Whether you want to reduce your grass lawn or replace it, there are lots of options for alternative eco-lawns including wildflowers, clovers, and fescue grass seed mixes.
Also see How to Naturalize Your Grass Lawn with Flowering Bulbs for more ideas.
Good-Bye Grass, Hello Pollinators
If you are ready to give up some or all of your lawn in favor of more environmentally sustainable and pollinator-friendly options, there are several alternatives to turfgrass including low-growing wildflowers, clovers, and fescues.
We know traditional lawns are not good for the environment. That green, carpet-like grass that blankets much of suburban North America requires frequent mowing (fuel, time, pollution), gobbles up water, and sends hazardous runoff from chemical fertilizers to our waterways.
Topped off with herbicides and devoid of flowers for pollinators, we’ve created massive green wastelands.
Lawn seems so practical and pretty until you weigh the environmental costs.
I realize most lawns will not go away in this century but just think of those millions and millions of sterile green lawns that could become life-sustaining eco-corridors just by ditching the chemicals and planting more diversely.
For me as a gardener, it’s been a personal evolution over many years but these days my garden choices are guided by what’s best for the beneficial insects. That one objective leads to flowers, food, beauty, and sustainability.
Plus, life is just too darn short for frequent lawn care.
Faced with a lot of grass lawn at our current home, I am always looking for more low-care plant options that support wildlife.
Keep reading to hear what I planted and how it’s going.
Getting Real About Replacing Lawn
Converting lawn into a pollinator haven is not as simple as sprinkling some seeds.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot just let your lawn grow out and think you will have wildflower meadow.
Everything depends on what you’ve already got and your growing conditions.
If you do want a meadow instead of just low-growing wildflower ground cover, the new book Lawns into Meadows by Owen Wormster walks you through the transformation process.
And neither can you toss wildflower seeds on top of grass lawn and think you’ll be swimming in flowers.
Seeds Need Soil Contact to Germinate
Wildflower seeds need contact with moist soil to germinate, and, if any do make it, turf grass will out-compete them. That’s the nature of the beast. Traditional lawn grasses are chosen specifically for this quality.
To successfully replace some or all of your lawn requires
- Choosing the right seeds for your climate and growing conditions.
- Proper soil preparation including removing all other plants and roots in the planting area—in the least harmful way possible.
- Some ongoing maintenance.
It’s also important to let go of perfectionism and focus on the good you are doing. And once you see the life it brings, an appreciation for true natural beauty follows.
This means working with nature, not against it: tidy is for houses, not gardens.
Eco-Friendly Lawn Tips
- Stop using synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
- Stop watering anything other than new seeds and plants. Let grass go dormant during droughts.
- Gradually remove grass lawn with an alternative lawn mix suited to your region and growing conditions. Sow test areas to evaluate success through four seasons.
- Plant diversely: Careful not to replace one mono-culture with another. The circle of life depends on a wide variety of plants and animals in sufficient quantities.
- Know your invasive plants and remove them.
How I’m Replacing Lawn With Wildflowers
Ontario, Canada (Zone 6b)
Sandy soil with low fertility
- Perennials, trees, shrubs
- Raised beds for herbs and vegetables
- Grass lawn: no watering, no chemicals, minimal mowing.
After researching various options, I decided to sow an alternative wildflower lawn mix (details below) in parts of my yard where I have been pulling out an invasive ground cover (creeping Jenny | Lysimachia nummularia).
While the urge to purge the entire lawn is real, I want to test small areas first to be sure it’s worth the time and money to seed larger areas.
I’ve got progress pictures (below) and will keep updating it as we move through the seasons.
The big test will be to see what grows after the winter. I’ll be thrilled if it does continue growing.
Alternative Lawn Mix with Wildflowers
Source: West Coast Seeds (British Columbia, Canada)
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
- Low-growing, dense ground cover.
- Attracts beneficial insects and butterflies over a long bloom period.
- Regrows for several years.
Contains 13 species including fescues, flowers, and clover:
Baby Blue-Eyes (Nemophila menziesii)
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Creeping Daisy (Chrysanthemum paludosum)
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Dwarf California Poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa)
Five-Spot (Nemophila maculata)
Hard Fescue (Festuca trachyphylla)
Johnny Jump-Up (Viola cornuta)
Sheep Fescue (Festuca ovina)
Strawberry Clover (Trifolium fragiferum)
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Yellow Daisy (Chrysanthemum multicaule)
Recommended rate of application: 115g per 1,000 square feet.
More Alternative Lawn Options
- Bee Turf
- Chafer Beetle Resistant Lawn Blend
- Easy Care Envirolawn
- Micro Clover Seed
- Tall Fescue
TIP: Check your favorite local seed seller for ‘wildflower lawn’ or ‘eco lawn seeds’.
Fescue Eco-Lawn Mix
If you want something that more closely resembles traditional lawn that can take foot traffic, you may prefer a fescue seed option.
Fescues are flowering plants in the Poacae grass family. They have deep roots which reduces the need for regular watering, and they are slow-growing which cuts down on the mowing.
See Fescue Eco-Lawn Mix | Wildflowerfarm.com
Alternative Lawn Progress Report
The instructions say to start the seeds in late spring but we had a cold snap in June so I held off until the end of June.
To get started, I cleared the sowing area of plants and roots and put down a layer of top soil.
Many wildflowers mixes do best in poor quality soil. I have lots of that so I did not add any compost or manure.
We got a massive rain storm the same day I sowed the seeds. I was worried they would wash away.
Germination conditions were clearly perfect because this is how it looked just a few days later. Lots of seedlings!
The straggly looking plants among the seedlings are some lavender plants I transplanted from another part of the garden. The purple flowers are hardy geraniums and not part of the mix.
I hand-watered the entire sowing area daily if needed to keep the soil moist for the first two weeks.
There were a few bald spots so I added some extra seeds to those areas.
By the second week everything was filling in nicely.
Lawns Into Meadows
by Owen Wormster
In a world where lawns have wreaked havoc on our natural ecosystems, meadows offer a compelling solution. They establish wildlife and pollinator habitats. They’re low-maintenance and low-cost. They have a built-in resilience that helps them weather climate extremes, and they can draw down and store far more carbon dioxide than any manicured lawn. They’re also beautiful, all year round.
At this point the seedlings are young plants, about 8-inches tall. I can tell there are several species growing but so far only the white alyssum is flowering.
This area is prone to weeds and a few have shown up (that are prominent in my soil) but the alternative lawn mix is winning so far.
This is how it looks close-up.
The seed mix contains perennials, biennials, and annuals so theoretically there should be some self-seeding and new growth in spring.
And that’s it so far.
I’ll give an update here as soon as I have one.
If it works, I will definitely continue seeding more areas of the garden.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
How to Replace Lawn With Wildflower Seed Mix
Supplies & Materials
- 225 grams Alternative Lawn Wildflower Seed Mix covers 1955 square feet
- In late spring after last frost or autumn before first frost, clear planting area of plants and roots.
- Add one-inch of top soil.
- Moisten soil.
- Sprinkle seeds at density indicated on package.
- Cover with 1/16-inch layer of soil and water lightly.
- Use a lightweight frost cloth to protect seedlings from birds if needed.
- Water daily as needed until well-established.
- Reseed bare patches as needed.