I hate mowing. I love moss.
August 7, 2006 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Lawn alternatives! Has anyone here tried replacing their high-maintenance grass lawn with an alternative lawn? I've read about some of the no-mow lawn grass types, and I understand other people simply let the moss and clover grow. Have you seen a lawn like this? How did you like it?

My (back yard) lawn is usually either brown and dead from lack of watering, or enormously tall from lack of mowing. I've noticed that moss is creeping in, and I've read that some people allow the moss to take over. I wonder what the disadvantages of a moss lawn would be. Would it get torn up from vigorous activity like kids playing on it?

I also like the clover idea. I know it attracts a lot of bees when it flowers, but I have the impression that you can just mow it once or twice when it's flowering to prevent this.

I'm not too interested in the gravel lawns some people use, but failing other alternatives I might resort to strewing nice-looking wood chips all over instead of grass.

What alternative lawns have you seen? What did you think?
posted by agropyron to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I have no lawn, but I find Xeriscaping interesting.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:40 PM on August 7, 2006

My parents have a lawn almost entirely composed of moss. It's just what the grass gradually turned into in rainy North Vancouver. I remember it being quite soft and requiring little in the way of cutting and nothing in the way of watering.
posted by sindark at 1:45 PM on August 7, 2006

Note that you should carefully consider how local rules/ordinances view alternative lawn coverings before committing to a change.

Also be aware that in well-ordered neighborhoods, non-traditional lawn-coverings may depress the value of nearby property, resulting in widespread emnity and possibly even a civil suit.
posted by The Confessor at 1:52 PM on August 7, 2006

I have ivy for my front lawn. I just trim it back and pull out weeds and other unwanted plant matter a few times a year. That was actually a bonus for me when I bought this house.
posted by horseblind at 2:08 PM on August 7, 2006

PS, if you want the ivy, just let me know and I can send you some clippings to grow your own from. It grows like wildfire and doesn't die in our St. Louis winters.
posted by horseblind at 2:20 PM on August 7, 2006

Note that you should carefully consider how local rules/ordinances view alternative lawn coverings before committing to a change.

On the other hand, many towns are encouraging people to reduce their lawns in favor of alternative ground cover as a way to save water and reduce fertilizer use.

I have a mostly non-grass lawn. I have a path that I planted with moss that winds up the hill in our backyard, part of our yard has been converted to a wildflower field, and the remainder is in transition. Some of it has been taken over by some native ground covers. Where we still have grass, I am planning on overseeding with clover.

If you are interested in moss, it isn't difficult to "plant". All you need to do is get some moss (from a nearby forest or other mossy place - try not to take big chunks all from one place and try to pick mosses that are more tolerant of exposure), dry it out, grind it into a fine powder, mix it with water, and put the slurry wherever you want moss to grow. It's like a giant Chia pet.
posted by nekton at 2:24 PM on August 7, 2006 [3 favorites]

I have seen a front yard in San Jose, CA where the area normally occupied by lawn was all crushed brick (or maybe it was special brick-colored gravel).

I find the notion of a moss lawn very appealing. (But I imagine it would require lots of shade, or a rainy climate.)

posted by Rash at 2:25 PM on August 7, 2006

My father had a Dichondra lawn which he endlessly fussed over. While that species would not be an option for you (requires year round warm weather) some of the challenges he had with it applies to a clover lawn.

--it has to be hand-weeded as the feed & weed concoctions one would use on a grass lawn include herbicides designed to kill broad-leafed plants such as clover. Much of my youth was spent weeding his *&@^! lawn.

-- not very attractive when mowed. The regrowth takes a few weeks to mature and until then, you've got a lawn of fragile yellow-ish green stems.

--draws slugs & snails like you wouldn't believe. Billions of them. It really cut down on the amount of people willing to walk on his lawn barefoot.

For my own (back) yard, I tore out all but a race-track shaped ribbon of grass lawn leaving enough room for dogs and kids to play fetch and installed a palette of rubber 'bark' and low water requirement/slow growing ground covers and shrubs. The lawn ribbon is just less than 3x's as wide as my lawnmover and takes no more than 10 minutes (3 laps) to cut. The lawn has pop-up sprinklers on an automated timer which really makes a huge difference in reducing the level of hassle, the rest of the yard is on drip irrigation, also on timers. I also pulled out my front yard lawn and put in a xeriscape (which needs water while getting established, so that one has drip irrigation too). It's heavy on lavender and rosemary along with native flowering plantings, we get a lot of compliments from passersby but it is not usable as a lawn (i.e. anyone who tosses a football into it is never going to find it again).

