How to Keep Your Lawn Happy and Environmentally Friendly

I’ll admit that I love the smell of freshly cut lawns. But it’s the chemical fertilizers, mower noise, weed battles, and wasteful water consumption that I willingly trade in for more ecologically sustainable pastures. Here are garden design ideas to help you end the suburban turf romance and create a new environmentally friendly field of green.

Lay of the Lawn

Questions

The first thing is to ask yourself is “How do I want to use the space?” Do you want to occasionally walk on it, or is the area a play space for kids and pets? The answers determine your design and materials.

Meadow

Consider creating a meadow where your lawn is now, adjusting the size to fit your space. Think ornamental grasses mixed with wildflowers.

Clean slate

Remove both vegetation and the weed seed left in the soil. Haul away the top 8 inches of soil, then water and see if anything rears its ugly head before moving on. Or try the more environmentally friendly sheet mulching technique — cover the area with cardboard or newspaper layers, add compost and mulch, then wait until the cover decomposes.

Accessorize

While native grasses could be the backbone of a natural lawn, adding other plants into the design like bulbs, succulents, annuals and perennials creates successive and seasonal waves of color and interest.

Did you know?

Nature dislikes a monoculture and loves diversity; mix a variety of plants together, but to avoid a hodgepodge look, use the same plants in groups of threes or fives.

Top secret

Use pavers to wind a mysterious path through the once-sod space and lusciously plant around it.

Victory

Build or buy raised beds and plant a vegetable garden.

Dry humor

Create a low-water gravel garden planted with hardy succulents and other drought-tolerant plants, then mulch with decorative gravel. 

Top Lawn Alternatives

  • Thymus ‘Elfin’ or ‘Wooly’
  • Ophiopogon jap. ‘Nana’
  • Carex pansa or carex tumulicola
  • Dymondia margaretae
  • Myoporum parvifolium
  • No Mow mixed species blend

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Kier Holmes

Kier Holmes is a native, Marin-based landscape designer who works at M2 Design and Construction, for over 15 years, has artfully designed and created sustainable gardens that are dynamic year round. She also writes for Gardenista, is an elementary school garden educator, a garden speaker for adults and leader of the Garden Club for kids at the Mill Valley Library. Holmes readily admits that she is a nerd about all things plant related, and can geek out on a dinner-plate dahlia like nobody’s business. Her natural habitat is among flowers and her hands are almost always dirty.