A Complete List Of Lawn Alternatives For Portland

by Ben Bowen

At this point no one will be surprised to hear that lawns are shrinking and disappearing. Almost everyone I meet with wants either less lawn or no lawn at all.

This raises a question: What can you replace your lawn with?

There are a ton of lawn alternatives, and I am going to list all the ones (I can think of) that work well here in Portland. All the options on my list meet these criteria:

  • They use less water than a lawn.
  • They also require less fertilizer.
  • Less time is needed to keep them looking good.
  • Are attractive if used properly.

Most of these grass substitutes can be considered more environmentally friendly, but a few are open to debate (feel free to head over to Twitter). 

Lawn Replacement Alternatives

  • Ecolawn. Pro Time Lawn Seed (previously Hobbs & Hopkins) has been producing ecologically friendly seed mixes since 1979. The most popular is Fleur De Lawn, but they have tons of options fit for almost any yard. Most require some extra water and occasional mowing, but not fertilizer or herbicides.
  • Groundcover. Low growing plants can, over time, completely blanket where your lawn is now. They won't require mowing and many are drought tolerant once established. This Oregonian article has some great suggestions and here is where you can find groundcover plants that are walkable.
  • Other plants. A landscape does not need a lawn. It can be just plants. Here is a list of drought tolerant plants for Portland that I use quite a bit.
  • Moss. Have a shady area where your lawn always want to thin out? That is probably the perfect place to grow moss. You wait for it to show up on its own, or you can plant some and let it spread. Don't like moss? Really? You don't like this?
  • A rain garden. Remove your water hogging turf, then install a rain garden and run your downspouts to it. This is a win-win and, done properly, rain gardens can be truly beautiful.
  • Bocce ball court. Traditionally utilizes crushed sea shells, but can be done with a fine gravel (like 1/4"- basalt) or decomposed granite. This could be a great solution if you want to trade one playable surface for another.
  • Sand garden. A classic Japanese garden element. Here in Portland these are rarely done with actual sand (too hard to keep clean, cats love it) but are commonly created with granite chips. Here is an example of sand (or "dry") garden we designed and installed.
  • Rock garden. A mix of boulders, round stone, plants, and perhaps some mounding can be come together to create something truly beautiful. If you stick to sedum, ornamental grasses, and perhaps some manzanita your rock garden can require very little summer water.
  • Paver or stone patio. More and more people are turning "garden" into "living space". A patio is usually the foundation for this. Get rid of the lawn, install a new patio, and then spend your weekends enjoying (not mowing) the space! Here is what you should know about paver patios.
  • Artificial turf. Ok, you still want a lawn and it has to look like a lawn. And it can't need mowing, edging, watering, and fertilizing. Artificial grass is the way to go. It has come a long way, but there are still a lot of things to consider before installing fake grass.
  • Play area. Turn the lawn into a miniature playground, perhaps with playground chips as the primary surface. This solution has the advantage of being easily reversible once the kids grow up or someone new moves in.
  • Fire pit or outdoor fireplace. Want to be sure your old lawn area gets used? Very few things will draw you out of the house like a warm fire. A small patio and a modest fire pit can easily replace a lawn and become the new center of gravity for the yard.
  • Meadow. If you can handle the "wild" look (and your neighbors can too) then consider the benefits a meadow can bring. Once established they need little extra water, can be cut back once or twice a year, and offer a resting and feeding place for pollinators and birds. The key is to plan the planting layout wisely. Here is a great resource to get you started.

Is this a complete list? Probably not, but as I think of more options I will add them. Think of something I missed? Leave a comment below!

So if you have been considering lawn elimination you now have many alternatives to choose from. Need help? Contact us today for a free landscape design consultation.