Forget grass: Eco-friendly, no-mow alternatives for green lawns

A moss lawn can be an alternative solution for shady spots in the garden where grass has no chance to grow and thrive. — dpa

There's something comforting about a sprawling green lawn that is clearly nurtured and cared for. “Many lawn owners enjoy the greenery in their garden, which is soothing to the eyes, ” says Harald Nonn, chairman of the German Lawn Society.

“At the same time, for them the lawn is also an extension of their living room, which can be used for many activities – or just for relaxing, ” adds Nonn. But as beautiful as these lawns can be, a lot of upkeep must be done to keep them that way.

Nonn calls mowing, fertilising and watering the lawn the “three-way fight” – and in many places, this has increasingly become a challenge, he says, pointing to climate change as affecting the amount of water that’s available for lawns.

Garden owners don’t have to entirely give up on having a green space that’s also eco-friendly and easier to manage. Instead of typical grass, try creeping jenny, Dutch white clovers or yarrow. They get along with the heat and dryness substantially better and will naturally take over an open space, says Sven Goerlitz, a residential garden adviser based in Germany.

If you don’t want to let nature completely take over, you can also consciously design the area with other plants. Depending on a spot’s location and use, a flower meadow or even just a field of herbs could be set up. “The look may take some getting used to for the lawn lover, but the herbs’ blossoms offer food and habitat for many insects, ” says Nonn. Even creating small designated areas is a great start to co-existence with nature. Probably the biggest change for lawn owners who plant a flower meadow is that it will need to be mowed only twice a year.

However, while such meadows are ecologically valuable, they work best for medium to large lawns. As Goelitz points out: “Flower meadows are maintained by self-seeding and therefore one needs a lot of space. Besides, the areas are actually no longer usable for people.”

Alternatively, a mix of grass and low-growing flowers and herbs can be used. Such mixtures for herbal or flower lawns contain different grasses and cuttable flowering plants such as daisies, yarrow, thyme and sage, depending on your location.

Instead of grass, gardeners can cover their lawn with wild garlic or other herbs instead. — dpa

You don’t need to rip out your whole lawn to transition to a flower or herbal lawn. However, while Goertliz believes that starting anew is best, the existing lawn can be slimmed down by: mowing less, avoid fertilising and sowing bare patches with the new plants. The area is then mowed every two to three weeks.

A tip from Goerlitz: Mow part of the lawn and let some areas grow higher so that more plant species can be used.

Biologist and author Ulrike Aufderheide recommends a gravel garden for paths, squares and parking spaces for cars. Gravel is laid down based on whatever the space is used for, and then sown with native wild plants and grasses that love hot weather.

Working with, and not against, nature, in Aufderheide’s opinion, is the key principle to the lawn in a natural garden – also because it saves a lot of work. A moss lawn is therefore a solution for deep shady areas where grass has no chance.

“Many people think that moss damages the lawn, but it’s the other way around: The moss grows because nothing else grows there, ” says Aufderheide. – dpa/Melanie Oehlenbach

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