Don't know about moss lawns, the moss that naturalizes here is fragile and not at all up to any foot traffic.
posted by jamaro at 2:25 PM on August 7, 2006

Whoops! Watch out for that, horseblind, there may be some things growing in your ivy that won't work where agropyron lives. Once, while living in South Carolina, I sent a box of beautiful fall leaves to my uncle in Texas. He spread them over half his vegetable garden as mulch, and that half of the garden died! Some microorganisms or something, I guess.

Morale: buy the ivy locally. Very cheap!
posted by Bobtheordinary at 2:31 PM on August 7, 2006

If you have partial shade Mint makes an awsome ground cover and is so robust it kill weeds (and other plants)

the smell when you mow it is AMAZING
posted by Megafly at 2:53 PM on August 7, 2006

My wife planted a Ryder Thyme lawn last year and it has filled in nicely. She bought really tiny plugs and had them delivered about 2 months early for our zone, repotted them and when it was time to plant they were good sized. They bloom lavender. I am hoping they are more intense next year. Grows low, smells great.
posted by pointilist at 3:01 PM on August 7, 2006

I also like the clover idea. I know it attracts a lot of bees when it flowers, but I have the impression that you can just mow it once or twice when it's flowering to prevent this.

Prevent it? You should grow clover because it attracts bees.
posted by pracowity at 3:04 PM on August 7, 2006

Response by poster: pracowity: I have nightmares about The Lawn of One Thousand Stings. This area needs to be the type of place you can go play with kids without getting stung. In particular, my nephews like to roll down the mild slope, and my wife has made it clear that they must be allowed to continue.

Mint and thyme sound promising. I am in a major slug-intensive zone, so I also have to be careful not to create the Lawn of Slime, so the warning on clover is a good one.

I think ivy might be a little too rough for what I'm looking for. I do have a robust patch of ivy I can use if I need it though.

Thanks for the answer so far, everyone.
posted by agropyron at 3:12 PM on August 7, 2006

If you're in the Northwest I'd like to caution you (even beg!) you to re-consider ivy. It is invasive, kills native trees and smaller flora, and (perhaps worst of all in a home environment) provides a near-perfect home for rats (including the invasive, ginormous Norwegian Brown Rat). Please do your neighborhood a favor and pass on ivy. There are numerous ivy eradication projects in nearly every neighborhood or park in the Puget Sound area.
posted by dbmcd at 4:05 PM on August 7, 2006

Keep in mind that cut clover smells awful. It ferments very quickly in any kind of warmth and smells like weird fermented cat pee, but worse. Also it's very juicy when crushed and stains like crazy. So having kids roll around on it might not be a great option.

I've seen a few thyme and cammomile lawns at various houses I've visited. They were very nice, hard wearing and pleasant smelling. They never grow as smooth and flat as moss or grass, but that's part of the charm really.
posted by shelleycat at 4:07 PM on August 7, 2006

Oh, and mint spreads by shallow rhizomes and can be a real problem. Generally it's grown in enclosed pots, even buried in the round, to stop it taking over and choking everything around it. They can be bottomless containers and you need to make sure no rhizomes sneak over the top of them. My gardening book tells me that for a larger area of mint you should bury walls in the ground surrounding where you want it to grow (um, I hope that makes sense), otherwise it becomes your neighbours problem as well as yours. Flexible plastic is fine, as long is it's solid enough to contain the roots and you watch for creepers over the top.

Mint's ramant growth will make it a great ground cover for a large area. You just need to grow it responsibly.
posted by shelleycat at 4:13 PM on August 7, 2006

Back in England our lawn was full of moss, in among the grass roots, daisies and clover. It was great to walk on barefoot. I usually averaged one bee-sting per summer, but that was probably because we had bees in the roof.

Here in California moss doesn't seem so happy to mix with our grass, unfortunately, though it grows in a fragile layer on the sandstone wall. What you achieve will depend on your climate, but my memories of grass+moss are wistful.
posted by anadem at 4:16 PM on August 7, 2006

Best answer: Where do you live?

Find your area in the USDA hardiness zone map (for coldest termperature) and the American Horticultural Society Heat Zone Map (pdf). These maps do not take into account elevation, rainfall and humidity, but are a good start. If you tell me where you live, I can give you some specific recomendations and relevant links.

If your lawn is frequently brown from lack of watering, moss will be worse. I would find out what grows naturally in the area, and encourage growth in my property. If you find a moss you like, take a sample, put it in a blender with some water, blend for a few seconds (you want to separate the individual cells, not break them up) and apply the slurry to rocks and areas of your garden similar to the mosse's original location. Better growth will be achieved if you drench the rocks with beer the day before.

I've maintained catus gardens (no watering, slow growth means minimun prunning), herb gardens (mint, as said earlier, is great, and bordering it with wild type streawberries is better), and 'vacant lot' gardens.

