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 to native plants, there are plenty of types of no-mow grass alternatives to fit your specific needs.

9 types of no-mow grass alternatives

1. 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 are hardy and naturally crowd out weeds, so you don’t have to worry about fertilizer or herbicide often. 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.

Here are the best fescue varieties and their strengths:

  • 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.

Hard fescue and fescue mix growing conditions

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

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

Sunlight: Full sun to moderate shade

Foot traffic: Moderate

When to plant fescue: Late summer to early fall

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

Pros and cons of hard fescue and fescue mixes

Pros of hard fescue and fescue mixesCons of hard fescue and fescue mixes
✓ Little 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
✗ Cannot handle heavy foot traffic; will die if severely damaged
✗ Prone to developing thatch

2. Buffalograss

Buffalograss Patch
Forest and Kim Starr | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

A warm-season turfgrass native to the Great Plains, buffalograss lawns thrive in full sun and handle heat and drought well. As a result, this grass is often used for xeriscaping lawns and gardens. Buffalograss has short, fine foliage that grows 4 to 6 inches tall. 

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

While standard buffalograss has low mowing needs, the UC Verde variety can go even longer without mowing. UC Davis and UC Riverside developed this drought-tolerant cultivar with California in mind, but it does well in other states with dry climates.

Buffalograss growing conditions

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

Sunlight: Full to partial sun

Foot traffic: Low

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

Best no-mow variety: UC Verde

Pros and cons of buffalograss

Pros of buffalograssCons of buffalograss
✓ Drought-resistant; little watering required
✓ Little fertilizer required
✓ Deep 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; required 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

3. Zoysia tenuifolia

No-mow Zoysia (Zoysia tenuifolia) is a hardy, warm-season grass that tolerates drought and only needs two yearly mowings. 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 and cons of Zoysia tenuifolia

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
✗ Required fertilization in fall and spring
✗ Slow to spread
✗ Can develop Zoysia patch if drainage is poor and shade is high

4. Clover

John-Kelly | Canva Pro | License

Don’t dismiss this good-luck charm. Though most homeowners now consider clover a weed, it used to be quite popular in lawns, either mixed with turfgrass or on its own. 

Clover requires little (if any) mowing and is better than a grass lawn in several ways. It controls weeds, prevents erosion, tolerates drought, and decreases herbicide and fertilizer use. Its tiny white flowers also are pollinator-friendly. However, pure clover lawns require reseeding every couple of years.

The white Dutch clover (particularly the microclover variety) is making a comeback after falling out of popularity in the 1950s. However, other common types of clover include strawberry clover and red clover.

Clover growing conditions

Region: Northwestern, eastwestern, and midwestern U.S.

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade

Foot traffic: Moderate

When to plant clover: Early spring

Best no-mow variety: White Dutch clover, microclover, strawberry clover, and red clover

Pros and cons of clover

Pros of cloverCons of clover
✓ Needs little to no mowing, irrigation, fertilizer, and herbicides
✓ Inexpensive
✓ No aeration needed
✓ Attracts bees and other beneficial insects
✓ Tolerates partial shade
✓ Prevents erosion
✗ Not as durable against foot traffic as turfgrass
✗ Doesn’t like full shade
✗ Can’t tolerate extremely cold and dry conditions
✗ Requires reseeding

5. Kurapia

Kurapia is a relatively new contender in the lawn replacement game. It was developed in Japan and is common in California due to its drought tolerance. 

A Kurapia lawn will only grow 2 to 3 inches tall, which is perfect for homeowners who want a short, neat lawn replacement without the work of traditional turfgrass. The plant also produces flowers in spring and summer that attract pollinators, though you can mow it to 2 inches to reduce flowering and deter bees.

Kurapia can stay green year-round if temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it may not survive.

To prevent Kurapia from being invasive, ensure you get a sterile variety.

Kurapia growing conditions

Region: California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and other Southwestern and Southern states (USDA hardiness zones 7b and higher)

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade

Foot traffic: Moderate

When to plant Kurapia: Spring or fall

Best no-mow variety: Lippia nodiflora

Pros and cons of Kurapia

Pros of KurapiaCons of Kurapia
✓ Drought tolerant
✓ Stays naturally short at 2 to 3 inches
✓ Attracts pollinators
✓ Can be mowed if necessary
✓ Is evergreen when temperatures stay above 45 degrees Fahrenheit
✓ No fertilizer needed once established
✗ Can’t survive temperatures below 20 degrees
✗ Considered invasive in California
✗ Can’t handle heavy foot traffic

6. Moss

zen garden moss
Stephane Bidouze | Canva Pro | License

Transform your lawn into a forest floor with a moss lawn. Moss never gets too tall and certainly needs no mowing. It also thrives in damp, shady areas where grass might struggle. Since it has no roots, it’s easier to establish than grass (and many other plants).

To grow a moss lawn, you must assess your soil conditions. The best soil for growing moss is acidic, compacted, shady, and moist. You will need to water and weed it during establishment, but it will become low-maintenance after that.

The best varieties are acrocarps and pleurocarps. Acrocarps are best adapted for dry climates and include:

  • Common haircap moss
  • Heath star moss
  • Mood moss or broom-fork moss
  • Pincushion moss
  • Springy turf moss

Pleurocarps are best adapted to moist climates and include:

  • American tree moss
  • Baby tooth moss
  • Fern moss
  • Plume moss
  • Sheet moss
  • Shiny seductive moss
  • Spoon leaved moss

Moss growing conditions

Region: Anywhere in the U.S.

