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A grass replacement waiting to happen

A grass replacement waiting to happen

Why are so many people considering grass replacement? The main reason may be that keeping a turf grass lawn looking its best is no easy task. You need the right soil, the right water and sun conditions, you need to control weeds and pests, etc.

Is your turf grass lawn depressing you? Are you wondering what to do about it? If so, you may want to consider the following strategies:

  • If you do have the right soil and conditions and your turf only needs a little help, then you should probably be thinking grass improvement rather than grass replacement. Improve your lawn care regimen, consider aerating your lawn, maybe get rid of excessive thatch. Consider regular overseeding, which will give you a denser turf and help in your fight against weeds. Regularly spreading a thin layer of compost over your lawn will also make a noticeable difference.
  • If you have the soil and the conditions but believe your current turf lawn is beyond repair, then your grass replacement project will need to be more drastic. Out with the old and in with a brand new grass lawn. If this is the way to go, consider giving your soil a little boost before seeding or sodding your new lawn. Adding compost and a bit of peat moss will make the soil more alive and help with moisture retention.
  • If you don’t have the conditions, you may have to go for a more drastic grass replacement alternative: removing your current grass lawn to replace it by something else.

Various ways to consider grass replacement

Grass will grow abundantly and look quite healthy without any help on rich, well-drained soils, with abundant rain and sun. Unfortunately, many of us do not have these exact conditions on our yards.

Without these perfect conditions, having a great-looking lawn can be quite costly in terms of time and money. Who wants to spend their evenings and weekends mowing, weeding, fertilizing, watering, etc. And paying for a company that delivers that level of service can be extremely costly.

More and more people are rethinking their turf grass lawn because:

  • They simply won’t invest the time and energy or the money needed to make their lawn look its best.
  • No matter how hard they try to make their turf grass look good, they still get disappointing results. As you will see below, if the conditions are not right, the battle will most probably always be a losing one.
  • Turf grass is simply not the most sustainable choice, especially if water resources are scarce.

More on turf grass growing conditions and care

Good grass growing conditions include a generous amount of sun and water. If you want your grass lawn to look perfect, you will have to mow it often, to water and weed it regularly, and to fertilize it occasionally. In other words, the perfect grass lawn requires good conditions and lots of care. The table below shows the results that can be expected based on the growing conditions and the provided care.

Good conditions Attentive care Results
Yes Yes Perfect
Yes No Good
No Yes Average
No No Poor

Grass treatment or grass replacement

There are many reasons why you may want to keep a grass lawn on at least part of your yard. Because you simply like grass lawns, because you enjoy spending time on your lawn, because it’s an integral part of your landscaping. These are all good reasons.

A compromise may be to go for the more strong-handed grass replacement options only on those sections of your yard that have the poorest grass growing conditions (less sun for instance).

Reviving your turf grass

Let’s consider the soft approach. Start by working on the sunlight, if possible. Consider cutting off some branches or removing structures (a fence or a shed, for instance) that cast shade. Then work on the water. If there is not enough, consider a sprinkler system. If there is too much, consider draining your yard. Adequate fertilization is also important (consider green fertilizers). You will, of course, need to groom your grass lawn, removing moss and weeds (see Lawn care for more information). And most important, in this revival process, you will need to regularly overseed your existing lawn with grass varieties that are well adapted to your conditions. With this approach, you have very much likely to get good results, but things won’t happen overnight.

Replacing your current grass lawn by a brand new grass lawn

Bear in mind that this grass replacement option will at best give average results in places where you have poor grass growing conditions. Begin by removing the existing grass lawn and by tilling the soil. Work your soil so as to make it as perfect as possible for grass growing. This may include adding compost to make it richer, granular gypsum to make it lighter, leaf mold or bark compost to make it more permeable. A good idea is to take a few samples of your soil and to have them tested at your local nursery. They should be able to tell you exactly what your soil needs.

Once your soil is ready, you have two options:

  • Seeding – This will give you much slower results, but it may actually be a better option. Why is that? Because this way you can choose those grass varieties that are best adapted to your conditions. You may even choose different varieties for different locations on your yard.
  • Sodding (turfing) – This will give you instant results, but after a few years time, your new lawn may start looking like the one you replaced. This is simply because most sods are grown from grass seeds selected for general conditions, which may not correspond to your conditions.

Removing your current grass lawn to replace it by something else

Grass replacement plans that involve bringing in ferns, hostas and ornamental grasses seem to be catching more and more.

Climate change is changing things for many gardeners and landscapers (consider reading Gardeners part of climate-change solution, by Craig Cramer). In various locations around the globe, the weather is changing and becoming hotter and dryer or wetter. In many cities and suburbs, local administrations are planting more and more trees in an effort to absorb some of the sun’s rays and thus reduce the heat. This is great, but as these trees grow, they block more and more of the sun’s rays, and in some cases sunny lawns become shady lawns.

Grass replacement projects should include plants that are well adapted to current and future conditions, as conditions are changing faster than ever. Remember that you don’t have to remove all your grass. If your lawn looks good in some places, but not so great in others, you can start by working on problem spots.

In the no turf part of your new lawn, you may use rocks, big and small, mulch, and a variety of plants. Make it so that people won’t think “They had to do this because they had a bad lawn,” but rather “Wow! Look at this lawn. Isn’t it beautiful?”

The secret to success, as always, is using the right plants in the right places. Fertilizers may give your plants a boost, but the keys to healthy, good-looking plants are good conditions and a living soil. So you may only need to add some compost and a bit of peat moss. These aren’t fertilizing your plants, so much as fertilizing your soil. They help the soil retain the moisture and oxygen microorganisms need to thrive, and when they thrive, plants thrive.

How do you find the right plants to succeed in your grass replacement project? You study your conditions and you look for plants that match them. The Sensible Gardener is a good place to start. Here, you can find information on:

For more general information, see our page on lawn problems.

The following grass replacement pictures will give you a few ideas…

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No grass at all - just ferns and mulch
Another combination of sun and shade plants
Ground covers, bushes and hostas
Alpine landscaping style yard with rocks, plants and mosses
Most of the grass replaced by ground cover and rocks
Rocks and a mix of sun and shade plants
Various shade plants and garden decorations
No grass at all - just ferns and mulch
Another combination of sun and shade plants
Ground covers, bushes and hostas
Alpine landscaping style yard with rocks, plants and mosses
Most of the grass replaced by ground cover and rocks
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