Turf Alternatives

If the maintenance requirements of an Industrial or Freedom lawn do not fit into your garden statement, and you don’t wish to make an exception for it, consider some alternatives.

Prairie Lawns

We can still use the English lawns concept: a space that connects us with nature, a transition zone between the present industrial life and nature. It is considered a bold move to create a shortgrass prairie area in lieu of our traditional turf, but that is one alternative. (Please comply with local landscaping ordinances.) Soil amending, feeding, water and mowing requirements are greatly reduced.

A naturalistic landscape can be augmented by preparing a shortgrass prairie mix of 1/3 blue grama, Bouteloua gracilis, and 2/3rds buffalo grass. Create your own shortgrass prairie and add sideoats grama, Bouteloua curtipendula, little bluestem, Schizachyrium scopulorum., and native prairie flowers such as chocolate flower, Berlandiera lyrata; Blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum; prairie zinnia, Zinnia grandiflora; prairie skullcap, Scutelaria drummondii and S. resinosa; winecups, Callirhoe involucrata; Missouri evening primrose, Oenothera missouriensis or O. macrocarpa; Engelman's or cutleaf daisy, Engelmannia pinnatifida; gayfeather, Liatris punctata; Indian blanket, Gaillardia aristata; sundrops, Calylophus; Perky Sue, Hymenoxys argentea and H. acaulis.


The addition of native shrubs and trees will create a wildscape, a pocket habitat for birds, butterflies, pollinators, reptiles and small mammals. If local ordinances prohibit such wild, more natural displays, you may be able to wildscape your backyard.

National and state certifications are available through the national Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Habitat program and the Texas Wildscapes program, sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Certified wildlife habitats would include at least 50% native plants, plants that can be used as sources of food and shelter for wildlife and a reliable water source such as a pond. A diversity of native plants that produce seeds, nuts, berries and nectar throughout the seasons is needed. Nesting and shelter sites can be provided by plants, rocks, rock walls brick piles, stacked wood, etc. Bird feeders are allowed.


Groundcovers for Shade

Turf grass does not grow well in shade. Consider different plant material. Groundcovers for shade include Aegopodium podagraria variegatum, Bishop’s weed, Ajuga reptans (medium to high water-use), Cerastostigma plumbaginoides, hardy blue plumbago, Mahonia repans, creeping Oregon grape holly, Hedera, English ivy and Vinca major and minor. These are all low water-use groundcovers, once established.

Use them separately from each other, they are aggressive and do not combine well in a shady flower bed. Mahonia repans spreads somewhat but is not invasive in shady flower beds. Lambs ear, Stachys byzantina and S. byzantina ‘Helen Von Stein’ grows in dry shade without becoming invasive.

Groundcovers for Sun

Less prairie like, yet feasible, would be the use of groundcovers other than turf grasses. Groundcovers for sun include Aegopodium podagraria variegatum, Bishop’s weed, Cerastium tomentosum, snow-in-summer, Cerastostigma plumbaginoides, hardy blue plumbago, Callirhoe involucrata, winecups, Ipomea quamoclit, cypress vine, I. x multifida, cardinal climber (both vines), Marrubium rotundifolia, silver-edged horehound, Oenothera speciosa, O. speciosa “Rosea’ showy evening primrose, O. berlandiera, Mexican evening primrose, low growing sedums (of which there are many), Teucrium aronianum, Greek germander, Thymus ‘Ohme Garden Carpet’, T. ‘Pink Chintz’, T ‘Reiter’, Veronica pectinata, wooly veronica with blue flowers, V. pectinata ‘Rosea’, wooly veronica with rose flowers, V. ‘Blue Reflection’, Vinca major and minor, and Zinnia grandiflora, prairie zinnia.

Low spreading junipers, such as Juniperus horizontalis and J. sabina and their many varieties and cultivars in green blue and gold are another alternative.

Still another could be a swarth of ornamental bunch grasses. Nasella tennuisima, stipa grass, Schizachyrium scoparum, Little bluestem, Bouteloua gracilis, blue grama, Muhlenbergia capillaris, Gulf Muhly and Sporobolus airoides, Alkali Sacaton are several native medium height bunch grasses to consider.

These are low to medium low-water use groundcovers that require minimum maintenance. Mulch the bed in the fall with good quality compost. The thymes and veronica groundcovers are quite low growers, to about 3 inches; the others can reach a height of 4 – 8 inches. Bishop’s weed can get taller, but will remain more mannerly if watered sparingly. Weeding will be necessary until the area fills in and these groundcovers smother all competition, which they surely will.

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