones. 

2. Mulch

Mulch protects your soil, prevents erosion, and strengthens plant roots. Combined with ground covers, trees, and hardscapes, mulch can perfectly fill in your yard and prevent weed growth. 

Organic mulches like shredded leaves add a dose of nutrients and help retain soil moisture, while inorganic mulches like stones boost your lawn’s curb appeal. In spring, spread mulch in between new plants to discourage weeds.

Popular types of mulch: 

  • Pine bark
  • Shredded leaves
  • Wood chips
  • Compost
  • Gravel
  • River rocks
  • Cocoa hulls
  • Pine needles

Pros of mulch: 

✓ No mowing or fertilizing required
✓ Improves soil and plant health
✓ Prevents erosion
✓ Keeps roots moist 
✓ Great for children’s play areas 
✓ Insulates the soil and plant roots

Cons of mulch: 

✗ Won’t be the star of your lawn: Needs to be used with other landscaping elements
✗ Discourages wildflower growth

Where to apply mulch: 

  • Mulch can be applied to any landscape.
  • Spread mulch around shrubs and trees (3-6 inches away from the tree trunk), around pathways and hardscapes, in vegetable gardens, and in flower beds.

3. Native plants and wildflowers

For a vibrant, self-designed lawn, scope out your yard, decide on a color scheme, and take a trip to your local nursery. Pick out native perennials and wildflowers that will suit your lawn’s soil and sun conditions. If planting wildflowers, choose a high-quality regional seed mix.

Because they grow naturally in your region, native plants and wildflowers do not require fertilizer. They also need fewer pesticides and less water. Plus, they’re pollinator-friendly. 

Planting native wildflowers means you can sit back and enjoy their beauty while rejuvenating your ecosystem. You’ll just have to do one mow in late fall to ensure the seedheads drop. Then your wildflowers will be ready to grow again in spring. 

Pros of native plants: 

✓ Low-maintenance
✓ No fertilizing required
✓ No mowing required (one mow is suggested for wildflowers)
✓ Little water required
✓ Great for pollinators
✓ Promote biodiversity and reduce air pollution

Cons of native plants:

✗ Require some watering
✗ Some wildflowers need full sun
✗ Cannot handle heavy foot traffic
✗ May not look as tidy as a turfgrass lawn
✗ Can be more expensive than non-native plants
✗ Can be difficult to find at local garden centers

Where to plant native plants:

Choose varieties that are native to your region.

Pro Tip: For a magical, pollinator-filled experience to share with your kids (or enjoy yourself), consider planting a butterfly garden.

4. Ornamental grass

Ornamental grasses add an elegant variety of foliage and texture to bare areas of your lawn. They come in a variety of heights to give your lawn plenty of visual appeal. Plus, most ornamental grasses need very little water, so you won’t have to turn on the sprinklers every week.

Popular ornamental grasses include: 

  • Feather reed grass: A dramatic, deep-green grass with glossy foliage, feather reed grass grows 5-6 feet tall and thrives in cooler climates with full sun. 
  • Purple millet: Purple millet is a drought- and heat-tolerant superstar with tall, deep-purple flowers that attract birds. Purple millet plants resemble cattails and grow 2-5 feet tall.
  • Fountain grass: Characterized by its graceful arched leaves, fountain grass thrives in warm weather and full sun, tolerates drought, and grows 1-4 feet tall. 
  • Little bluestem: Little bluestem is a fringey, broom-like grass perfect for steep slopes and hills. It grows up to 3 feet tall and is a great choice if you live in a dry, prairie environment with lots of sun. 
  • Pampas grass: With striking white plumes that grow up to 10 feet tall, pampas grass is a guaranteed showstopper for lawns in warm climates. It’s drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. 

