The development and urban sprawl that continues to push away from our cities and pushes our suburbs out to the countryside are devastating natural environments. Building new subdivisions means tearing down trees, draining wetlands, and plowing over meadows and fields. Instead of a native environment and an abundance of ecosystems, we end up with treeless lots spread with perfect green lawns. When we destroy the natural landscape and replace it with manicured lawns and non-native plants, we destroy the wildlife that came before us. We create sterilized, pesticide-laden, and well-pruned lots instead. And we end up wasting resources by using gallons and gallons of water to keep that lawn perfectly green.
You don’t have to live this way, though. You can combat this wildlife destruction by creating an alternate lawn. If you live in a newer subdivision, of course, you will probably have restrictions placed on what you can do. Most modern communities prefer that all houses and lawns follow the same strict set of rules to create picture-perfect visions of similarity. If you live somewhere with fewer restrictions, however, you have the opportunity to create a natural environment that promotes your local ecosystem.
If you live in a neighborhood full of lush, velvety green lawns, and you tear yours up and replace it with wildflowers and native plants, you could find yourself in a pickle. You probably aren’t allowed to do that, for one thing. For another, even if you have no rules in your homeowners association for lawns, you will probably draw the ire, or worse, of your neighbors. If it just isn’t practical for your location to go whole hog and throw out the perfect turn, do what you can within reason.
This means, that you can replace portions of your turf with beds that contain native plants, wildflowers, ground cover, or some combination of the three. Your neighbors should find no reason to complain if you decrease the grass and increase well-tended, nice-looking beds. You can also minimize your lawn by creating more stone or patio areas. Line your beds with large rocks or create a large entertaining patio in the backyard to replace grass.
If You Can Go Nuts
If you have the freedom to do whatever you like with your lawn, you have many options for an alternative to the green, green lawn. And if you enjoy having nice, green grass, you can make a compromise by leaving a swath of lawn and surrounding it with alternatives. For your non-grass spaces, consider creating a wildflower meadow, a natural prairie, areas of ground cover, an orchard, clumps of ornamental grasses, areas of gravel, or patio and entertaining spaces.
Go Natural, Go Native
One of the best reasons to steer clear of a lush and green lawn is the tremendous amount of water that goes into creating all that greenery. To keep a lawn green in most areas of the country, at least some amount of watering is necessary. And if you live in a high drought area, you can either water your lawn or watch it shrivel up and turn brown. If you let your property grow into a natural area, however, you need not turn on the sprinklers ever again.
Creating a natural landscape can also be one of your simplest options for an alternative to a lawn. You can plan it out and put in plants that you like, but you can also just let it go and see what happens. If you go with this option, just realize that it will get a little out of control. Make sure you have pathways so you can get to parts of your property as needed. Consider lining these paths with large rocks to mark out the areas that you need to mow for access. With this type of lawn, you will get native plants just by letting nature take its course. Expect to see much more wildlife on your property as a result. You will get native insects, birds, bats, and other animals flocking to your property.
Wild For Wildflowers
Sewing your new lawn with wildflowers is another great idea for an alternative. You can even include them in your natural area plan. If you intend to mostly let your property go natural, but want to have a little control over its appearance, wildflowers are a lovely addition. Or, if you are keeping some of your lawn manicured, but looking for a good alternative for one large area, consider a wildflower meadow.
Pick a spot that is nice and sunny to start your meadow. The best time of year to get it going is either in the spring or fall. The lawn will need to be removed from your targeted area before you put in the new flowers. You can take it up by brute force, or take the passive route. If you cover the area with black plastic, the grass and weeds will die within three months. This is a good option if you have the time to spare and don’t mind looking at the plastic all summer. The dead material will be easier to remove than live grass and weeds.
Once you have a nice clean area in which to start your meadow, find a mix of wildflower seeds that you like. For the most natural area possible, look for seeds of plants that are native to your local ecosystem. To achieve this, you may need to make your own mix. After you spread the seeds, rake the soil lightly to just cover the seeds. You may also want to put down a very thin layer of mulch to protect the seeds. As with starting grass from seed, you will need to water your new plants regularly for the first several weeks. When your meadow is well established, you will need to mow it once a year, either in the spring or fall. Other than that, you will have a maintenance-free area.
Groundcover plants are similar to grass in that they are good at covering large areas of ground without looking like you simply let the area go wild. Unlike grass, many types of groundcover are very low maintenance. They rarely require watering, pruning, or cutting. You may, however, need to pull out weeds if they begin to emerge above the level of the groundcover plant. Once you get an area of groundcover established, you can have large swaths of your lawn replaced by this easy, yet manicured looking alternative.
If you are thinking of trying groundcover, try planting different types in different areas of your property. This will give you a varied look with different textures and colors. You could even use edible groundcovers. Strawberries make a good groundcover, as do several types of low-growing herbs like thyme, mint, or oregano. You can replace your grass with something you can use. If you are unsure of what types of groundcover will work in your lawn or in your climate, take a trip to your local nursery and talk to an expert to get some ideas.
Use Rocks, Gravel, Bricks
There is no reason why some of your lawn alternatives should not be inorganic materials. The initial installation may be labor-intensive, but once completed, a paved or bricked-in area is very low-maintenance. You can use concrete, brick, or stone pavers to create a large entertaining space. Wide paths made with gravel can connect areas of your property and eliminate grass from large areas. Outline all of your beds and gardening areas with pavers, and you will get rid of even more of your grassy areas. If these areas begin to look to grey and dead to you, you can always liven them up with container gardens and potted plants.
©2012 Off the Grid News