Landscaping

The complete guide to lawn alternatives

How to plant and care for them!
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A grass lawn may not suit every Aussie’s backyard – so what kind of lawn alternatives are out there? 

Watch: Charlie’s no-mow lawn alternative

Having a grass lawn is great for backyard cricket and sunny summer days. However, many Aussie families are struggling with upkeep and mowing, or their backyard is just not suited for grass to grow. 

Instead, installing a lawn alternative or ‘no-mow’ lawn has become exceedingly popular. With little to no maintenance and a huge variety of plants that can grow in shady or sloping conditions, the lawn alternative is the new favourite! 

Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of lawn alternatives, how to grow and care for them, and work out whether star moss, tussock grass or native violet would be the perfect lawn for you!

Benefits of having a non-grass lawn 

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Everlasting Daisy (Credit: Getty)

Less maintenance 

Maintenance is a key issue for many that have a normal grass lawn. While grass needs frequent upkeep, including mowing, fertilising, weeding and even re-seeding, grass lawn alternatives require little care. After planting moss, native grasses or small plant lawns, watch them grow and cover your garden with beautiful greenery!

Normal lawns are also more susceptible to pests and disease as it is of little interest to diverse insects, birds and animals that usually keep pests at bay. A lawn alternative has a wealth of interest for insect and animal diversity, meaning there is a lower probability of disease, and will thrive under harsher conditions!

Less water 

Watering your garden is often restricted in Australia, especially when there is a drought or adverse weather event. For all grass lawns, even the tougher varieties, frequent watering is often required to keep your lawn healthy. Many native grasses, small plants and moss lawns don’t need additional watering and will maintain good vigour even in hotter weather. 

Increases biodiversity and native planting 

A beautiful native lawn or lawn alternative is not only appealing to the eyes, but it’s also appealing to wildlife! The ‘green desert’ that is a normal grass lawn does not pose much interest to insects, birds and animals, meaning that your backyard cannot be a home to them. By providing a space for wildlife to thrive, you’re helping ecosystems and habitat growth.

Plus, it’s so nice to see birds, bees and butterflies flock to your plants for a little taste!

Grass vs lawn alternatives

Grass can be great for families with children, pets and the time and energy for lots of upkeep. Although grass is the norm for most Australian households, it’s actually a very high maintenance plant that needs regular watering, fertilising and of course, weekly or monthly mowing! 

If you have high foot traffic in your garden, and need a soft and durable ground cover, then grass is definitely for you. If you have medium to low foot traffic, and wish for little maintenance, then you should definitely consider a lawn alternative for your backyard!

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List of lawn alternatives

Lawn alternatives come in many shapes and sizes, with a huge variety of plants you can choose from. 

The first step is to consider what kind of backyard or garden you have – shady or sunny, big or small, wet or dry? These factors will determine which plant is best for your lawn and will grow beautiful and lush! 

We’ve categorised all of our favourite lawn types below, take a look at the category you like best and learn all of their benefits and needs!

Moss lawn

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Star moss (Credit: Getty)

A moss lawn is beautiful and spongy, perfect for small areas in your garden that just need a little something. Contrary to popular belief, moss is fine to walk on and can actually tolerate light foot traffic. 

When installing a moss lawn, it is recommended to stand or sit on the moss once planted to help it attach properly to the soil. Great moss varieties include star moss, tree moss, pincushion moss and sphagnum moss!

The only con for a moss lawn? It can be tricky to source moss from a normal garden centre or shop. You may have to search far and wide, but in the end it’s definitely worth it! 

Native plant lawn 

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Native violet (Credit: Getty)

A native lawn is by far our favourite, as it can bring in great biodiversity and provide much needed native replanting. A native plant lawn has a multitude of species you can choose, from grasses like common tussock to small plants like native violet. 

Native plants are relatively easy to find, but you may have to source them from local nurseries. Charlie Albone has planted a native dichondra lawn and the results are magnificent! Check out his step-by-step guide here.

Small plant lawn

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Clover (Credit: Getty)

Small plant lawns are increasingly becoming the most popular lawn alternative to use. Creeping thyme and clover are very common small plants and are a beautiful substitute to normal grass. 

Ornamental grasses

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Purple fountain grass (Credit: Getty)

Ornamental grasses are beautiful, but they do have one quite big downside – you can’t walk on them! From fountain grass to Japanese forest grass, planting these as a lawn alternative will definitely strike up conversation. 

It is definitely advised to plant in areas that you don’t want to walk on or near, as some of these grasses can be spiky!

Meadow or wildflower lawn

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Everlasting daisy (Credit: Getty)

What could be more beautiful than a lawn full of blooming flowers? Creating a meadow or wildflower lawn means you don’t like maintenance at all, and love to embrace the wild side of nature. 

Although meadows may seem very randomised and free-spirited, you may have to do a little more work when planting your wildflowers. It is recommended to disperse perennial flowers amongst other varieties to ensure that your lawn looks full and colourful for the whole year. 

And you just wait and see, every bee and butterfly in the area will want a little taste of your amazing lawn!

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Reasons your garden may need a lawn alternative

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Tussock grass (Credit: Getty)

There doesn’t need to be a reason why you should install an alternative lawn if you really want one, but there are some garden types that actually work better with a no-mow lawn. 

Backyards with small and awkward areas and spaces that don’t have a lot of foot traffic thrive with an alternative lawn. Dry shady areas work great for native or ornamental grasses, while wet shady areas are the perfect space for mossy ground covering. And, of course, mowing on a slope is difficult and dangerous, so a no-mow lawn for sloping gardens is ideal!

Lawn alternatives may not be needed for your backyard, but that doesn’t mean you have to put in grass instead. Having an alternative lawn can be a great focal point and fit right in with your outdoor style, so don’t knock it until you try it!

Installing and growing an alternative lawn 

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Dichondra or kidney weed (Credit: Getty)

Which kind of lawn alternative you choose – moss, native grasses, small plant varieties or wildflowers – will determine the installation and growing steps. 

Most lawn alternatives are sold in small pots or as tubestock (young plants or saplings that are just just big enough to be planted) and should be planted in prepared soil. Charlie Albone has recently planted a Dichondra lawn and has a step-by-step guide for you to follow. 

Growing an alternative lawn is not as vigorous a process as traditional lawn grasses. There is no need for regular cut back, however many of these plants are slow to establish and completely cover your space. Our best advice is to keep the area clear of weeds and other nuisances to let your lawn flourish and grow healthy, albeit slowly!

Lawn alternative maintenance and care

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Camomile (Credit: Getty)

Maintenance is quite simple for these kinds of lawns. With no mowing required, you can keep lawn alternatives within their boundaries by trimming with a whipper snipper or gardening shears. 

For watering, it does not need to be done on a regular basis – only when there are exceedingly dry conditions. Of course, this may differ depending on which plant you go with. In the springtime, it is recommended to apply an all-purpose garden fertiliser to your lawn to keep it healthy and happy (note that an all-purpose fertiliser is not the same as a ‘lawn food’ supplement). 

Foot traffic on your ‘no-mow’ lawn 

The only downside to having an alternative lawn is that some of them do not do well with high foot traffic. In fact, many actually don’t tolerate any foot traffic at all! 

For most lawn alternatives, it is recommended to put in pavers or stepping stones that can be used frequently, and walking on your lawn doesn’t have to be done on a regular basis. 

Take a look at the table below to work out which plants would work best on your foot traffic requirements!

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