Lawn Alternatives at The Scott Arboretum


This is what took me to The Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore, PA last weekend – their lecture+tour about the exciting subject of lawn replacement.  We were shown 8 examples of alternative groundcovers around the campus and they’re displayed for your comment on my blog.

If you’ve had any experience with these – or others – tell us in a comment.  Also if you know of good sources.  This stuff’s a lot more expensive than turfgrass, so delawning homeowners need all the help they can get.


  1. Hey Susan, Just say lawn alternative and I am here…
    I found Danthonia spicata (poverty grass) grows naturally in my shallow soil, so I am letting it spread. I think the University of Missouri was promoting it for an easy care lawn alternative. Check it out. I suspect your soil conditions are better then mine…it’s shallow soil over limestone bedrock so I need something that will thrive in rough conditions. I also seem to have a member of the drop seed family blooming in a few places…grass id is tough, but I will keep searching…it is a spectacular brown. I can email you a photo if you are interested! Take care and keep up the good work! Gail

  2. My lawn is almost gone but I am turning it into more of a garden than la awn “look.” I have had great success with Carex rosea and C. plantaginea growing under a 50 year old silver maple but they do get a bit of sun. I don’t really walk on them so I don’t know how they would take foot traffic.
    Also have C. platyphylla — slow to increase but I’ve only had it two years and it’s growing under a massive arbor vita and next to another silver maple.

    I did have trouble with C. flacca/glauca running like crazy and after about 5 years both C. muskingumensis and C. sylvatica are being problematic. The seed heads are part of the beauty but they are self-seeding to a frustrating degree.

  3. Just the thong to set a lawn chair on or picth a blanket and have a picnic. Or better yet a game of croquet, softball, badminton or horse shoes and yes teaching the six month old how to walk on this should be fun as well.
    I do not understand the zeal with you folks are pitching lawn replacements…………

    The (hate artificial turf) TROLL

  4. I’d be a bit apprehensive about encouraging a six month old baby to walk and crawl across a ‘traditionally managed and maintained ‘ American fertilized lawn. The amount selective herbicides, pesticides and fungicides holds the potential to wreak short term and long term adverse effects on the developing immune system.

    The lawn alternative that I employ at my ‘organic no panic’ household includes a basic meadow mix of yarrow, alyssum, white clover, dandelions, red fescue and crabgrass.

    I live in an arid part of the country ( no rainfall for 6 to 7 months ) which makes choosing a drought tolerant low maintenance turf substitute a smart decision.
    During the winter rainy months I mow about every 10 days with my electric mower. During the summer about once a month.
    This allows me to spend more time in the vegetable , herb and foliage garden while not polluting the neighborhood with a two stroke petroleum based highly polluting engine and its accompanying noise.

  5. To assume all american lawns are frertilized is jumping to a conclusion. Most lawns are not fertilized.
    In fact if they are fertilized it is better for a baby to crawl on a “chemical” fertilizer on the lawn than an organic one infused with bone meal, manure, dried blood etc. These “oraganic” ingredients contain steroids, antibiotics and growth hormones. The same stuff in your “organically fertilized” vegetable garden. Better wear gloves and a breathing mask!

    For arrid areas of the country sure cut down the size of the lawn or have none at all.

    The truth is the American lawn is getting smaller as to the portion receiving heavy maintenance as well as the size. Sales of large “programs” have dropped in my garden center over the years.

    When the trend is already well under way towards smaller lawns with less intensive maintenance the movement to eliminate them altogether is piling on and silly.

    The (Still rolls around on the grass) TROLL

  6. Greg you obviously have be inhaling way too much toxic horticultural chemicals based on that last reply.
    It’s been known for decades that pesticides, fungicides and herbicides have been linked to solid tumors , non Hodgkins lymphona , leukemia, effects on the nervous system, birth defects, retardation and now you have affirmed that it causes progressive ignorance and brain damage in garden nursery workers.
    Get help, or or the very least get educated.

  7. Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) Another nice groundcover that’s rarely mentioned. The leaves are variegated early in the spring season and a bonus has round pale pink flowers in April/May.

    However, because it goes semi-dormant in the heat of the summer it’s best intermingled with other shade tolerant roundcovers like the shade sedges, Liriope, Ajuga where it forms drifts in and out of those plantings.

    It reshoots in late summer and continues into fall as a nice late season groundcover.

  8. You people cannot tolarate different opinions without resorting to personal attacks can you?

    Did you totally miss the point that lawns are getting smaller and gardeners are using less pesticides on their lawns and that most lawns are not fertilized?

    I have said time and again I have nothing against organic lawns or irganic gardens. I GARDEN TOTALLY WITH ORGANICS.

    Did you miss that one too?

    “progressive ignorance and brain damage in garden nursery workers”
    that takes a lot of maturity and ignorance on your part to make personal attcks just becuase you disagree with me and not read my whole post.

    I am amazed at the lack of tolarance of divesrse opinions here…………

    The TROLL

  9. Notice I said chemical fertilizers. I said nothing about fungicdes, herbicides etc. I know these things are not good for children to play on.
    Get your head out of the **&^% sand and read all of my post not just what your mind wants to read

    The TROLL

  10. I’m rather fond our our lawn replacements: blind strawberries, white clover, ground ivy, wood sorrel, violets, and some misc. other plants. My son and the dog run around on them, we put lawn chairs on them, I walk all over them to hang laundry and work in the garden, they are never watered or mowed, and they cost nothing at all.

  11. I say,let diversity rule.Still have Lawn,out front,we live in a cul-de-sac so I dont want to be too disruptive.No pesticide,no other chemicals either.The patches of Clover are getting larger 🙂
    The Lawn in the Backyard has been reduced to a walkway.Yes,we use a Lawnmower,they dont allow Goats in the City.I dont think I want to replace grass altogether,but if that works for someone else,happy gardening.

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