Sunlight: Partial to full shade

Foot traffic: Light

When to plant moss: Spring

Best no-mow variety: Acrocarps for dry climates and pleurocarps for wet climates

Pros and cons of moss

Pros of mossCons of moss
✓ No pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers required
✓ Doesn’t need aeration or dethatching
✓ Thrives in poor quality, compacted, and rocky soils
✓ Shade-tolerant
✓ Low water needs once established
✓ Prevents erosion
✗ Cannot use herbicides; will need to weed by hand
✗ Low foot traffic tolerance
✗ Needs debris removed
✗ Expensive to establish
✗ Doesn’t like sunny yards or alkaline soils

7. Groundcover

succulent ground cover
Josephine Bredehoft | Unsplash

For a low-maintenance lawn filled with striking evergreens, succulents, and flowers, go with groundcover. It’s an easy, no-mow way to beautify grassless areas.

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

Need more guidance on what to choose? Here are our top groundcover recommendations:

  • 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 tiny yellow flowers, and stands up to light foot traffic.
  • Popular aromatic groundcovers include sun-loving, pollinator-friendly creeping thyme and shade-tolerant, 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.

Check your plant hardiness zone to determine what groundcovers will thrive in your region.

Groundcover growing conditions

Region: Anywhere in the U.S.

Sunlight: Depends on the groundcover

Foot traffic: Depends on the groundcover. Generally, groundcovers are less durable than turfgrass.

When to plant groundcovers: Homeowners in cooler regions with frigid winters should plant groundcover in spring. Homeowners in warmer regions with rainy winters should plant in the fall.

Best no-mow variety: Carpet sedum, hosta, creeping thyme, and Corsican mint

Pros and cons of groundcover

Pros of groundcoverCons of groundcover
✓ Little or no mowing required
✓ Versatile; there’s a groundcover for every lawn
✓ Many perennial and evergreen options
✓ Herbicides and pesticides often not needed
✓ Some can tolerate moderate to high foot traffic
✗ Can be invasive
✗ Establishing groundcover takes time and labor
✗ May require fertilizer, watering, and trimming
✗ Not all are walkable

8. 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. Professional artificial turf installation costs between $2,970 and $7,100, but you also can install the grass yourself.

Artificial turf is often considered the permanent no-mow solution to yard work and grass problems. However, some environmentalists question that theory. They point out that artificial grass is bad for the environment in the following ways:

  • It’s made with fossil fuels
  • It’s not biodegradable
  • It doesn’t benefit wildlife
  • It releases microplastics into the soil and waterways

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

Artificial turf growing conditions

Region: Anywhere in the U.S.

Sunlight: All (before installation, make sure you reduce window glare to prevent the 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 you are living in a warmer climate, winter is ideal. If you are living in a colder climate, install it in spring. 

Best no-mow variety: Any kind

Pros and cons of artificial turf

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 the turf
✓ Herbicides and pesticides 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)

9. Wildflower meadow

meadow of wild flowers
Leslie Bowman | Unsplash

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

It takes work to DIY a flourishing 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 the seed heads drop. If you’d rather skip the gardening and stay for the flower show, you can hire a gardening professional to do the planting for you.

One drawback of wildflower meadows is their susceptibility to weeds. Here are some tips to keep your meadow weed-free and healthy:

  • 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.

Wildflower meadow growing conditions

Region: Anywhere in the U.S. Choose a high-quality mixture of flowers 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 no-mow variety:

  • Purple coneflower
  • Black-eyed Susan 
  • Goldenrod
  • Zinnia
  • Aster
  • Milkweed
  • Yarrow
  • Cleome
  • Golden Alexander

All of these varieties attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Pros and cons of wildflower meadows

Pros of a wildflower gardenCons of a wildflower garden
✓ Grows in nutrient-poor soil
✓ Does not need frequent watering
✓ No fertilizer required
✓ Little to no herbicides or pesticides required
✓ Great for pollinators
✓ Promotes biodiversity and reduces pollution
✓ Reduces erosion
✗ Takes time and labor to establish seeds
✗ Cannot tolerate high foot traffic
✗ Can be susceptible to weeds

FAQs about types of no-mow grass alternatives

Can I grow no-mow grass in the shade? 

Yes, fescue mixes are an excellent 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 thrive in the shade and stop weeds from growing.

If fescues aren’t for you, use a shade-loving groundcover instead. Consider bunchberry dogwood, hosta, hardy ferns, spotted deadnettle, or heartleaf brunnera. Moss lawns also are an ideal choice for shady yards.

How much groundcover do I need? 

When buying groundcover, look at the plant’s predicted spread. If the spread is 2 feet at maturity, 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 plant groundcover closer together. Generally, groundcover grows well when planted 12 to 24 inches apart.

Also, consider individual growing habits. Specific groundcovers like sweet woodruff will fill a space fast, so they may be packed less tightly. Other groundcovers like bloody cranesbill are widespread but grow slowly, so you can plant them closer together. 

How should I plant my groundcover 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.

How long do groundcovers take to establish? 

Depending on the groundcover, it can take a year or more for groundcovers to reach maturity.

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 an excellent choice. It’s softer than nylon, so “turf burn” is minimized. Plus, it won’t get damaged easily, and it looks realistic.

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. To find more options for your area, contact your local cooperative extension.

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

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.