Ditch the Lawn by Planting a No-mow Substitute

PamPenick
Published on July 2nd 2020
11
A tree in front of a house
Summertime, for homeowners with lawns, means weekly mowing and edging, watering and weeding, when you might rather be lounging in a hammock. If all this effort has you giving your lawn serious side-eye, it’s OK to ditch the turf (or a portion of it). But what to plant in its place? Consider switching to sedge.

Sedge it up

Sedges (Carex spp.) grow naturally throughout the U.S., in conditions ranging from dry woodlands to moist streambanks. Spreading in low, grassy clumps, sedge can be mass-planted as a lawn substitute that remains evergreen or semi-evergreen, rarely needs mowing (typically just once a year in early spring), never needs edging, and requires much less water than traditional turf grass. Sedge isn’t for play spaces, pet yards, or picnicking. But for areas of lawn that don’t get used, it can be a great alternative
A plant in a garden
Sedge’s floppy, mop-top habit makes an appealingly low, tufty meadow when planted as a groundcover. Because a sedge “lawn” is rarely mowed, bulbs can be planted into it to pop up for seasonal color. Smaller green sedges work best, replicating the negative space of a lawn, and popular options include Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa), lawn sedge (Carex leavenworthii), and California meadow sedge (Carex pansa). Save the larger, more-colorful sedges, like citrus-hued ‘Everillo’ or bronzey-orange New Zealand sedge (Carex testacea), for accents or border plants.

Which sedge is right for you?

A person in a green yard
(C) Pam Penick
Before you start ripping out your lawn, first evaluate your site to determine how much sun it receives (all-day sun, morning or afternoon sun, or all-day shade?) and soil conditions (moist or dry), and choose a sedge that thrives in those conditions. As with any plant, make sure it’s winter-hardy for your region, and in hotter climates, try to determine its tolerance for summer heat and/or humidity. (Sedges in hotter climates generally need shade.) A sedge that is native to your region is usually the best choice, making it easier to establish and maintain. If you plant a shade-loving, woodland sedge in a hot and sunny section of your yard, the sedge won’t be happy, and soon neither will you. Finally, be certain your lawn grass is completely eradicated before planting so that it doesn’t pop back up and overrun the sedge.
A close up of a plant
While sedge is getting lots of attention these days, especially with the surge of interest in lawn alternatives, it can still be hard to find. Check with your local independent nursery to see if they carry sedge that’s appropriate for use as a groundcover. You can also buy sedge from some online nurseries. Sedge isn’t sold via seed or by the pallet, like traditional turf grass. Instead, like other garden plants, it’s grown and sold in containers, from plug-size to one-gallon pots. Buy plugs or 4-inch pots if you can find them – it’s the least-expensive option -- and plant them out in a grid spaced 4 to 8 inches apart. The closer the plants, the less chance for opportunistic weeds to gain a toehold.
Water regularly to establish a sedge lawn, and in fall, rake or blow off fallen leaves to keep them from smothering the sedge. When the small, button-like flowers appear in spring, let them go to seed before mowing (on a high setting) to encourage new plants to fill in any holes.
And then enjoy that hammock time that you’ve earned by getting rid of the lawn and switching to sedge!

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