Pros of ornamental grass: 

✓ Hardy and low-maintenance
✓ Resists insects and diseases, tolerates drought
✓ Many ornamental grasses are perennials
✓ Can grow very high, offering visual contrast
✓ Native ornamental grasses require little to no watering and no fertilizing

Cons of ornamental grass: 

✗ Requires seasonal trimming
✗ Cannot handle heavy foot traffic
✗ Some ornamental grasses are invasive

Where to plant ornamental grass: 

  • Most ornamental grasses need full sun and well-drained soil. 
  • Many are drought-tolerant or drought-resistant and grow well in prairie conditions. 
  • There are also varieties (such as tufted hair grass) that thrive in shady, cooler areas. 

5. Low-mow or no-mow grass

If you’re tired of mowing but enjoy looking out on a more traditional green lawn, try low-mow or no-mow grass alternatives. If you live in a cooler climate, a mixture of creeping and turf-forming fescues is the way to go. If you live in a warmer region, no-mow Zoysia (also known as temple grass) is a popular option.

Hard fescue (Festuca longifolia, brevipila, or trachyphylla) is a strong, fine-bladed grass that needs little watering and naturally protects against weeds. You’ll only need to mow your lawn once or twice a year. 

Pros of hard fescue: 

✓ No herbicide, fungicide, or fertilizer required
✓ Tolerant of drought, shade, and cold temperatures
✓ Does not need frequent watering

Cons of hard fescue: 

✗ Cannot tolerate extreme heat
✗  Does not thrive in clay soils
✗ Cannot handle heavy foot traffic

No-mow Zoysia (Zoysia tenuifolia) is a hardy warm-season grass that only needs two mowings per year, unlike other Zoysia varieties that need weekly mowing. It flourishes in the South and in the Transition Zone. 

Pros of no-mow Zoysia:

✓ Heat- and drought-tolerant
✓ Does not need frequent watering
✓ Can handle high foot traffic

Cons of no-mow Zoysia: 

✗ Needs well-drained, loamy soil and full sun to partial shade
✗ Requires fertilization in fall and spring
✗ Slow to spread
✗ Can develop Zoysia Patch if drainage is poor and shade is high

Where to grow low-mow or no-mow grass

  • Hard fescue should be grown in the North (USDA hardiness zones 4-9).
  • No-mow Zoysia should be grown in the South (USDA planting zones 6-11).
  • Both hard fescue and Zoysia can be grown in the transition zone. 

Another popular warm-season alternative is buffalograss. It’s a hardy turfgrass that thrives in full sun and can handle heat and drought-like conditions. Buffalograss can be mowed regularly, but it also works well as a low-mow grass: It requires just one annual spring mowing to remove old growth. 

6. Moss

Wait, isn’t moss Lawn Enemy No. 1? Maybe it’s time to give moss its moment in the sun (or shade). In cool, moist areas with slightly acidic soil, moss grows where grasses fail to germinate. So why not embrace this springy, verdant ground cover? Sheet moss (Hypnum imponens) is great for moderate foot traffic and can reduce erosion in hilly areas. 

If you’d prefer a higher-growing moss that looks more like grass and can tolerate high foot traffic, go for big star moss (Atrichum undulatum) or slender starburst moss (Atrichum angustatum). 

Pros of moss

✓ Low-maintenance
✓ No mowing or fertilizer required 
✓ Thrives in the shade
✓ Grows well in compacted clay soil
✓ Reduces erosion

Cons of moss

✗ Requires watering
✗ Does not grow well in drought conditions
✗ Most varieties cannot handle heavy foot traffic

Where to grow moss: 

  • Different varieties of moss will grow in most areas of the U.S. 
  • Moss does not grow well in drought-prone and desert-like regions. 

7. Rock garden

A rock garden is a creative way to showcase your unique design style, with no mowing and very little water required. You can plant ground covers within your rock garden and use sand as a pathway or filler. In a rock garden (as opposed to a hardscape), the rocks play a starring role in the design; they are not just a backdrop for the plants you choose.

