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Everyone is aware of climate change now. Well, except for a few deniers who will get it once it hits them personally in the form of high fuel and food prices and severe water restrictions. With that sort of forecast, we need to conserve natural resources.

Lawns are thirsty. The average homeowner uses 60 gallons per day on their lawn. And for what?! What does a huge expanse of grass do? It takes up space, might be pretty and might provide a soft play area for children and pets. A lawn really has no practical function.

Aside from water, lawns demand a lot of your attention. They need to be mowed and weeded. If you are not into digging weeds out (like my dad used to do), you will be spreading chemical fertilizers to eradicate useful plants like dandelions. You also need to fertilize to keep that bright green color of the sod you put down.

Lawns are not environmentally friendly! There are many options, such as a yard full of native shrubs, trees and flowers, a wildflower meadow, an edible landscape or groundcovers.

Alternatives to thirsty lawns

If you are trying to imitate a lawn, groundcovers are the way to go. They need no fertilizer, they use less water, and you don’t have to mow them. You can mow a couple of varieties once or twice a year if you want to, but it’s not required for good, healthy growth.

You can plant a very low and soft carpet that is gentle enough for children to play on and tough enough for dog romping. If those aren’t your needs, there are taller (4-6”) species that would work well as a low maintenance cover with visual interest. If your property is on a slope, groundcovers work well for erosion control.

“Carpet-like” plants for kids to play on

To create a soft carpet, consider the creeping thymes. This 4” high mounding plant is placed between flagstones and other pavers to soften the edges and add contrast to the walkway or patio. It smells good when it is walked on, so if your kids are playing in a yard of thyme, they will smell delicious when they come inside! Mother of Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Woolly Thyme and Spicy Orange Thyme are a few choices for you. These are not culinary thymes; they are landscape plants.

Other carpet-type groundcovers are Chamomile, Corsican Mint, Scotch Moss and Irish Moss.

Clover is an effective and beautiful ground cover for large areas. It is frequently mixed into grass seed, so it’s in most lawns. Clover is low-growing, mowing is optional, flowers attract pollinators (critical for food production), and best of all, it chokes out weeds. Once your clover is established, it will be a pure stand.

If you live in a wooded area, consider native groundcovers instead of grass. Vinca minor has shiny deep green leaves and sweet purple flowers. It is frequently used in foundation plantings on the north side of a building, but it just as easily can cover a large area. Wild Ginger, Ajuga, Wild Strawberry and the various Creeping Junipers will also make for a yard with more interest than an expanse of grass.

Groundcover for every growing condition

There are groundcovers for every growing condition – wet, dry, sunny, shady, sandy soil, clay soil and everything in between. Foliage comes in many textures and colors, and flowers add a subtle touch of color. Replacing your lawn with groundcovers will make your yard a conversation piece with friends and family.

Do away with your dread of weekends spent mowing, weeding and fertilizing, and instead have time to enjoy your yard! Check with your local nursery for the best varieties for your area and growing conditions.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.