Daily Environment Repost Urban Environmentalist

Lawn Alternatives

I recently wrote about the great American front lawn and the environmental problems it creates. My observations beg the question, “What are my lawn alternatives?” If conservation and environmental protection start at home, then we need to define the key problems and look at viable alternatives to current practice. 

A recap of two environmental problems created by lawns is: Approximately one-third of the public water supply in the USA is used in landscape irrigation. This usage amounts to about 9 billion gallons of water per day. Water makes the grass grow, and then we use some 600 million gallons of gas each year when cutting that grass.

So, water conservation and reducing fossil fuel emissions rank high on the environmental problems that lawn alternatives should solve. A high-level approach to these issues recognizes that both water usage and gasoline usage directly relate to the size of the lawn. Step one is to evaluate how much lawn you really need. Reduce the size of your lawn by 50 percent, and you know that things are moving in the right direction because your water and mowing needs reduce by 50 percent also.

Expand planted beds to occupy more space, thus reducing the size of the lawn that needs to be maintained. Of course, planted beds still require some maintenance in the form of watering, but they don’t need constant mowing. Planted beds also lend themselves to more efficient irrigation methods like drip systems. Well-planned drip systems are great at providing water to individual plants, and they lose less water to evaporation than sprinklers. Water savings of up to 70% can be achieved using drip systems.   

Ground covers

Grass is not the only ground cover available for open areas. We maintain some open slopes around our house with vinca. It doesn’t accommodate much foot traffic, but it provides a year-round green cover with purple flowers in the spring. Its water needs are moderate, and the roots stabilize soil on the slope.

Another alternative is Creeping Thyme. It grows several inches high and accommodates foot traffic. This plant grows in full sun or partial shade, uses small amounts of water, and requires very limited care. However, growth/spread rates are not high, so a close spacing in the initial planting will create your ground cover more quickly.

There are lots of other alternatives, but the critical point is that replacing large portions of your lawn with alternative ground covers that require limited care, limited watering, and no mowing helps the environment. So, water conservation and zero fossil fuel emissions are achievable in a single stroke.     


The road to true water conservation in your home gardens is through xeriscape landscaping (xeriscaping). This form of landscaping seeks to eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. Achieving this goal is accomplished by using water-efficient plants that are native to the local ecology, applying soil amendments and mulches to provide nutrients and retain moisture, and garden designs that match plant sunlight requirements. Thus, the overall effect is to create a landscape around your home that is low maintenance and uses only the water naturally available.

Maintaining and protecting the environment is a massive task. But that doesn’t mean that you, as an individual, have no part to play. Think about your property as a mini environmental project. Less lawn and more water-efficient planted beds are a good start.


Environmental protection starts with your lawn (Source: ArcheanWeb) – https://archeanweb.com/2020/03/13/environmental-protection-starts-with-your-lawn/ Also:


Best Sprinkler Controller to Irrigate Your Yard (Source: Happy DIY Home) 

Efficient Irrigation (By Water Use it Wisely) – https://wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve/landscape-care/principles-of-xeriscape-design/efficient-irrigation/ Also:

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to a Grassy Lawn (By Gilmour) – https://gilmour.com/grass-alternatives-backyard-lawn Also:

Feature Image: Creeping red thyme (By Own Herby) (Modified) –  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creeping_red_thyme.jpg  – This file licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.