5 Drought Tolerant Lawn Alternatives For A Better Yard

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These drought tolerant lawn alternatives offer homeowners a better option – even though America’s obsession with Lawns is well-founded.

Where better to picnic, spend a breezy afternoon with family and friends, or toss a frisbee to the dog than on a soft, cool blanket of grass?

Its carpet of roots prevents soil erosion in all but the steepest slopes while combating dusty and muddy conditions year-round.

And, its green expanse cleanses the visual palette.

But a good-looking lawn comes at a considerable expense, especially during dry spells.

In this article, you’ll learn some tips on keeping your garden green(ish) during drought, as well as some lawn alternatives you’ll want to consider.

Keep reading to find out more.

Drought tolerant lawn alternatives
Look for drought tolerant lawn alternatives to minimize water use.

CONTENTS – In this article, we will provide you with the best drought tolerant lawn alternatives to grass, including:

Delaying a Brown Lawn

You can practice some simple techniques to delay the inevitable browning in a dry spell.

If you’re dedicated to a beautiful lush lawn, here are some tips to help maintain your lawn’s appearance in dry spells:

  • Water deeply to encourage root growth
  • Raise your mower blades to a 3-inch height
  • Remove only one-third of the grass’s height with a sharp mower blade

The good news is, even if your lawn does eventually turn brown this summer, a well-established lawn that’s gone dormant will likely come back.

But doesn’t it make you wonder if that Yankee Ingenuity might be put to better use searching for a good lawn replacement?

Give some thought to whether you should replace your lawn with drought tolerant lawn alternatives.

Why You Should Consider Replacing Your Lawn

According to Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony (Yale University Press), ten lbs. of pesticides, 20 lbs of fertilizer, and 170,000 gallons of water is dumped on a typical one-third acre lawn each year.

And during drought conditions and water bans, quenching the lawn’s thirst becomes all but impossible.

So, you’ve got a couple of options that are more sustainable and eco-conscious. Any of these drought tolerant lawn alternatives are worth considering. You may even try combining several!

5 Ways to Replace Your Thirsty Lawn

Here are some easy ways to replace part or all of your lawn with drought-friendly alternatives.

1.    Blend Your Grass Seed for Drought

Combating an all-brown lawn during drought may be as easy as overseeding the existing lawn with a drought tolerant seed.

Most lawns in the northeastern US are a blend of grasses with shallow roots reaching only 4 to 6 inches into the soil. They grow fast (even faster when boosted by nitrogen fertilizers) and drink a lot of water.

Drought-tolerant grasses, like Tall Fescue, have roots that penetrate beyond 6 inches, so they can find more water when the surface soils dry out.

By overseeding with the existing lawn with a drought-tolerant variety, you’ll find your lawn may have an additional ability to withstand the dry spell.

Then, when the shallow-rooted lawn goes dormant, the Fescue will be more likely to remain green.

While the lawn won’t have a lush, all over color, it will not be entirely brown.

This makes applying a grass blend one of the best drought tolerant lawn alternatives.

2.    Replace Your Thirsty Lawn with Prairie Grass

Prairie grass - drought tolerant lawn alternatives
Mix prairie grass into your existing lawn for staying power in drought.

Another alternative is to replace your lawn entirely with prairie glass.

One variety you might try is Turtle turf. It’s a clumping variety that sends roots down to a 34-inch depth. Better yet, it uses 50% less water than a typical lawn quote.

Clumping grass varieties do not use do not spread like other grasses, which is a bonus when it comes to weeding nearby flower beds.

But it also means you’ll need to reseed bare spots more often, like those caused by the family dog

Based on Nationwide tests, Turtle turf:

  • Endures both cold and heat
  • Tolerates intermittent water and intermittent fertilizer
  • Sustains average yard activity
  • Provides the soft comfortable blades of a traditional lawn.

In addition, it is a slow grower that puts energy into root growth. That means it requires only monthly mowing.

