11 Natural Lawn Alternatives

Lawn daisy (Bellis perennis) grows wild near wooden fence

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

While lush, green lawns are nice, they do very little for the environment. In fact, because so many lawns require chemicals and pesticides for upkeep, they can have quite the negative impact. Natural lawn alternatives, on the other hand, offer greater advantages to you and the environment. Many lawn alternatives are low-maintenance and naturally attract birds, bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects; plus, home owners can spend less of their time mowing and more of their time admiring their new, unique outdoor space. Here are 10 natural lawn alternatives to freshen up your yard. 

Warning

Some of the plants on this list may be toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

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Clover (Trifolium repens)

white clover, trifolium, is a ground cover alternative to grass

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

Clover is one of the most popular options when it comes to converting a lawn. The botanical name mentioned here is for white clover. You may also be interested in red clover (Trifolium pratense) and microclover (Trifolium repens var. Pirouette). Keep in mind that clover is considered aggressive or invasive in some areas, so monitor its growth is key.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: Varies by species.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

Wild Thyme Flowers (Thymus serpyllum)
Federica Grassi / Getty Images

Also called wild thyme, this creeping perennial is a popular option for a ground cover. It’s not the same type of thyme that commonly used for cooking, but the leaves do have a minty smell to them. Bees love the tiny flowers, and creeping thyme as a lawn alternative does a nice job of spreading on its own from one year to the next.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Creeping Mazus (Mazus reptans)

Mazus miquelii, creeping mazus
Eriko Tsukamoto / Getty Images

Creeping mazus will only grow to about two inches tall, making it a great replacement for grass. It has tiny purplish flowers that emerge in late spring to early summer and bright green foliage that lasts through fall. Because of the way this plant grows (with creeping stems), it’ll slowly and surely expand year after year.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Cedar Sedge (Carex eburnea)

Cedar Sedge (Carex eburnea) grows in front yard surrounded by large rocks

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

All sedges can be good options to consider when replacing grass, and the cedar sedge is definitely a favorite. Each plant grows to about a foot tall and wide, so if you bunch several of these together, you get a lovely grass-like feel without the added maintenance. Since these are hardy even in cold zones and also work in shade, they can really offer a lot of solutions to gardeners.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade.
  • Soil Needs: Medium moisture.
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Lily Turf (Liriope spicata)

Liriope muscari / Lilyturf / Monkey grass Flower
Photos from Japan, Asia and othe of the world / Getty Images

This perennial definitely has a grassy look to it. The rich green leaves grow about a foot high, and hidden amongst them are pale white and lavender flowers. Later in the summer and early fall, these flowers turn into little berries. Between the flowers and berries, this makes it great for attracting backyard wildlife.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

Woodruff - Galium odoratum
Massimo Ravera / Getty Images

Gardeners who have a lot of shade love having sweet woodruff around. This popular ground cover grows about a foot high total and will easily spread. (Some gardeners find it a bit aggressive, so plant with caution if you don’t want it in a big area.) It has little white flowers in spring, and the fragrant leaves are sometimes used for potpourris.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii)

Mentha requienii

David Eickhoff / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

This miniature mint plant is pretty versatile, tolerating most conditions except extremely dry weather. Gardeners love tucking it between rock gardeners because it fills in the space nicely and also offers tiny blooms and nice aromas. It only grows a few inches tall.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)

creeping jenny plant grows out of orange plant containers near wooden fence

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

Growing only a few inches tall, this is another one that will often grow in places where other plants won’t. You have to be a little big careful as some gardeners consider it aggressive, but it’s a great option as you look to replace your grass. Look for ‘Aurea’ for a creeping Jenny option with bright yellow leaves.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca)

blue fescue grass is a clumping ornamental lawn cover alternative

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

All ornamental grasses make good replacements for traditional grass, and blue fescue is one of the best. It will often tolerate less-than-ideal growing conditions, especially dry areas. It grows up to a foot high and has that popular blue tinge to the foliage, which is why so many gardeners seek it out. Check out the popular cultivar, 'Elijah Blue', for your own garden.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

lily of the valley plant grows near wooden fence outside

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

Here’s another one for those who have a lot of shade. Lily of the valley has the cutest white blooms in spring — they are little bell shapes that also smell great. Then the rich, green foliage will last until fall. This is a popular alternative to the traditional hosta, and they tend to spread quickly from one year to the next. However, beware of this option if you have pets as it is considered toxic.

Plant Care Tips

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Part to full shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained.
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Native Plants

overhead view of european native plant lawn daisy growing wild
Lawn daisy (Bellis perennis) is native to central Europe, but has become widely naturalised in most temperate regions, including the Americas.

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

While it’s not a specific plant, it is definitely worth your time and effort. By giving your lawn back to some of the native plants that used to be in your area, you’re doing so much for the environment. Check out native plant recommendations in your area or try to find a native plant society who you can purchase plants from. This is a wonderful way to support the birds, bees, and butterflies in your yard.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, visit the National Invasive Species Information Center or contact your regional extension office or local gardening center.

View Article Sources
  1. "Trifolium repens." Missouri Botanical Garden.

  2. "Carex planostachys." Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

  3. "Galium odoratum." Missouri Botanical Garden.

  4. "Elijah Blue." Missouri Botanical Garden.

  5. "Lily of the Valley." ASPCA.