Is a Lawn Right For You? How to Choose the Best Low-Maintenance Landscaping

Here’s a bit of trivia for the American readers, what we refer to as a lawn or a yard, most of the rest of the world would call a garden. We tend to think of “gardens” like flower or vegetable beds requiring a lot of work, and of lawns (mowed grass) as something easier to maintain. And while this can be true, it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I’ll show you how to make your yard lazefficient.

This article contains a couple affiliate links for some of the products that I use myself and suggest to others. I only recommend products that I use and like. If you decide to purchase an item from a link, it will help me be able to provide more awesome content for you.

Why most lawns are not lazefficient

Lawns require mowing at the very least, usually about once a week. Depending on your lawn and your mower, that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. Plus you need to maintain your mower and other lawn equipment. Most people also do one or more of these additional tasks: trimming, watering, fertilizing, applying pesticides and/or pulling weeds, aerating, dethatching, raking, and reseeding.

“But I hire out,” you might say. Well, then you are paying someone else money to do it, and you traded your time to make that money. This means you are likely either prioritizing your lawn over other things (like saving, investing, traveling, etc.), or you are working more to make more so you can also have those things. Either way, it will cost you time.

If you have a lawn, I’d like you to take a minute and think about these questions.

Why do you have a lawn?

Do you prefer the look of lawns over other types of gardens? Do you and your family and pets play in or otherwise utilize the lawn? Do you think it might just be the least work? Do you want to fit in socially?

How much time do you spend on your lawn?

Track how much time you spend on your lawn over the growing season. How important are those hours to you? If they are more important than your lawn, then you may want to consider replacing it with something lower maintenance (see below).

Do you need a lawn?

Some people are required to maintain lawns, usually because of homeowners associations. If that’s so, you’ll need to keep the lawn or work to change the rule holding you back from lawn freedom.

Should you keep your lawn?

If you take great pride in your lawn, and you love the look and utility of lawns, then spending your time and money on it makes sense. If you don’t really see a compelling reason to keep spending all your time and money on a lawn, I’ve got some options for you.

Keep the lawn, reduce the maintenance

There are ways to make a lawn require less maintenance.

  1. The less you fertilize and water the slower your grass will grow. Do not wait until the grass gets long and then mow it super short. That will severely stress the grass and invite many more weeds, some of them invasive, which you will then have to spend time eradicating. Mow high on a regular basis.
  2. Stop giving a damn what others think. Let non-invasive “weeds” grow. Many of them actually are trying to improve the quality of the soil. And if you have a hot, dry spell, your lawn will be greener than others who don’t water, because some of the weeds will be more tolerant to drought than grass.
  3. Don’t rake. Just mow over the leaves to shred them. This saves you time raking and fertilizing.
  4. Choose other grasses. Some grasses are easier to maintain (and more eco-friendly) than others. You’ll want to make sure you have a mix of cool season and warm season grasses, the right grasses for the amount of shade you have, and native grasses that can tolerate your climate’s extremes. There are also grasses that grow low or fall flat so you might not have to mow at all (check with your city’s ordinances if you live in town).
  5. Replace your grass with low-growing plants that don’t need to be mowed and can tolerate foot traffic. Stepables.com has many options to look at. Pros: You’ll still have an area in which to play and entertain with less work. Cons: Grass and other taller growing plants will find their way into your yard and you’ll have to either keep pulling them or start mowing again. Especially if your yard is very sunny. If it’s in full shade and you plant an aggressive shade-loving understory, you might have an easier time.
  6. Replace gas-powered lawn equipment with electric equipment. We have this mower and this trimmer (affiliate links). The only maintenance we have to do is sharpen the blade on the mower and replace batteries (last for years). I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about engines and gas and spark plugs. Bonus — they are much quieter than gas-powered machines as well.

Replace the lawn

If you don’t use your lawn, and you don’t particularly prefer the look of a lawn over other options, or you want to save time on lawn maintenance while also having a great looking yard, consider replacing the lawn with something else. Here are some options:

  1. Wildflower gardens
  2. Native prairie gardens
  3. Wooded area/grove
  4. Food forest

It depends on your property’s size, location, and other conditions, but the more natural a garden is, the easier it is to maintain. What do you want out of it? Do you just want something easy? Pretty? Do you want something that’s beneficial to the local wildlife, or maybe even food and medicine for your family? You really can grow food and medicine in a low-maintenance garden. I do it in my front yard, and it does much better than my annual vegetable garden (which I will be giving up after this year, because it’s not lazefficient enough for me).

Here is my front garden. It consists of only perennials or self-seeding annuals. Most of the plants in the garden are edible or medicinal. The rest are pretty and beneficial to wildlife. I designed this garden to form a little ecosystem where all the plants, and the visiting animals, work together to support each other, requiring less work from me. Here is a list of many of the plants harmonizing in my front yard

  • Apple tree
  • Chives
  • Garlic
  • Chicory
  • Yarrow
  • Comfrey
  • Milkweed
  • Salvia
  • Sunflowers
  • Carrots
  • Mints
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Parsnip
  • Salsify
  • Lovage
  • Rhubarb
  • Rainbow orach
  • Lambs quarters
  • Wild strawberry
  • Silver buffaloberry
  • Purple poppy mallow
  • Coneflower (echinacea)
  • Black-eyed susan
  • Garden sorrel
  • Salad burnet
  • Mustard
  • Valerian

These plants grow densely and the ground is also mulched, so most weeds are suppressed. I only spend maybe a total of one hour, probably less, in the entire growing season pulling weeds. Unless I’m trying to germinate new seeds, I also do not have to water this garden. These plants all grow like weeds, so I don’t need to fertilize other than chop-and-drop mulching and whatever the animals leave behind for me.

Here’s a commercial a local nonprofit aired featuring my property a couple years ago (skip to 0:53 to get to my yard or watch the whole thing to learn about river health).

We have a lawn, too, and we spend exponentially more time just mowing and trimming the lawn than I spend on the garden. We chose that trade-off because we do use our lawn areas. That’s something we will continually assess as our family grows and changes. But my front gardens are my absolute favorite part of our yard right now. 

I’ll write other posts that give more detail on how to implement these low-maintenance gardens, so definitely subscribe if you’re looking forward to that. If you want to make changes now and don’t feel like you can take the time to learn everything, contact me and I can help you remotely with a consultation.

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