3.    Reduce Your Expansive Lawn Area

Lawn with a stone border
You can reduce lawn area by adding a generous border.
wildflowers at the lawn's edge
Wildflowers make a lovely addition to the edges of your landscape.

While the demand for private wells has become some homeowners’ workaround to water bans, others are becoming more sensitive to water issues.

One way to do that is to reduce the area of your lawn.

A popular way to do so is to fill in surrounding areas with natives and wildflower mixes.

These types of plants require less maintenance than grass and are okay to look a little rougher. In fact, native gardens are on trend.

A side benefit is that the wildflower border makes the grassy meadow more prominent.

You can also replace sections of your lawn with:

  • Bark mulch
  • Pine needles
  • Small landscape stones

These options make excellent water-free borders that also reduce maintenance.

For a living mulch, look to a drought tolerant ground cover as one of the lowest-maintenance lawn alternatives.

4.    Substitute Your Lawn with Ground Covers

lilyturf (liriope) has a grassy habit
Lilyturf (liriope) makes a great grass alternative.

Ground cover plants provide texture and unity to your yard’s landscape with minimal care.

Look to an evergreen ground cover when replacing your lawn to avoid barren or muddy patches.

Many ground covers provide the added benefit of flowers, like the old standby, Periwinkle (vinca minor).  It has pretty five-petalled blue, white, or pink flowers when it blooms. And, its glossy evergreen foliage provides a nice contrast to lighter shades of green.

Periwinkle performs equally well in sun and shade and fills tough trouble spots, like steep slopes or beneath densely shaded trees.

Also evergreen is Ajuga (ajuga reptans), a low-growing ground cover whose leaves turn a dark bronze or burgundy over winter months. In Spring, 4-inch spires of purple flowers spring from the foliage.

The height of ground covers range from under an inch to several in.

Lower growing varieties include many of the Thymes (thymus), like the flat matte of wooly thyme or furry foliage of creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum).

You might also choose a succulent Creeping Sedum such as the variety ‘Angelica’s Mom’.

Taller choices include masses of Heather (calluna vulgaris), as some varieties reach 2 feet and bloom as long as three months.

Or, how about mid-range ground cover, like Pachysandra, which creates a lush mat about 8 to 10 inches tall?

For lighter foliage, try Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagraria variegatum), a vigorous ground cover with delicate white-edged leaves. It can be mowed two to three times a year to keep it low and even.

That said, its creeping roots are best contained by underground barriers.

You can achieve a grass-like form by planting Lilyturf (liriope) or Mondo Grass (ophiopogon). These form evergreen clumps of strappy foliage. Both can be sheared to promote new growth.

5.    Plant Hardy Grass Substitutes in High Traffic Areas

Drought tolerant lawn alternatives - creeping thyme in bloom
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) stands up to heavy foot traffic and adds a splash of color when in bloom.

It’s important that you realize no ground cover is going to thrive with heavy kid traffic.

But some options do stand up well to foot traffic. This makes replacing large areas of lawn possible when you choose the right substitute.

For instance, Stepables are ground covers that are tested for their durability and step ability, come close. These durable, low-growing perennials are graded by foot traffic tolerance.

If you’re thinking of replacing large portions of your lawn altogether, this makes a great option! The fragrant perennial chamomile especially tolerates a lot of abuse.

For the driest conditions, you might opt for Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia L.), which forms a light green matte. Or, look for a low grower that works well between pavers.

Other varieties like ‘Magic Carpet’ and spicy orange creeping thyme, release a citrusy fragrance when stepped on. This provides an added pleasure to your steps!

Final Thoughts on Drought Tolerant Lawn Alternatives

When the lawn turns brown in the late season, don’t despair.

Look at it as the opportunity to decide on replacing your traditional lawn with a less thirsty alternative.

Doing so could mean yours will be the grass that’s always greener.

For more useful tips about gardening and yard tips, read the articles below, next:

Next Steps