Want a Sustainable Garden? Start with Reducing your Lawn

Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest

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Photo Credit: Helen Yoest

My kids rule the turf. Soccer, golf, and football are played on this grass nearly every day. The center turf is also a transitional place when the kids run through the garden with my husband playing freeze tag or other outside chase games. But I mow it. It’s comforting to me to do so. However, over the years, I’ve reduced my lawn and added more beds and trees, with ground-covers as lawn replacement. The beds are less maintenance the caring for more lawn, and I was able to add plant diversity to provide for the wildlife. I like my lawn for the purpose it serves. I don’t want any more than I need, and as the kids grow older, more lawn will be converted to lower-maintenance options.

Got moss? This earth-hugging, drought-tolerant plant would completely satisfy my need for open, green lushness. I’ve been experimenting with Entodon seductrix, a low-spreading, shiny, multi-branched pleurocarp, making it a worthy lawn replacement. In moist sites, Entodon seductrix will form a thick moss mat, with stem branches growing upward from a horizontal main stem—a good moss choice for sunny areas as long as afternoon shade is provided. Two other mosses, Thuidium delicatulum has superior growth and walk-ability but must have afternoon shade. For an even shadier spot, Plagiomnium cuspidatum is a good choice.

In other shady areas where I’ve reduced lawn and have some change to spare (this is a pricy ground cover), I grow Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’, dwarf mondo grass (Zones 6 – 9 ). This finely textured evergreen perennial grows in low, grass-like clumps or mounds in part sun to shade. Ophiopogon japonicus is a bit taller than the cultivar ‘Nana’. and is the perfect lawn replacement for those who still want the look of grass.

I’ve begun to add sun-loving ground-covers where turf use to be. As I give my beds a broader berth, I don’t worry about scale in terms of what to plant in front of the beds. Instead, I add interesting ground-covers that serve as a turf replacement, bridging the edge of the grass with the garden beds. Below are some of the ground-covers I’ve added to my garden.

In the sunny parts of my Southeast regional garden (Zone 7b), I’ve incorporated Rubus calycinoides, ornamental or creeping raspberry (Zones 6 - 9), reaching heights of 6 to 12 inches, with a spread of 18 to 24 inches. Mine grows equally as well in sun or shade. Deep green color and a thick texture, with relatively long spreading branches, make ornamental creeping raspberry an excellent choice as a lawn replacement.

Other sunny bed edges in my yard are swathed with Dianthus plumarius (Zones 3 - 9), reaching 2 to 5 inches high, with a spread of 12 to 18 inches. Dianthus plumarius are affectionately known as pinks. Pinks’ common name is not derived from the color of the flowers, since pinks come in colors other than pink, including bi-colors. Pinks get their name for the fringed or pinking shear-like cut edges of the flowers. Pinks also offer another green ground-cover choice with a twist, displaying a blue-green color for a lawn replacement.

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, commonly called Angelina stonecrop (Zones 3 - 11) is gangly, but it still reaches 4 to 6 inches high before lying down and is a good spreader, at 12 to 18 inches wide. Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ makes an unusual ground-cover for a sunny location in areas with poor, dry soil. Fleshy, needle-like foliage forms a trailing mat of succulent, star-shaped flowers during the summer months. During the autumn and winter, the foliage often turns amber tones.

Even with the reductions of turf over the years, the kids still have plenty green, green grass areas to play their sports. Adding more beds with lawn replacements reduced the amount of time I spent on maintenance allowing me to pitch a baseball, kick a soccer ball, and generally play outside with the kids more.

SIDEBAR

One day the kids will move on, and even then, I’ll keep some grass. I do dream, however, of how I will change the wide open lawn that is currently being used as the soccer field. I’m not exactly sure with what yet, maybe a parterre or a rill of water running through the cool, lush grass. My mind wonders if the rill should have a sinuous line or if it should follow the straight English framework of the existing design. Or should I just plant trees envisioning myself on a hammock sipping iced tea? But then I get kicked in the head with a soccer ball, bringing me back into reality where I consider myself very fortunate that I have these three kids to share the great outdoors with just a couple of steps from the back patio.

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Pollinator-friendly, sustainable, good design

Raleigh, NC
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