Alternative Lawn Ideas

What exactly is an alternative lawn? Well, this movement to replace the lawn or incorporate other plants into the lawn started awhile ago. Only in the last few years has it gained much traction. I myself, have never been a proponent of lawns and lawn care, seeing as how I dislike them. I mow my grass regularly, because it makes the flower beds look better. But in 2023, I am replacing even more of my lawn, and with what is left, I am letting nature have its way.

My colleagues know that I call a lawn that is just mowed, sprayed, and waters as useless. And it is. If you are allowing your lawn space to be used by kids, dogs, or for regular gatherings, then it has a purpose. But if not, then it is wasting valuable space. I see big lawns a lot, all over the place, and I am always thinking about how nice it would be if they took even half that space and turned it into an alternative lawn. Such as a meadow or pollinator garden.

But what can a homeowner do to put in an alternative lawn? Does it require spraying and killing the existing lawn? Or can you just plant or overseed into it? I think the best answer is to forget the chemicals entirely, and let it go.

Creating the Clover Lawn

Clover lawns as an alternative lawn are becoming quite popular. I overseeded white Dutch clover into my lawn spaces in spring of 2022, and I am planning to add more in 2023. Planting a clover lawn can be done in a few ways. If you are starting from a new lot or new construction site, the clover lawn may be the best option for you. Grass has a hard time growing in compacted soil. But, if you decide to not cover with expensive new topsoil, you can lightly till the area, plant with clover and water in. Water it once a week and in a few weeks it will be up and growing. That is how I did it.

clover lawn
The clover lawn may not have just clover, or it may be all clover.

Now, if you are starting from a grass lawn and wanting to make it into clover, then the most organic way to go about it is to overseed the grass with clover. Do not worry about the grass smothering the clover, just keep it mowed low and wait. The clover will come. It always does. I know from the past that clover in the lawn is very difficult to remove once started.

Creating an Alternative Lawn with Wildflowers

My idea of an alternative lawn is a short wildflower meadow. What do I mean by short? Well, a short meadow would have species of grasses, sedges, and wildflowers, both native and nonnative. And I would let the dandelions grow. The more the merrier. With a short wildflower meadow, I could walk through barefoot without the worry of chemicals and I could know that the meadow is helping insects.

walking through the lawn barefoot
Alternative lawns are great for walking through barefoot

But what plants to add to make a short meadow? Well, any of the following, and in my case, I would add as many as possible.

Perennials, Sedges, and Grasses for the Alternative Lawn

  • Prairie petunia
  • Wild strawberry
  • Prairie parsley
  • Field pussytoes
  • Breadroot scurfpea
  • Ground plum milkvetch
  • Blue eyed grass
  • Yellow stargrass
  • Prairie onion
  • Self-heal
  • Blue flax
  • Woolly plantain
  • Carolina anemone
  • Bastard toadflax
  • Indian paintbrush
  • Prairie violet
  • Dandelion
  • Crocus
  • Winter aconite
  • Broadleaved plantain
  • Downy yellow violet
  • Texas sedge
  • Mead’s sedge
  • Woodland sedge
  • White-tinged Sedge
  • Cedar sedge
  • Buffalograss
  • Blue grama
  • Hairy grama
  • Prairie dropseed
  • Junegrass
  • Dichanthelium
The lawn in the author’s back yard contains several species of grass plus Mead’s sedge, white clover, dandelion, prairie petunia, crocus, and wild strawberry.

Benefits of Switching to an Alternative Lawn

Did I mention that highly maintained lawns use a host of chemicals and tons of water annually? Besides rising chemical costs, the dangers of walking through them are enough to steer me clear from them. I have never liked using chemicals. And I grew up in a semi-conventional farming family. My brother was a big farmer, and he wanted to get out from under the thumb of the big chemical companies and go all organic. But he never did.

Anyways, I do not use synthetic chemicals or fertilizers on my lawn or gardens. Occasionally, I do use oils or pheremones to kill or catch insects like Japanese beetles. And I use organic fertilizer and compost on my vegetable garden. But nothing else. Insect and pest control is done using cultural methods in my garden.

If we switch to an alternative lawn we will also be saving water. Millions of gallons of water are dumped on lawns every week throughout the country. A lot of it runs off. And more carries leached chemicals into our ponds, rivers, and oceans, affecting wildlife and us. Water prices too are going up. So save money and switch to an alternative lawn.

One final thing we gain by switching lawns is help for our pollinators and wildlife. Many of the above plants are hosts for butterflies, moths, and other insects. Bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, wasps, bugs, and more pollinate the flowers. Birds eat primarily insects during the breeding season. A host of other animals also eat insects including snakes, lizards, spiders, coyotes, raccoons, bats, and more. Maybe you do not want all those in your yard, but adding an alternative lawn does not mean they will come. It just means you are doing good for your ecosystem.


Turning to an alternative lawn over the typical American lawn does not make you a bad citizen or poor planner. It means you are thinking about your landscape in a way that benefits nature, your bank account, and yourself. Row your own boat. I do.

Happy planting!

author of the alternative lawn

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