The Q&A Archives: Alternative to grass

Question: Here in California, water is expensive and I would like to have something green in the front yard that would not take so much watering and mowing. Also one that will just 'take over' if plugged into the existing lawn. I remember that a tiny green plant was quite popular years ago, but I have no idea if it's aggressive. Seems it might have needed a lot of shade.

Answer: There are a number of alternatives to turfgrass. One of the most popular is a mixture of native grasses and small flowering plants. Grown from seed you broadcast on your existing lawn, these meadows usually establish themselves in about two years. They require less maintenance than turfgrasses and you can generally find seed mixtures in large nurseries and garden centers. Or, you may try planting Coast strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis). This is native to your area. It's a perennial evergreen herb with green, glossy leaves; white flowers in spring; edible berries; tolerates foot traffic. There's no maintenance except to pull out grassy weeds the first few years of establishment. Or, plant Treasure flower (Gazania rigens), a non-native perennial in warm climates, spreads by rhizomes, yellow, orange flowers from spring into early winter; use in warm parts of California only.

A final suggestion is California meadow sedge (Carex pansa), a native plant that's a slow creeper with dark green foliage about 4 to 6 inches if left unmowed, tolerates foot traffic, evergreen in all but the coldest climates. Mow two to three times per year to keep the foliage low and tight or you can leave it unmown.

Best wishes with your landscape!

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