#3 Lawn Options Series: Much Ground to Cover.

Galbraith + Associates, Landscape Architects

Perhaps the previous ideas posted in this series (synthetic grass; edible estates) just don’t solve your ish. You still need to cover the bare ground in your yard with something simple, beautiful and sustainable.

Below are some quick fixes with some pros and cons.

  1. Allow me a quick word to the wise: some clients bandy about the phrase “maintenance-free” when describing their ideal landscape. Sadly, like the much touted personal jet packs we were all supposed to have by now, maintenance-free doesn’t exist.
  2. We can make low maintenance happen, if we pick the right plant for the right place.

(Oh yes, you did detect a little bit of sadness slathered in snark under #1. Where is my promised jetpack? I’m not getting any younger.)

Best grass. A top choice in Austin TX for turf grass is a native: Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss). It requires little water and doesn’t need mowing very often. It does best in full sun, but will also work with some shade. So, depending on how much sun you have, it may be a good choice for your yard. (From Mr. SmartyPlants at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.) For more on native grasses, see Dr. Mark Simmons’ ongoing research at the Wildflower Center.

Best thing to do in heavy shade under trees? Mulch it with a good quality partially composted shredded bark mulch (no dyes)! It’s good for the environment, it’ll help build the soil up and keep weeds down. Expose the trunk and the root crown; piling mulch against the tree can harm the tree through disease, pests or rodent damage.

Grassy groundcover. For something grass-like in a shady spot, try Texas Sedge (Carex texensis)  – this cultivar is available online from Plant Delights. This soft triangular planting is at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, where Mr. Smarty Plants says “Texas Sedge, one of the most common sedges in central Texas, is a good turf substitute for dry to moist shade, colonizing densely by rhizomes. A good shade groundcover for naturalizing and landscape restoration, particularly in sandy areas under Post Oaks.”

Sassy groundcover. Try charming Texas Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) as a groundcover for sunny and part-shade areas; it’ll cheerily spread out. Know that it will be a little crispy in droughty times. And it’s only moderately deer resistant – deer will hit the frogfruit snack bar when there aren’t many other tasty bits around.

Hardscape. Even lower maintenance is devoting a larger portion of your landscape to loose stone, although weeding will still need to be done. I saw these homes in El Paso, Texas, where they make an art of the minimalist approach.

Note that the microclimate around your home will be hotter by as much as 5 – 10 degrees, if you replace your lawn with loose stone.

You can make a distinctive statement with stone, so do consider size, color and texture when picking out your favorites at the stone yard. Do you have an alternative to the traditional lawn you’d like to share? Please email me at sue@sparkinteriors.com with your thoughts!

~ Sue Lambe, ASLA

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