Types of No-Mow Grass Alternatives

ground cover alongside a stone stairway, with ornate bushes throughout

Mowing can be a monster. It eats up your precious weekend, guzzles gasoline, and pollutes air and waterways. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gas lawn mower emissions account for 5% of the country’s air pollution. With low-maintenance grass alternatives that require little or no mowing, you can enjoy more free time and a verdant, eco-friendly lawn.

From hardy grasses like fescues and buffalograss to wildflower meadows and native plants, there are plenty of options to fit your specific needs.

Hard fescue and fescue mixes

Fine fescue is the most popular cool-season grass for a no-mow or low-mow lawn. Fescues require very little maintenance: They’re hardy and they’ll naturally crowd out weeds, so you don’t have to worry about fertilizer or herbicide. By planting hard fescue or certain fine fescue mixes, you’ll only have to mow your lawn once or twice a year.

  • For fine fescue grass blends, go with No-Mow-Lawn, Eco-Lawn, or Let It Grow seed mixes. A 5-pound bag of seed costs approximately $50, and it will cover 1,000 square feet. 

Hard fescue and fescue mix growing conditions

illustration showing the cool and warm season grasses on the US map, along with the transitional zone

Region: Northern and Transition Zone states (USDA hardiness zones 4-9)

Sunlight: Full sun to shade (for fine fescue)

Foot traffic: Moderate 

When to plant fescue: Late summer to early fall

Best no-mow varieties: Hard fescue or fescue mixes that include sheep fescue, Chewings fescue, and creeping red fescue.

  • Bunch-forming fine fescues like hard fescue and sheep fescue are highly drought- and heat-tolerant. 
  • Chewings fescue prevents weeds and grows well in shady and dry areas. 
  • Creeping red fescue resists drought, thrives in the shade, and can repair damaged spots on your lawn by binding to other grasses.
Pros of hard fescue and fescue mixesCons of hard fescue and fescue mixes
✓ No herbicide, fungicide, or fertilizer required
✓ Tolerant of drought, shade, and cold temperatures
✓ Does not need frequent watering
✓ Slow-growing, so mowing is only needed annually
✗ Cannot tolerate extreme summer heat
✗  Does not thrive in clay soils
✗ Cannot handle heavy foot traffic; will die if severely damaged
✗ Prone to developing thatch


A warm-season turfgrass native to the Great Plains, buffalograss thrives in full sun and handles heat and drought well (it’s often used for xeriscaping). It’s characterized by short, fine foliage that grows 4-6 inches tall and forms a dense sod. 

While buffalograss can be mowed regularly, it also works well as a low-mow grass: it only requires an annual spring mowing to remove old growth. 

Buffalograss growing conditions

Region: Plains and prairie states from Montana to Arizona, Southern states (eastward to Louisiana)

Sunlight: Full to partial sun

Foot traffic: Moderate

When to plant buffalograss: Late spring or early summer (seed, sod, and plugs available)

Best no-mow variety: UC Verde, popular for its silky blades and quick fill-in time

Pros of buffalograssCons of buffalograss
✓ Drought-resistant; little watering required
✓ Little fertilizer required
✓ Deep, fine root system prevents erosion
✓ Tolerates clay and alkaline soils
✓ Tolerates cold weather better than other warm-season grass varieties
✗ Does not compete well with weeds; requires spot-spraying or hand-weeding during establishment
✗ One of the slowest-growing grasses; takes weeks to fill in your yard
✗ Does not tolerate cold or shade well
✗ Cannot tolerate sandy soil without significant amendments and increased watering

Zoysia tenuifolia

No-mow Zoysia (Zoysia tenuifolia) is a hardy warm-season grass that tolerates drought and only needs two mowings per year. Its bright green color and fine blades make it a popular choice for southern lawns and golf courses. While regular Zoysia requires weekly mowing, Zoysia tenuifolia’s slow growth makes it exceptionally low-maintenance.

Unmowed, no-mow Zoysia will form “bubbles” or “puffs” on your lawn: You’ll get soft green mounds that give your yard texture and depth.

