July 14, 2011 in Washington Voices

Consider thinking outside the green lawn

Pat Munts

This collection of colorful, drought-tolerant, ground-hugging perennials at the Spokane Conservation District is infrequently watered and needs only a spring cleanup for maintenance.
(Full-size photo)

Are you tired of fertilizing, killing weeds, watering and mowing that lawn around your house? You aren’t alone. A lot of people are ditching the grass for something more sustainable and practical.

Giving up grass can be a challenge, though. It has been the standard for so long that getting away from the psychological mindset of having one can be as challenging as the physical effort to remove it. After all, what would the neighbors or the homeowners’ association say?

When considering an alternative landscape, first evaluate what you want out of your landscape. Consult with a good landscape designer and contractor who know their plants and how to build with the natural environment. Their experience and advice can make the process easier and the choices less daunting. Ask their help in answering some of the following questions.

Do you have children or pets that still need a patch of grass to play and romp? If so, keep a section that fits the scale of the activity. If you want to spend more time outdoors relaxing, what parts of the yard would be the best for that? Terraces, patios and decks may be appropriate structures to plan into the landscape in places where you now have grass. What would need to be screened to preserve privacy, enhance views or be covered to allow all-weather use?

Paths of concrete, stone or more causal gravel or bark can make the walk to those new special spaces or around the garden more interesting and exciting. A curving path that disappears around a corner or a place to stop and look around can add mystery and adventure to your walk.

Selecting the plants to go into a new garden can be a bit daunting. There are so many choices out there. Make a list of potential plants and then look up their growing habit and requirements. You don’t want to trade one high-maintenance, water hungry monster for another. Use low maintenance and water use plants for the bulk of your plantings and include native groundcovers and shrubs. If you have a favorite fussy plant, make a space for it where it’s easy to care for it.

Many people want more out of their gardens than pretty flowers and lawn. They are converting lawn space into food gardens and adding vegetable and fruit plants as ornamentals. Many new breeds of vegetables will grow in small spaces and many food plants make very nice ornamental plants.

Meadows of grasses and wildflowers are another option. They however come with some big caveats. First by their nature, meadows often look unkempt and messy. The neighbors and the homeowners associations may not care for the pasture look. Secondly, meadows do take care. Weeds and invasive pants will have to be managed. It will need to be mowed to control fire hazards and get seeds close to the ground to sprout. Lastly, wildflowers are often difficult to establish and even if you are successful, many of them disappear naturally after a few years.

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