11 Grass Alternatives to Try in Your Garden for a Unique, Low-Maintenance Lawn Idea

These stylish grass alternatives are guaranteed to turn your garden into a carpet of color and texture, and they're easier to look after than turf, too

A lawn with purple creeping thyme flowers and a flower garden in the background
(Image credit: Alamy)

Grass alternatives have been having a bit of a moment in the landscaping world. From the clover lawn trend to colorful tapestry lawns, many of us are favoring more unusual plants over standard grass, and while a luscious lawn of green turf comes with its advantages, there are plenty of grass alternatives out there if you want to break from tradition with a more unique and eye-catching lawn.

Choosing a different type of ground cover can be an exciting prospect, and if keeping up with lawn care is the bane of your life, these alternatives to grass are a great solution. Besides offering a more textured or colorful appearance, they can be cheaper than turf, more eco-friendly, and a far more low-maintenance choice for your backyard.

'From an environmental standpoint, a better option for a lawn space than grass is something that most closely resembles the native or naturally occurring plantings of your area,' explains professional organizer Katherine Aul Cervoni. 'For example, if you have shady outdoor space with ample moisture, moss and other groundcovers like creeping jenny will be a good option as they'll naturally thrive in the existing conditions.'

The difficulty comes in knowing what options are out there and which are suitable for your garden. Fortunately though, we have some expert gardeners on hand to help guide your decision. If you're ready to shake up your lawn this summer, here are some stylish alternatives to grass that are guaranteed to inspire.

Grass alternatives for a low-maintenance lawn

If you're fed up of a patchy yellowing lawn that requires constant upkeep, these are the best grass alternatives that gardeners are using to landscape unique-looking yards. Choose one that suits your garden's conditions and your low-maintenance lawn is guaranteed to thrive.

1. Moss

Close up of a patch of moss

(Image credit: Getty)

Typically moss is something we try to rid our lawns of, but if you don't fancy polluting your backyard with harsh chemicals in a battle to banish it, you could embrace moss as a groundcover instead.

If you're looking to keep your lawn green but add a bit of extra cushioning, a moss lawn is one of the best alternatives to grass. 'They form a dense, velvety carpet that is both visually appealing and environmentally friendly,' says Tony O'Neill, gardening expert and owner of Simplify Gardening. 'Moss requires no mowing, fertilizing, or watering beyond natural rainfall, making it a low-maintenance and sustainable option.'

When it comes to the ideal conditions for a moss lawn, Tony notes that they're best for a shady garden where they create a whimsical aesthetic. 'Moss can be established by transplanting patches into the desired area or by making a moss slurry (blended moss with buttermilk) and applying it to the lawn,' he says. 'Water it regularly until it's well established, and then sit back and watch it thrive in the shade.'

A headshot of a man with dark hair smiling at the camera
Tony O'Neill

Tony O'Neill is a renowned gardening expert, author, and educator, passionate about simplifying the art of gardening for people worldwide. He is the author of Composting Masterclass and Your First Vegetable Garden, and has a thriving YouTube channel with over 365,000 subscribers and 1.2 million monthly views. Tony is also the founder of the award-winning website, Simplify Gardening. 

2. Meadow flowers

A lawn of meadow flowers

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wondering what's replacing lawn? Meadow flowers are a romantic choice if you want to bring a burst of color to your outdoor space. 'Meadow lawns are a fantastic alternative to traditional grass lawns, offering a mix of grasses and wildflowers that create a natural, beautiful landscape,' says Tony. 'They require less mowing and water, supporting local biodiversity and providing a habitat for pollinators.'

If you're stuck on what to plant, Katherine Aul Cervoni of landscape design company, Staghord NYC says you should let your naturally-occurring flora rule. 'In essence, it's whatever plantings naturally grow in your lawn once you let it grow wild and stop mowing it,' she says. 'This will evolve over time and can also be amended with seed to include more wildflowers to your liking.'

Katherine is quick to note that the more aesthetic meadow lawns you see on the likes of Instagram are actually meticulously edited and maintained to have a careful balance of certain types of flowers and grasses. 'So while these can be a bit high-maintenance if you are strict about their appearance, this is still more environmentally friendly than mowing, fertilizing and watering a typical turf lawn.'

