Lawn Alternatives

Alternative Lawn Overview

Picture of diverse broadleaf lawn
Example of a diverse, broadleaf lawn. 

Historically lawns were a mixture of clover and turfgrass. This means that the alternative lawn movement of today is more accurately described as a return to a more species rich lawn. In many ways, the “traditional” lawn with its expanse of uniform turfgrass is actually the “alternative” to the original lawn. The concept of a weed free lawn only took hold in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and can be traced back to Levittown and other suburban and affordable housing built to accommodate GIs returning from World War II and their families. The importance of weed free lawns was promoted in newsletters that went out to new homeowners in these subdivisions. This ideal coincided with the invention of the rotary mower, weed free grass seed, and fertilizers and pesticides. Clover only then obtained its status as a “weed” because early 2,4-D broadleaf herbicides killed it, as well as other broad leaf plants that previously were an accepted part of home lawns.

There is a growing movement in re-wilding (allowing natural processes to determine the composition and shape of vegetation, accompanied over time with colonization by insects, birds and other wildlife), however, many homeowners value lawns as a place for children and pets to play, for recreation, and for a park-like area for entertaining.

A lawn with a mixture of grass, clover and other broad leaf plants, such as chickweed and violets, is a nice compromise between traditional lawns and diverse native plant communities. Such a mixture still needs to be mowed, but much less often, and most years requires little to no water, and requires no fertilization and no herbicides or pesticides. An added advantage of such a lawn is the support the flowering plants, especially clover, provide to pollinators (honeybees, native bees, butterflies and moths).

Please note: Different towns, counties, and other municipalities may have rules for what can and can’t be done in a yard. Be sure to do your research first!

Alternative Lawn Species

Landscape Use Species Profile Edible Shade Tolerance Deer Resistance Wildlife Supported
Ground Cover Dutch White Clover Yes Full sun to partial shade None Invertebrates; Various mammal and bird species
Ground Cover Wood Sorrel Yes Full sun to partial shade Yes Invertebrates, flowers used by pollinators
Ground Cover Chickweed Yes Full sun to partial shade None Invertebrates, flowers used by pollinators
Ground Cover Dooryard/Common Violet Yes Full sun to partial shade Yes Invertebrates, flowers used by pollinators; host plant for regal frittillary larvae
Ground Cover Woodland Strawberry Yes Full sun to partial shade Yes Invertebrates; Various bird species including waxwings, chickadees, cardinals, orioles, and wrens

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