The days of turf in the arid west are coming to an end…
…at least we can hope. Bluegrass is an import from parts of the country that don’t need to irrigate it; we should be so lucky here in Colorado. Traditional turf species require around 25 gallons of water/sq ft/year to maintain compared to xeriscape landscapes which only require only 6 gallons. Not to mention all of the fuel and energy of mowing and fertilizing. Ground cover lawns require very little, if any, of either.
Established buffalograss lawn
Alternative lawns are gaining in popularity as water usage becomes part of our every day vocabulary. Ethos can completely replace sod with a water-wise alternative or we can incorporate a patch of lawn seamlessly into a xeriscape garden. Lawns can be planted with whimsical colors and textures, or can be made to visually mimic the color or texture of traditional turfgrass. Alternative lawns can become a sea of tiny flowers or smell amazing when you walk through them. There are some really fun options out there. See below for a list of tried and true ground covers that are tough as nails, or contact us today for a free consultation.
Here are some ground covers that have performed well as low-water lawn alternatives in our region.
Drought tolerant grasses
Native grasses can save up to 78% more water than traditional turf grass.* You can skip mowing and go for a more prairie type look, or you can mow them once or twice a summer for a more manicured look. Over-fertilization actually hinders these grasses. They are warm-season grasses which means that they flourish while bluegrass is struggling mid-summer. It also means that they are dormant and light yellowish in the early spring and late fall. Next time your driving around town, look for lawns that are the opposite of their neighbors. Chances are it is one of the two grasses below.
This Colorado native fills in well as a turf. It has a slightly grey-green appearance, and loves the heat. It spreads by above ground stolons and only gets about 4″ tall. Once it’s established it may only need supplemental water once or twice a summer.
Blue Grama Grass
This grass can be almost whatever you want. If you let it get tall (8-10″) it’s soft foliage blows beautifully in the breeze and it’s cool seed heads are stunning when backlit by the sun. Stunning! Or you can mow it about once a month and keep it shorter- like a tall turf grass.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lawn alternatives, but all of these are tried and true when it comes to our hot, dry climate. If it stays low and you like the look of it, you can make a lawn area out of it (you just may not be able to romp all over it). If you long to see more options, check out Stepables.com for some really fun ideas and materials.
There are many varieties that grow well here, but two in particular stand out. Wooly and Pink Chintz. Wooly thyme has grey fuzzy foliage and pinkish-purple flowers. It fills in well and is soft on your feet. It can get a little wild and scraggly from time to time, but can easily be cleaned up by hand. Pink Chintz thyme has glossy green leaves with pinkish-red flowers. When this little devil blooms it is absolutely show stopping! Thyme stands up well regular to heavy traffic.
This has a more delicate feel than thyme. The leaves are larger and the stems are a little more wiry looking. The sweet blue flowers show a blanket of color in spring, and are larger than thyme flowers. Veronica will tolerate light to regular traffic.
These. Are. Tough. And bright green. And grow fast. They have foliage like strawberries, cheery yellow flowers, and some have bright red inedible berries. If you need to fill an area quickly these will do it, but make sure that there is a border around the space that you want to keep them in. These plants tolerate heavy traffic.
Miniature stonecrop has thicker more succulent foliage than the rest of these selections and has small yellow star-shaped flowers. They are more emerald in color and get a red tint when temperatures drop. These hate to be overwatered! Miniature stonecrop is not the only sedum that will work as a lawn substitution, but it has the most even growth habits and look lovely in a large space.
Little Brass Buttons have charming feathery foliage and stay very low to the ground. Sulfur-yellow “button” flowers appear over the leaves. The texture of these is like cashmere underfoot and some varieties will handle shade. They may require a tiny bit more water than the rest of these selections. These handle heavy traffic.
There are some ground covering varieties of yarrow that make fantastic alternative lawns. This one has grey foliage and bright yellow flowers. They can be a bit more “messy” looking, but have great texture. The flowers can either be mowed off, or left. Ground cover yarrows can handle heavy traffic while they are not in bloom.