Zoysia tenuifolia growing conditions

Region: Southern and Transition Zone states (USDA hardiness zones 6-11)

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade

Foot traffic: High

When to plant Zoysia: Late spring to early summer

Best no-mow variety: No-mow Zoysia (Zoysia tenuifolia), also known as temple grass

Pros of Zoysia tenuifoliaCons of Zoysia tenuifolia
✓ Heat- and drought-tolerant
✓ Does not need frequent watering
✓ Can grow well in partial shade
✓ Tolerates high foot traffic
✓ Pest-resistant
✗ Needs well-drained, loamy soil 
✗ Requires fertilization in fall and spring
✗ Slow to spread
✗ Can develop Zoysia Patch if drainage is poor and shade is high

Ground cover

succulent ground cover
Josephine Bredehoft | Unsplash

For a low-maintenance lawn filled with striking evergreens, succulents, and flowers, go with ground cover. It’s an easy, no-mow way to beautify grassless areas and keep your lawn healthy in the long term. 

Whatever your lawn’s profile, there’s a ground cover that can thrive in your yard: Ground covers can grow in rock gardens, on steep slopes, in rain gardens, under trees, and around hardscape features. Choose ground covers that best suit your region, soil type, and amount of sunlight. 

Ground cover growing conditions

Region: Anywhere in the U.S.

Sunlight: Depends on the ground cover. 

Foot traffic: Depends on the ground cover. Generally, ground covers will not be as durable as turfgrass. 

When to plant ground covers: Homeowners in cooler regions with frigid winters should plant ground cover in spring. Homeowners in warmer regions with rainy winters should plant in the fall.

  • For rocky, drought-prone areas where other plants struggle to establish, consider carpet sedum (also known as stonecrop). It’s a sun-loving, evergreen succulent that thrives in nutrient-poor soil. It prevents erosion, attracts pollinators with its tiny yellow flowers, and stands up to foot traffic.
  • If you’re searching for a shade-tolerant ground cover with eye-catching, broad leaves, consider the hosta. Hostas are drought-tolerant, disease-resistant perennials perfect for shady yards with rich soil.
  • Don’t dismiss clover. Dutch white clover is making a comeback after falling out of popularity in the 1950s. Clover controls weeds, prevents erosion, and decreases the need for herbicide and fertilizer. Plus, its tiny white flowers are pollinator-friendly. 
  • Popular aromatic ground covers include sun-loving, pollinator-friendly creeping thyme and shade-loving, glossy-leaved Corsican mint. They grow well around pathways and in between stepping stones. 

(Note: Consult your local extension office before planting Corsican mint: It’s considered invasive in the Southeast.)

Pros of ground coverCons of ground cover
✓ Little or no mowing required
✓ Inexpensive, depending on the ground cover (clover is especially cheap)
✓ Versatile: There’s a ground cover for every lawn
✓ Many perennial and evergreen options
✓ Herbicide and pesticide often not needed
✓ Some can tolerate moderate to high foot traffic
✗ Can be invasive 
✗ Establishing ground cover takes time and labor
✗ May require fertilizer, watering, and trimming

Artificial turf

close-up of artificial grass
alvizlo | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Artificial turf is durable, always looks lush and tidy, works great for children at play, and can handle any climate in the U.S. Plus, it protects the environment from herbicide and fertilizer chemicals used on grass lawns.

Artificial turf is often considered the permanent no-mow solution to yard work and grass problems. However, some studies are questioning that theory. 

  • Instead of saving you money on lawn care, choosing artificial turf could lead to more damage costs down the line. According to Wirecutter, “synthetic turf can be a bad value over the long term, [and] there are serious environmental problems to consider.” 
  • Artificial turf releases microplastics into local soil and waterways. 
    • Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that damage aquatic ecosystems because animals mistake microplastics for food. 
    • Microplastics expose the ecosystem to toxic chemicals which make their way up the food chain, back to humans. 

In short, turfgrass offers benefits and drawbacks for the environment and your wallet.

If you’re ready to go grass-free, a lawn replacement (including labor and materials) costs approximately $3,000 to $7,500.

Artificial turf growing conditions

Region: Anywhere in the U.S. 

Sunlight: All (before installation, make sure you reduce window glare to prevent turf from melting)

Foot traffic: Medium to high, depending on the turf

When to install artificial turf: Choose a time when the ground is malleable but not too wet. 

