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Alternatives to the Traditional Lawn
Copyright ©2001 by Dan Eskelson, Reprinted August 28, 2001

With recurring drought in many parts of the country, it may be wise to consider alternatives to resource-hogging manicured turfgrass areas. Unless you need your lawn for tuning up your golf game, replace at least part of it with native plants.

Drought tolerant grasses and wildflowers, once established, will make your life much easier and reduce your landscape maintenance costs greatly. Mowing is reduced to one cutting per year (fall in most regions), and watering can often be eliminated completely.

You can customize the native plantings with a wide variety of grasses and wildflowers to suit your specific region, soil and personal preferences - see the lists below.

There's one misconception regarding these native plantings - it's sometimes assumed that soil preparation can be less thorough. You will not need as much soil amendment, if any, but your grading and seedbed preparation should be as complete as if you're installing a traditional seeded lawn.

In dry, light soils, the addition of two inches of organic matter, tilled into the top four or five inches, will help germination and early establishment. When seeding during warm weather, a seed mulch of straw or other coarse material will be beneficial.

Though regular fertilization should not be necessary, a starter fertilizer certainly will be beneficial - use a good phosphorus source like bone meal or phosphate rock.

Newly seeded areas should be kept evenly moist during and after germination. Pamper your new planting for the first season, and then enjoy many years of beauty with extremely low maintenance.

The following lists specify just a few of the regional alternatives - contact your local county extension agent, nursery or landscape professional for more information.


  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus)
  • Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  • Aster (Aster sp.)
  • Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
  • Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Prairie Clover (Dalea sp.)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris sp.)
  • Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
  • Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides)
  • Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  • Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
  • Pastel Poppy (Papaver naudicaule)
  • Showy Primrose (Oenothera grandis)
California/Pacific Northwest:
  • Purple Needlegrass (Nassella pulchra)
  • Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis)
  • Meadow Barley (Hordeum brachyantherum)
  • California Fuchsia (Zauschneria garrettii)
  • Tidytips (Layia sp.)
  • Pacific Coast Iris (Iris douglasiana)
  • Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus)
  • Silver Bluestem (Bothriochloa saccharoides)
  • Tickle Grass (Agrostis hyemalis)
  • Blanket Flower (Gaillardia sp.)
  • Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
  • Southern Ragwort (Packera anonyma)
  • Wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana)
  • Bottlebrush Three-awn (Aristida spiciformis)
  • Pinewoods Dropseed (Sporobolus junceus)
  • Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis)
  • Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa quadrivalvis)
  • Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)

This article is reprinted with permission from the June 2001 issue of GREEN ENERGY: A Newsletter From Clearwater Landscapes.

Read more about native grass lawns.

What is your regional ecosystem?

Note From the Editor:

The USDA Plants Database offers free online fact sheets (most with color photos) for most species listed in this article.

About the author:

Dan Eskelson operates Clearwater Landscape Design in Priest River, Idaho. Visit his website for interactive landscaping solutions and free tips for your do-it-yourself projects. Dan will help you visualize and plan your new landscape online.

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