No-Lawn Front Gardens Create Biodiversity, Wildlife Habitat, and a Sense of Place

PamPenick
Published on July 31st 2020
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A close up of a flower garden in front of a house
The front lawn is an American institution, the default option in landscaping, a green monoculture in neighborhoods from sea to shining sea. But it’s also a water guzzler, a time suck for the person stuck mowing and edging it, and a pollinator desert devoid of food or shelter for our native bees, monarchs and other butterflies, songbirds, and many other beneficial species. On top of all that, tons of chemical fertilizers and weed killers poured on our lawns each year end up running off into drinking water supplies and polluting local waterways. It’s enough to make you want to toss your lawn mower and do something better with your yard!
Here are 4 inspiring ideas for your no-lawn front yard. Mix and match to maximize your plant diversity and make your garden inviting – and healthier – for both humans and wildlife.

Native grasses and sedges

A small house in a garden
Perhaps you love the look of a green lawn, or you have kids or pets who need an open play space. Then plant a native turf grass like buffalograss, which can be established via seed or sod. Suited to drier regions with deep soils, this native grass of the Great Plains makes a lovely blue-green lawn that requires little watering and almost no mowing. Or try an ecological lawn, a mix of native or adapted grass species that grow to a similar height for a traditional appearance. Commercially available seed mixes like Eco-Lawn and No Mow Lawn, both blends of fine fescues, are well suited to cooler regions. For hotter, drier areas from Oklahoma and Texas westward, Habiturf makes a better choice. A mix of buffalograss, blue grama, and curly mesquite, Habiturf needs mowing just once every three to five weeks.
Sedge, a grassy-looking plant that prefers shade or morning sun, has grown popular as a lawn alternative. When massed, it makes a wavy, meadowy groundcover that stays evergreen or semi-evergreen. While not suitable for daily foot traffic, it’s a good choice for a shady yard where traditional lawn struggles.

Creeping groundcovers

A path with trees on the side of the street
Many low-growing, creeping plants make excellent lawn alternatives, especially for difficult-to-mow areas like steep slopes or around clusters of trees. While they won’t hold up to foot traffic, who cares? Just lay a welcoming path for visitors and the delivery driver, and plant around it to your heart’s content. Thyme, creeping Jenny, ajuga, sweet woodruff, lamb’s ear, silver ponyfoot, purple heart – the choices are vast and vary by climate, so look up local groundcover recommendations.

Succulents

A close up of a flower garden
If you live in a frost-free climate with plenty of sun and little rain, plant masses of succulents to create a tapestry of colorful foliage that thrives on neglect. Blue chalk fingers, sticks on fire, echeveria, aeonium, aloes, and agaves blend together for an otherworldly look that’s low maintenance and water thrifty. In hotter, drier deserts, large native succulents like agave and cacti make dramatic accents among flowering perennials and airy desert trees to create a front garden that beautifully expresses a sense of place, which lawn can never do.

Front yard patio

A patio in the backyard is commonplace, a spot for grilling and lounging. But out front, few people think to install one. What a missed opportunity! A patio with a bench or a couple of chairs makes an inviting addition near the front door; secluded to one side, tucked under a shady tree, a patio offers a semi-private spot to sit and watch passersby. Best of all, a patio requires no mowing, watering, or fertilizing.
Gravel is inexpensive, easy to DIY, and has a pleasing crunch underfoot, plus it allows rainwater to soak into the soil. Flagstone, brick, or concrete often require professional installation but should last indefinitely. Rather than plant up your entire no-lawn front yard, make space to plant yourself in a chair and enjoy your beautiful new plants. You may soon find yourself receiving compliments from the neighbors and fielding questions about how they can go lawn-free too.

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