3. Corsican mint

Close up of Corsican mint

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For a fragrant grass alternative that's easy to care for, Corsican mint is another great choice for a lawn that offers a beautiful accompaniment to your surrounding garden borders. The green foliage looks a lot like grass until examined closely, and tiny purple flowers will also bloom during the summer.

'Corsican Mint is a charming, low-growing herb that forms a dense, fragrant mat,' Tony explains. 'It’s perfect for shady areas and can be used between pavers or as a ground cover in moist, well-drained soils. Its tiny, bright green leaves release a pleasant minty aroma when walked on, making it a delightful addition to any garden.'

4. Creeping Jenny

A close up of creeping Jenny flowers

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For a truly unique look, creeping Jenny can make a wonderful lawn. One of the best ground cover plants to prevent weeds, the dense foliage of this hardy perennial offers plenty of cushioning underfoot and doesn't allow unwanted weeds to poke through.

'Creeping Jenny is a vigorous ground cover known for its bright green, almost golden foliage,' says Tony. 'It's ideal for areas where you want to add a pop of color and is especially effective in damp, shady spots.'

5. Blue Star Creeper

Close up of blue star creeper flowers

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you want a more dramatic departure to green turf, why not go for a blue lawn instead? As the name suggests, Blue Star Creeper brings a sea of tiny blue flowers to your garden that looks seriously captivating, and it's suitable as a walkable groundcover, too.

'Blue Star Creeper is an excellent grass alternative due to its low-growing, dense mat of tiny, star-shaped flowers,' Tony says. 'It’s perfect for walkways and between stepping stones, providing a soft, lush look that requires minimal maintenance. It thrives in full sun to partial shade and can handle moderate foot traffic.'

6. Clover

A close up of clovers on the ground

(Image credit: Alamy)

Last summer clover lawns took off as a gardening trend, and if you still want a luscious green feel on your lawn, they really are one of the best alternatives to grass. Besides being a far cheap and more low-maintenance lawn option, they're also far prettier too.

'Clover plants make good grass alternatives due to their hardy nature, requiring less mowing and water than typical grass species,' explains Jeremy Yamaguchi, lawn expert and owner of Lawn Love. 'Clover lawns create thick, lush carpets of green foliage and they also produce white flowers and attract beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies.'

From a practical point of view, these types of lawns can also provide natural nitrogen fixation for your soil, helping other plants in your garden to grow healthily. 'To plant clover, sow seeds in spring or fall directly into the soil,' adds Tony. 'Clover thrives with regular watering until it's well-established, after which it can tolerate periods of drought.'

7. Creeping thyme

A lawn covered with red creeping thyme

(Image credit: Getty)

If you want to introduce some color to your lawn, as well as a sweet-smelling scent to greet you every time you walk across your backyard, a red creeping thyme lawn makes a great alternative to grass. While not a close imitation by any stretch, this fragrant perennial herb will tolerate a range of conditions and create a carpet of purple petals on your lawn.

It might not be as soft as grass, but thyme makes a great walkable groundcover for pathways or high-traffic areas of your garden since you don't have to worry about it wearing down like you do with grass. 'Plant thyme by placing small plants or cuttings into well-drained soil in early spring,' Tony suggests. 'It prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade, and once established, it's drought-tolerant and only needs occasional watering during dry spells.'

8. Carex (Sedges) 

A lawn with tall carex grass

(Image credit: Getty)

Strictly speaking, carex is still technically a type of grass, but its taller, fluffier tufts can turn your lawn into a sea of soft green foliage. 'With a sedge lawn, it looks basically identical to grass but longer so it has more of a grown-out-lawn look to it,' says Katherine. It's also a far better option for wildlife gardening since they need little water and no fertilizer when planted in their native regions. '

'Carex, also known as sedges, are elegant bunching plants with blade-like foliage,' Jeremy explains. 'They’re quickly gaining popularity as an easy-care turfgrass alternative, and there's a tremendous variety (over 2,000 species globally), so you can pick the one that best fits your yard’s needs.'

For a sedge that will fill out your entire lawn, Jeremy suggests the shade-loving Pennsylvania sedge. 'Thriving in the Eastern US, it can be kept as an unmown lawn of six to seven inches or mowed at three to four inches,' he says. 'If you live on the West Coast and have sandy soil, evergreen sand dune sedge is an excellent option while Texas sedge is a popular choice for Texan homeowners with shady lawns and dry to moist soil.'

