A perfect lawn is idyllic and a thing of beauty, but a green, lush lawn comes at a cost- especially during hot, dry summers which require an average of 1.5 inches of water per week to stay looking good.
Luckily for water-conscious gardeners, there are many alternatives that don’t require as much water while also providing many other benefits like less need for fertilizer and maintenance.
Microclover, specially designed to be a lawn replacement, can emulate a green lawn while eliminating the need for frequent mowing, watering, and fertilizing. Fertilizing is unnecessary as microclover self-fertilizes by drawing in nitrogen and fixing it to and from that can be used by plants. Microclover needs only occasional mowing, crowds out weeds, eliminates the need for aeration, and is not affected by pet urine. It has deep roots, making it more tolerant to drought than most grass varieties. It is hardy to USDA zone 3.
Some varieties of creeping thyme are hardy to zone 3 and make excellent lawn replacements.
Red creeping thyme, a zone 4 perennial that will survive our winters with proper snow coverage and watering, forms a dense mat of green foliage in the spring and beautiful red blooms in early summer.
Woolly thyme, a zone 3 perennial, forms a soft durable mat that has a grayish tint and pretty pink blooms in summer. Mother of Thyme grows as a slightly taller mat, excellent for aesthetic purposes. It has dark green foliage with medium pink flowers in the summer. When stepped on, thyme emits its wonderful scent and is soft on bare feet.
Grow Food, Not Lawns
Another option is to replace lawns with usable space for food production. While this doesn’t directly save water usage, you can feel better about the water being used when it is putting food on the table. If growing food organically, you can also feel good about putting less chemicals into the environment. There is a growing (pun intended!) trend to incorporate edibles into the landscape mixed in with ornamentals, as well as creating defined spaces for raised beds or fruit trees.
Having a wildflower meadow instead of all or some of your lawn is not only a beautiful alternative, but a bee-friendly one as well. Any sunny, well-drained area, small or large, in your yard could be a perfect space to sow some wildflower seeds. Wildflowers flourish particularly well in poor soil and don’t need fertilizer. After they’ve finished blooming and have dropped their seeds for next year, they can be easily mowed down until they grow again the following bloom season.
Xeriscaping is a gardening technique that involves using plants that require less water and often are native to the climate. In xeriscaping, thirsty plants like lawns are often replaced with rock or mulch with drought-tolerant plants planted throughout. See: Xeriscaping
Some Homeowner Associations require a certain percentage of yards to be kept as lawns, so check with them first to see if there are any restrictions in your area.
Replacing an entire lawn with an alternative may seem daunting, so start small and manageable. Once you see the benefits to the environment, your time and energy, and your water bill, it may not take long before you want to expand it to the rest of your lawn.