What kind of yard never needs mowing?

Behold, the Houston Astrodome, replete with natural grass in 1965.
Behold, the Houston Astrodome, replete with natural grass in 1965.
Alan Band/Fox Photos/Getty Images

­In 1965, the Houston Astrodome opened as a state-of -the-art temple of sport. The huge dome atop the facility was made of gl­ass plating to let in natural light, but remained closed to protect fans and players against the Texas sum­mer heat. However, a problem quickly became evident: The glass would beam sunlight directly into the corneas of fielders trying to track fly balls. Sunglasses provided little to no defense.

The Astrodome's owner had the dome's ceiling painted gray. Another problem soon emerged as the light-deprived grass on the field began to die. Ever the rationalist, the dome's owner, former Texas judge Roy Hofheinz, found that chemical company Monsanto had successfully produced a plastic turf called ChemGrass that looked and acted similar to natural grass.

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­Hofheinz ordered three acres of the stuff for the Astrodome. As a tribute to their first big sale, Monsanto then changed ChemGrass to its more commonly known name, AstroTurf. Today, AstroTurf and other synthetic grasses that have emerged to compete with the original are marketed as alternatives to natural grass. It can be found on some backyard putting greens, and in yards of homeowners who gave up on natural grass.

Synthetic turf isn't the only alternative to a grass lawn. Some homeowners have decided to forgo greenery entirely and replaced their lawns with rock. A rock-based landscape certainly never needs mowing. Aside from removing dead leaves fallen from nearby trees and weeds that take root, rock is a very low-maintenance alternative to grass.

Several alternatives exist for those who prefer live greenery over rock or synthetic turf, but still don't want the hassle of mowing.

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Alternatives to Turf Grass

Sedum spathulifolium 'Purpureum', a creeping perennial that's also evergreen.
Sedum spathulifolium 'Purpureum', a creeping perennial that's also evergreen.
Roger Smith/Getty Images

The decision to replace your traditional lawn with alternative greenery will lead you to a stark reality: Grass is cheap. It can be grown from seed, which is much less expensive than installing potted plants. Although installing a lawn through sod is more expensive than growing seed, it's also cheaper than installing plants from pots. Depending on the type of plant you choose, you can expect to pay anywhere from 50 cents to several dollars for 4-inch potted plants. Over time, however, you can look forward to recouping some costs as a result of the lack of maintenance costs required to keep up an alternative lawn.

­If you're committed in replacing your high-maintenance lawn, here are a few alternatives. Creeping perennials -- sold in some cases under the brand name Stepables -- are a magnificent alternative to grass. These plants are low-growing, usually around 2 to 4 inches off the ground, and depending on the variety, can handle foot traffic. They actually thrive by being stepped on: Creeping perennials grow through root nodes that sprout most prolifically when pressure is applied to them [source: Handy Thoughts]. Be sure to study up a bit on the type you choose; while there are some evergreen creeping perennials, many die during the colder months, leaving your yard looking a tad depressing.

Mondo grass is another great alternative to turf grass. There are two types used in most landscapes -- mondo grass and dwarf mondo grass. The latter is arguably the better replacement for turf grass, as it's low growing (coming in at a maximum height of 2 to 4 inches). Neither variety requires mowing. They also stand up to foot traffic extremely well, require little water and both are evergreen. They spread slowly, however, so when planting mondo grass, you'd be wise to buy enough to plant close together. Be careful where you plant mondo grass, however. It prefers shade, and makes a perfect groundcover in areas beneath trees, for example.

You may also consider replacing your turf grass with a meadow lawn. Native grasses like sedge and buffalo grass are native grasses to North America and provide a more naturalized look to your lawn. Meadow grasses look like what you'll find in a meadow (hence the name), and do require some cutting, although much less than a traditional turf grass like Bermuda or centipede. To keep a meadow grass lawn healthy and full, you need to mow it only once every three months, or at the least once a year [source: HGTV]. However, if you live in a covenant-controlled neighborhood, you may want to check the bylaws concerning uncut grass before investing in a meadow grass.

Regardless of what type of alternative lawn you choose, take the opportunity to provide your new yard with plenty of fertilizer between the time you remove your old grass and plant your new alternative greenery. By properly fertilizing and watering your alternative lawn, the plants you choose will spread and grow in more quickly, which will ultimately leave you with a lot more time on your hands.

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Sources

  • Brady, Sallie. "Tread on me." This Old House. http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,1078321,00.html
  • Moran, Barbara. "Artifical turf (Astroturf®) and how it grew." American Heritage of Invention and Technology. Accessed December 1, 2008. http://www.astroturf.com/history.htm
  • "Lawn alternatives." HGTV. Accessed December 8, 2008. http://www.hgtv.com/landscaping/lawn-alternatives/index.html
  • "Pass on the grass - an alternative." Handy Thoughts.com. Accessed December 5, 2008. http://www.handythoughts.com/content/view/44/62/