  • If living in a warmer climate, winter is ideal.
  • If living in a colder climate, install in spring. 
Pros of artificial turfCons of artificial turf
✓ No mowing or fertilizing required 
✓ Durable
✓  You can choose the best material for your needs (nylon, polypropylene, or polyethylene)
✓ No watering required, except to clean turf
✓ Herbicide and pesticide not needed
✓ Evergreen
✓ Can stand any climate in the U.S.
✗ Expensive to install and repair
✗ Surface can get very hot
✗ Environmental concerns (loss of soil habitat, microplastics contaminating waterways)

Wildflower meadow

meadow of wild flowers
Leslie Bowman | Unsplash

Ditch your mower, throw the sprinkler out the window, and enjoy watching butterflies and bees flutter and buzz about your lawn. A native wildflower meadow transforms your lawn into a colorful, eco-friendly haven — plus, it can save you money on water, fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide. With native plants, your lawn can flourish naturally, without the chemicals of a traditional grass lawn.

It takes work to DIY a successful meadow, but once it’s established, you can sit back and enjoy the view. You’ll just have to water during dry spells and mow once in late fall to ensure that the seed heads drop. If you’d rather skip the gardening and stay for the flower show, you can hire a lawn care professional to do the planting for you. 

Wildflower meadow growing conditions

Region: Anywhere in the U.S. Choose a high-quality mixture of flowers that are native to your region.

Sunlight: Full to partial sun

Foot traffic: Low

When to plant a wildflower meadow: Fall for warmer regions and spring for cooler regions

  • Best wildflowers for butterflies: 
    • Purple coneflower
    • Black-eyed Susan 
    • Goldenrod
    • Zinnia
    • Aster
    • Milkweed
    • Yarrow
    • Cleome
    • Golden Alexander 
Pros of a wildflower gardenCons of a wildflower garden
✓ Grows in poor soil
✓ Does not need frequent watering
✓ No fertilizer required
✓ Little to no herbicide and pesticide required
✓ Great for pollinators 
✓ Promotes biodiversity and reduces pollution
✗ Takes time and labor to establish seeds
✗ Cannot tolerate high foot traffic
✗ Can be susceptible to weeds
  • If you live in a cool climate or the Transition Zone, consider adding hard fescue or sheep fescue to your wildflower garden to prevent weed growth.
  • If you live in a warmer climate, go with buffalograss, blue grama, or big bluestem. These grasses won’t compete with your wildflowers, but they will stop weeds from rearing their heads. 
  • Avoid Kentucky bluegrass, bermudagrass, and annual ryegrass. Aggressive growers can crowd out your flowers. 

Want more options? 

No- and low-mow grass alternatives are eco-friendly time-savers, and there are plenty to choose from for your lawn’s specific needs.

Need a hand establishing your new no-mow lawn? Reach out to a local professional to help with planning, planting, and maintenance. 


1. Can I grow no-mow grass in shade? 

Yes, fescue mixes are a particularly good choice for shady areas. No-Mow-Lawn and Eco-Lawn are blends of five different fescues, which means that if one cultivar doesn’t establish in the shade, another one can take over. Chewings fescue is perfect for shady spots beneath trees or buildings. It will both thrive in the shade and stop weeds and moss from growing. 

If fescues aren’t for you, go with a shade-loving ground cover instead. Consider bunchberry dogwood, hosta, fern, spotted deadnettle, or heartleaf brunnera.  

2. How much ground cover do I need? 

When buying ground cover, look at the plant’s predicted spread. If the spread is 2 feet at maturity, then you’ll want to plant every 2 feet. So if you’re planting in a 100 square foot area, you’d need 50 plants. 

If you want to fill the space quickly, you can choose to plant ground cover closer together. Generally, ground cover grows well when planted 12-24 inches apart. 

Also, consider individual growing habits. Certain ground covers like sweet woodruff will fill a space fast, so they may not need to be packed as tightly, while other ground covers like bloody cranesbill have a wide spread but grow slowly, so you may opt to plant them closer together. 

3. How should I plant my ground cover to make it look natural? 

Plant in a triangle or diamond pattern to ensure a natural, filled-in look. Avoid planting in lines, as this can leave bare patches.

4. How long do ground covers take to establish? 

Depending on the ground cover, it can take a year or more for ground covers to reach maturity.

5. What is the best artificial turf for a lawn with high foot traffic? 

Nylon and polyethylene are more durable than polypropylene. If you’re looking for a soft artificial turf for pets and children at play, polyethylene is a great choice. It’s softer than nylon so “turf burn” is minimized. Plus, it won’t get damaged easily and it looks realistic.

Main Photo Credit: I.Sáček, senior | Wikimedia Commons | CC0

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.