Mow-able alternatives to grass

Asked April 1, 2020, 1:02 PM EDT

Hello. Your website and US Fish & Wildlife guides are all very helpful in determining why types of native plants I can use for 90% of my yard however there are some areas that are currently a rye/fescue/clover/violet mix which I consider a typical lawn area and I mow. It is patchy and there are some areas where I need to fill in with seed. I would prefer not to add grass as I want to have a native lawn but I can't seem to find viable alternatives in any of the guides. Would clover be okay? What would you recommend for keeping a mow-able lawn? I am in the Northeast quadrant of DC. Thank You! Rob

District of Columbia County District of Columbia

3 Responses

Hello. It sounds like you are doing a great job with your selection of native plants. For the the remaining portion of your yard that you would like to mow, there really are not any good options in native plants. Turfgrass is really the best option for an area that is going to be subjected to regular foot-traffic. Clover and microclover are not recommended as replacements for lawn because they die back in the winter and leave bare areas (open to weeds). Clover can be used in a mix with turfgrass to provide nitrogen (when the clippings decompose). Here is information on lawns and microclover. https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/lawns-and-microclover

If you want an alternative plant that stays low to the ground, you could consider using dwarf mondo grass if you have partial shade/filtered sunlight. However, it is not a native plant and it forms clumps rather than a uniform low groundcover like traditional turfgrass. Mondo grass is included on our groundcovers list, which you can view here, https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/groundcover-list.

There are some native sedges that provide a grassy look, but they are not something you would mow. This page provides some basic information about native sedges, https://mgnv.org/2018/03/08/native-sedges-for-the-home-garden/

We typically recommend turf-type tall fescue for sunny lawns. This can be installed by seed or, for a small area, you could put in a section of sod.
Again, there is not really a great native plant that is mowable.

You might also consider hardscaping a walkway area with paving stones and use low-growing native plants around the walkway. Our groundcover page includes several native plants that remain fairly low in height. https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/groundcover-list

Christa

Thank you so much for this detailed and awesome response!