For the last, I like the old sock method. 1.Find areas around your house where the vegetation appeals to you, and mark on a map. 1. Wait for the season when flowers start drying up and seeds are being released. 3. Walk around with old socks worn OVER your boots. 4. Plant the socks. 5. When plants start flowering, pull out the ones you don't like. The cycle will become self sustaining after a couple of years.
posted by Dataphage at 4:32 PM on August 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We've been experimenting with Scotch moss and different kinds of thyme. Both are very pretty and can be hardy. The Scotch moss is a bright green, fun to walk on, and grows in compact, tight mounds; the thyme we got sounds like the Ryder thyme mentioned above and is so pretty in spring when it booms lavender. However, while the Scotch moss (which began by looking like this and now covers the area) has done okay because it gets a good amount of shade, the thyme in full sun did not get enough water and has died.

Ours is a cautionary tale: be sure you water well until it's established.
posted by cacahuete at 4:55 PM on August 7, 2006

Response by poster: Dataphage, I live in Bellevue, WA. (zone 8a.) The back yard is very shady, thus the moss.

If your lawn is frequently brown from lack of watering, moss will be worse

Hmm. It's an attractive golden color right now, while the grass is just dead-looking. But I did read that the moss might die back in the summer. HMM.

I'm also thinking about "brass buttons" (Cotula squalida). I definitely want to avoid anything that will spread TOO aggressively, so it sounds like ivy and mint are right out.
posted by agropyron at 4:57 PM on August 7, 2006

Best answer: How about checking with the King County office of the WSU Cooperative Extension? They have lots of information you can access by phone. And there's a page on their site dedicated to turf alternatives.

The site probably tells you how to contact a real person by phone or email, but I couldn't find that in my brief search.
posted by wryly at 6:01 PM on August 7, 2006

I'm not sure if it meets all of your criteria, but this Ask MeFi thread from earlier today introduced me to an awesome form of "semi-treadable" ground cover. The first comment marked as best answer links to a page that describes its usage in the Puget Sound area.
posted by Danelope at 10:23 PM on August 7, 2006

I have nightmares about The Lawn of One Thousand Stings.

So you want the no-work, no-creatures, no-ecology version of a lawn? How about outdoor carpeting?

No, any green is better than when people pave their lawns to make room for more damned cars. But how about lining the edges of the lawn with flowers? Surely your wife has nothing against flowers? It's super simple. If you're really lazy, it's as simple as turning the earth over in the area you want to grow flowers, then scattering some seeds on it. Go to a gardening store, choose some seeds of flowers you like the look of, and read the backs of the seed packages. Or buy some live flowering plants and just stick them in the ground. Get perennials and you'll have them forever.
posted by pracowity at 11:28 PM on August 7, 2006

We set up a permaculture/rock garden. My wife likes water elements, and we tried many plants and stuck with what lived (mint, garlic, canary grass, butterfly guara...). What thrives is often invasive. So I have a postage stamp front lawn in the midst of the herbs, and I keep the sides mowed with a reel-type mower.
Grass is good if you want to rake, for example; also if you want to go barefoot (else bees), and as a monoculture buffer to watch for invasives.
A little-known downside is that if you cut more than 30% of the top of grass, it shocks the system and can be a problem. So ifyou do have grass you need to keep up on the mowing.
posted by dragonsi55 at 5:40 AM on August 8, 2006

I have parts of my yard covered with sweet woodruff, one area has lots of lily-of-the-valley, which is amazingly fragrant for a week in June when it blooms, and another area has ferns. These all took time to get established, but are worth it.

This summer, I bought a bunch of tigerlilies and daylilies at a yard sale, and was given some alpine geranium, which is another nice groundcover. For the edges, especially in shade, hosta is really easy and hardy and requires no maintenance.
posted by theora55 at 6:35 AM on August 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas. This is another one of those threads where most of the answers could be marked "best". (I just find threads harder to read when they're all highlighted.)
posted by agropyron at 7:26 AM on August 8, 2006

I have recently experienced a new variety (new to me, anyway; it may have been around for years) of artificial grass in public spaces in the D.C. area. As stupid as the idea sounds, it's actually really nice---soft, no bugs, not itchifying, etc. It would basically eliminate the maintenance, and would be great for kids to play on. As for looks, well, I'm not sure it would blend in perfectly with your neighbors' lawns, especially in the winter. But it's pretty realistic-looking from a few feet away, and if it's in the backyard only I don't see how anyone could complain.
posted by slenderloris at 12:42 PM on August 8, 2006

Response by poster: If anyone cares, I'm going to try to encourage the moss and see if it forms a full carpet. If not, I'll seed some of the low-maintenance grass alternatives mentioned here.

And for those who really care, here are a couple of close-ups of my current lawn, about 25% moss.
posted by agropyron at 9:11 AM on August 14, 2006

« Older Not just any port in a storm   |   MedicalFilter: Long term systemic infection? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.