To plant a rock garden without breaking the bank, opt for local stone, as shipping stone from across the country or internationally can be expensive. 

If you’re revving up for a DIY project, make sure you keep the weight of rocks in mind: A 2-foot diameter boulder can weigh more than 250 pounds. You’ll need a dolly and a steel bar for leverage — or you may want to hire a professional lawn care crew

Once installed, rake out your garden periodically to keep it free of debris. Avoid spraying herbicide, as it can drip down to the roots of your desired plants.

Pros of a rock garden

✓ Drought-tolerant
✓ Little or no fertilizer required
✓ Long-lasting
✓ You can create your own garden design

Cons of a rock garden

✗ Requires strategic planning for plant and rock placement 
✗ Requires pruning and hand-weeding
✗ Tends to prefer sun (though you can choose shade-tolerant plants for your garden)
✗ Installation can be expensive and labor-intensive

Where to grow rock gardens:

Rock gardens with succulents and other native plants are an especially good choice in the drought-prone Southwest, where water conservation is a key issue and governmental rebates are available for xeriscaping (landscaping to reduce the need for water).

8. Artificial grass

Artificial turf is a no-water, no-fertilizer, no-mow solution to your lawn problems. It’s durable, great for kids at play, looks great year-round, and can handle any yard in the U.S. Plus, it protects the environment from chemicals in fertilizer and herbicide. 

However, some experts recommend thinking twice before going synthetic. Damage costs from tearing up turf can quickly add up, and there are serious ecological issues to consider.

  • One of the main environmental problems with artificial turf is that it releases microplastics into local waterways. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that animals mistake for food, which causes them to starve. 
  • Microplastics harm the local ecosystem and move up the food chain, so humans are also exposed to them and other toxic chemicals.

Artificial turf’s maintenance and damage expenses, along with its environmental impact, may give homeowners pause. It’s a trade-off between the environmental and financial benefits and drawbacks.

If you want to take the grass-free leap, a full lawn replacement (including labor and materials) costs approximately $2,500 to $10,000. The average American homeowner pays $6,250 for a 500-square-foot artificial lawn.

There are three main types of artificial turf: 

  • Nylon is heat resistant and extremely durable. It does not get damaged easily by foot traffic and fallen branches. It is also, however, the most expensive of the three and its durability can make it tough to the touch, causing “turf burn.” 
  • Polypropylene is the least expensive of the three, but it is also the least durable. It is best suited for shady areas with little foot traffic. 
  • Polyethylene is the Goldilocks turf: It is durable, it looks realistic, and it’s softer than nylon so it causes minimal “turf burn.” It’s also easy to clean and deodorize, so it works well for families with pets. 

Pros of artificial grass

✓ No mowing or fertilizing required
✓ No watering required (except to clean the turf)
✓ Stays green year-round
✓ Durable

Cons of artificial grass

✗ Expensive to install and repair
✗ Can get very hot underfoot
✗ Environmental concerns (microplastics, loss of soil habitat, contamination of waterways)

9. Gravel

You can design just about any lawn feature with gravel: It can surround stepping stones or a fountain, serve as a footpath, or you can even install your own pea gravel patio

To add definition and charm to your yard, you can install a gravel path using: 

  • A stone pack base
  • Landscape fabric
  • Edging
  • Gravel

Gravel comes in all shapes, sizes, and styles to match your lawn vision. Check out recycled glass, lava rock, crushed granite, river rock, and slate chips. 

Pros of gravel

✓ Low-maintenance
✓ No watering or mowing required
✓ Long-lasting 
✓ No fertilizer or chemicals needed
✓ Suppresses weeds

Cons of gravel

✗ Can be highly heat absorbent depending on the color and material
✗ Requires edging to stay in place

Where to add gravel: 

  • Gravel is a great feature around walkways or surrounding hardscapes like fountains or patios.
  • Add gravel to a rain garden or rock garden to reduce erosion, anchor plants, and highlight special decorations.