9. Dichondra Repens 

A lawn of green Dichondra Repens Repens

(Image credit: Getty)

If you're looking for a more low-growing groundcover that makes a lusciously green landscaping idea for your lawn, Dichondra Repens - commonly known as kidney weed due to its kidney-shaped leaves - is a great choice. The warm-season perennial grows best in small gardens as opposed to sprawling lawns, but it has the advantage of being a no-mow lawn substitute.

'Aesthetically, it has a delicate, cascading nature that softens hardscapes, and practically, it's a great solution for those tricky shady spots where grass struggles,' says Tony. 'You can plant Dichondra from seeds or plugs in well-draining soil which should be kept moist until established. Regular watering and a feed in the spring will keep it looking lush and green.'

10. Sedum

A garden path with flagstones and a foliage of small flowers as ground cover

(Image credit: Stark Design)

For another low-maintenance garden idea, sedum is an excellent alternative to lawn grass. Also known as stonecrop, this mat-forming groundcover is often used in between pathway paving stones or among rockeries thanks to its hardy nature. 'If your outdoor space has tons of sun, then a mixture of low-growing sedums – just as those used in green roofs – could be a greener option than traditional lawn grass,' Katherine notes. 'This is because they'll survive off whatever rainwater they get and need little else to thrive.'

According to Tony, sedum is an expansive family of succulent plants known for their water-storing leaves and star-shaped flowers. 'Varieties like Sedum album or Sedum Sarmentosum are ideal as ground covers,' he says. 'Sedum provides a unique aesthetic with its succulent leaves and bursts of colorful flowers, and practically, it's extremely hardy, drought-resistant, and can tolerate foot traffic.' To plant it, he suggests placing cuttings or small plants into well-drained soil during spring or autumn.

11. A tapestry lawn 

A lawn covered with colorful pink flowers

(Image credit: Alamy)

Last but not least, if you want your lawn to offer a burst of bright colors, a tapestry lawn might be for you. They're a type of ground-cover foliage made up of various low-growing perennials that create a patchwork-like collage in your backyard, making them great for adding variety and diversity to your outdoor space.

While a little more unusual, tapestry lawns are growing in popularity. 'Not only are they more colorful, more visually intriguing, and more eco-friendly than grass, but they're also more low-maintenance too,' notes Jeremy. 'They don’t require frequent mowing or general maintenance, and they typically require much less watering.'

You can choose any time of low-growing plant you like to make up a totally unique tapestry lawn, but Jeremy suggests choosing ones that are native to your area and non-invasive. 'You also want your selection of plants to all have similar water, light, and humidity requirements,' he adds. 'The only major downside to this type of lawn is that it is not well built for much foot traffic.'


What is better for the environment than grass?

Almost all grass alternatives are much better for the environment than your standard turf. 'Ground covers like clover, moss, and native wildflowers are often better for the environment than traditional grass lawns,' Tony explains. 'These alternatives require less water, no fertilizers or pesticides, and support local wildlife and biodiversity, helping to reduce the carbon footprint associated with lawn maintenance.' Katherine also notes that any plant native to your environment is generally a better alternative to grass.

What is the best low-maintenance ground cover?

If the constant upkeep of your lawn is what's turning you away, look out for a low-maintenance ground cover instead. 'Creeping thyme is one of the best low-maintenance ground covers,' says Tony. 'It requires minimal watering, no mowing, and it’s drought-tolerant once established. Additionally, it produces beautiful flowers that attract pollinators and release a pleasant aroma.'

What ground cover looks most like grass?

If you still want your lawn to look like grass, Tony recommends choosing an alternative like Dichondra Repens. 'This ground cover closely resembles grass with its small, kidney-shaped leaves,' he says. 'It forms a lush, green carpet that can be used as a lawn substitute, requiring less water and maintenance than traditional turfgrass.'

Generally, though, any low-growing groundcover with green foliage will give the appearance of grass at a distance. 'Moss tends to be very dense and low-growing, so it gives a similar look to a traditional lawn in that it's a flat expanse of green,' suggests Katherine.

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.