Landscaping

Australian native lawn alternatives

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If you’re looking for the perfect lawn alternative for your backyard, why not start with an Australian native?

Watch: Charlie’s no-mow lawn alternative 

Australian native lawn alternatives are the perfect plants to use for wide, open areas in your garden. For many, grass is too high maintenance and can look like a ‘green desert’ – planting natives in the place of grass is not only aesthetic, but easy to maintain and great for biodiversity. 

We’ve enlisted the help of landscaper Zach Barnett and his partner Ronan Shiels who have recently started their landscaping business, Boronia Landscapes, that has a focus on sustainability and native planting.

Let’s find out what they think about planting native lawns:

Why are native lawns great for Aussie gardens?

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Creeping grevillea (Credit: Getty)

Barnett and Shiels state that “Native lawns are of great use in Australian gardens because they are actually suited to our environment.” 

Native lawns are better suited, because they come from Australia! Using Aussie plants instead of imported or introduced grass species means that your garden fits right in with weather conditions, climate and the ecosystems in your area. 

This can also be excelled by picking endemic species from your region. A great example of this is common tussock grass (Poa labillardieri) which is endemic or originally from eastern and southern Australian regions, including Tasmania. 

Benefits of native lawn alternatives

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Native violet planting (Credit: Boronia Landscapes)

As Barnett and Shiels explain, native lawns are “extremely soft underfoot and great to lie down in! Plus, with a lot of native plants, you will get beautiful flowering or interesting plant structures that can catch the eye and look aesthetic.” 

Not only are native lawns beautiful and soft, but they have many practical benefits, including: 

Easy maintenance

In terms of maintenance and upkeep, these experts explain that there’s not nearly as much effort or time that you need to put into a native lawn. “Whilst most normal grass lawns require heavy watering and maintenance, especially just after they have been installed, native lawns often don’t need this.”

Better yet, “where common lawn grasses tend to fail, e.g. in heavy shade, native lawn plants often tend to do much better.”

Increasing biodiversity

Biodiversity may not seem like such a relevant issue, but as Barnett and Shiels explain, ‘it is incredibly important in your garden.”

“We as humans have control over so much land and what is planted on it. If we do not use our gardens as a way to reflect the biodiversity that Australia is so well known for, we are doing our environment a disservice.” 

They explain that native lawns, in conjunction with other native planting, will create a complete ecosystem in your backyard, which can be essential for native animals of all sizes to flourish. 

“Monoculture planting” and the ‘green desert’ that normal grass lawns establish are harmful to native animals including insects, birds and animals, whereas native lawns have a wealth of interest for them in food foraging and habitat formation. This also means that your garden is less likely to get diseases or pests!

List of Australian native lawn alternatives

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Native violet (Credit: Getty)

If you’re looking for good native plants to use for your lawn, here are some great examples: 

  • Dichondra repens or kidney weed 
  • Native violet (Viola hederacea)
  • Spear Grass (Heteropogon contortus)
  • Common Tussock Grass (Poa labillardierei)
  • Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra)
  • Wallaby Grass (Rytidosperma caespitosum)
  • Barbed Wire Grass (Cymbopogon refractus)
  • Windmill grass (Chloris)
  • Creeping grevillea (Grevillea repens)

When choosing the native plant you want for your garden, it is recommended to look at the different conditions your plants may face. 

Barnett and Shiels determine that the best native plants for areas that are quite shaded, especially where normal lawns are failing, are Viola (native violet or Viola hederacea) and Dichondra (kidney weed). 

“These both work really well in the dappled shade and full shade. While Viola can stand the sun a bit better, Dichondra will work better in fuller shade. Another native lawn plant that works really well in full sun is Windmill Grass (Chloris) which will grow well wherever traditional lawns are growing well.”

Sourcing native plants for your lawn

Native plants are not always available at the usual plant centres or gardening shops. Boronia Landscapes recommends shopping around for specialised native nurseries in your area. 

Barnett and Shiels do recommend that you go in person to visit native nurseries as “most of these places don’t always have great websites, so going in ensures you find the best stock possible.”

Planting your native lawn

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Dichondra planting (Credit: Boronia Landscapes)

Planting is quite a simple process overall. Our own Charlie Albone has recently planted a Dichondra lawn and has a step-by-step guide on the planting process here. Boronia Landscapes do have a couple of extra tips as well: 

“We always use ‘tube stock’ when buying plants for native lawns for clients as they are smaller and easier to plant. However, you will need some patience for this, as it will take about a month for your lawn to look full and lush.

We also recommend adding in native seed with the tubestock so full evenness in your lawn can be acquired (this will also keep the price down!).

If you aren’t willing to wait, you can buy a 140 mm size, which is more expensive but quicker to grow into a lawn. You do have to take more care in the placement of your plants to ensure evenness with larger sized plants.”

Boronia Landscapes recommends using a high quality native mix of soil as well as a native-specific fertiliser to give the plant nutrients they need when first being planted. 

Why plant with sustainability and native planting in mind? 

Barnett and Shiels have long shared a love for Australian natives and keeping landscapes truly Australian, “we first got the idea for wanting to plant natively and sustainably from our love of the look of all natives. When we were both children, they were always our favourite plants and flowers. 

Learning about plants and ecosystems through tertiary education helped us both understand the benefits of planting native how easy it is to have such a great and positive impact on the environment. 

Our overall aim is to always think sustainably and through a native lens in the effort to increase the biodiversity in Sydney one garden at a time.”

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