10. Kitchen garden

A kitchen garden is a miniature vegetable garden that gives you a fresh supply of ingredients, from zucchini to peppers to herbs. Just walk a few steps and you’re ready to cook them. Usually, kitchen gardens are grown in raised beds, so your plants can get their fill of rich compost. In bloom, your garden will be a lovely sight for neighbors and dinner guests.

Pros of a kitchen garden:

✓ No mowing required
✓ No fertilizer required, though you may choose to apply it
✓ A great way to save money on groceries and enjoy home-grown fruits and vegetables

Cons of a kitchen garden:

✗ Watering and weeding required
✗ Raised planters require installation, preparation, and some maintenance

Where to grow a kitchen garden: 

  • Plant your kitchen garden in raised beds in a sunny, open area close to your kitchen.
  • Consider adding a raised flower bed into the mix for a pop of color next to your vegetables.

11. Rain garden

A rain garden is an eco-friendly way to beautify your lawn and stop rainwater from polluting local waterways. 

  • Rain gardens are made up of native perennials, shrubs, and flowers that are planted in a depression on a slope.
  • When it rains, water flows down the slope from driveways, roofs, patios, and lawns. 
  • The rain garden stops the water and removes up to 90% of nutrients and chemicals and 80% of sediment. 
  • By the time the runoff reaches your local streams and rivers, it packs much less of an environmental punch.

Rain gardens are typically 150 to 400 square feet. They are longer than they are wide to catch the maximum amount of rainwater.

Pros of a rain garden:

✓ Low-maintenance
✓ No mowing or watering required (once established)
✓ No fertilizer required because a rain garden is comprised of native plants
✓ Great for the environment and your local ecosystems
✓ Can be an inexpensive DIY project, depending on the size of the garden and the type of plants you choose

Cons of a rain garden:

✗ May require soil amendments like peat moss to ensure good drainage
✗ Can be more expensive than a normal garden
✗ Can get clogged if surrounding landscape is not maintained

Where to plant a rain garden:

Plant on a slope at least 10 feet away from building foundations. 

Alternatively, consider a bioswale to filter rainwater. 

12. Hardscaping

If you don’t have the time to manage plants, consider installing hardscape features. Stepping stones and brick pavers will pave your way to an inviting, well-defined lawn. 

Patios, decks, outdoor kitchens, and fire pits are fantastic, easy-to-maintain social spaces. Other hardscape options include fencing, labyrinth gardens, and water features like fountains and waterfalls. 

Approximate costs for common hardscapes (including labor costs for a professional contractor): 

  • $2,000-$4,000 for a new walkway
  • $2,000-$6,000 for a new patio
  • $4,000-$11,000 for a new deck
  • $1,000-$6,000 for a new fence

Hardscapes may be more expensive than grass seed, but if you want to say a firm “good riddance” to yard work, then they’re the low-maintenance option for you.

Pros of hardscaping

✓ Very low-maintenance, except for the occasional cleaning and resealing (for patios and decks, resealing is done every two to five years, depending on the material)
✓ No watering, fertilizing, or pesticide required
✓ Good choice for areas with poor soil quality
✓ More outdoor living space
✓ Increased property value and curb appeal

Cons of hardscaping:

✗ More expensive than most landscaping work
✗ Can increase runoff into waterways during storms

Grass alternatives galore

If you’re itching to replace your dull, old grass with something bold and unique, there are plenty of grass alternatives that can make an easy DIY project. For bigger jobs like hardscaping and major landscaping revisions, you may want to hire a professional crew to put the trowel to the soil and make your dream lawn a reality. 

Main Photo Credit: armennano | Pixabay

Maille Smith

Maille-Rose Smith is a freelance writer and actor based in New York. She graduated from the University of Virginia. She enjoys watching theatre, reading mysteries, and listening to psychology podcasts. She is an orchid enthusiast and always has a basil plant growing in her kitchen.