It's the Plants, Darling

Lawn as a Low-Maintenance Solution

AMEN, Mike!  We’re hearing more and more anti-lawn tirades lately
and I’ve been known to contribute to the chorus on that one, but I’m only ranting
against traditional, chemically addictive lawn care, not the easy,
good-enough lawn that Mike espouses.  I’d only amend his advice to
recommend applying a slow-release fertilizer once in the fall and
something Mike only implies – foregoing watering during the summer.

Okay, now that we’ve settled the lawn care issue, let’s back up
because the question reveals some muddled thinking that’s common among
the nongardening public.  It asked for a groundcover that:

  • Requires NO maintenance.  That’s right – not "low" but "NO".
  • Is short
  • Can be grown from seed
  • Adapts to any soil
  • Is locally native

To which Mike responds: "Suuurreeee – you want fries with that?"
Great answer!  Because plant choice isn’t as easy as ordering from a menu of
desired qualities.   And notice that attractiveness isn’t
even on the list of requirements here.  Neither is exposure (sun,
shade) or the ability to prevent erosion on hillsides.  And as Mike aptly notes, if such a plant existed, it would
probably already be there, and everywhere else, for that matter.  So
our plant choices are pretty much the ones we see growing in our area,
especially on sites where the plants were chosen by professionals.

Now get this.  The question (remember, NO maintenance!) came not
from a gardening newbie or someone else whose ignorance is
understandable but from a landscape designer.  On that note, I’m going back to bed.

Posted by on December 8, 2006 at 5:16 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
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13 responses to “Lawn as a Low-Maintenance Solution”

  1. Pam J. says:

    “I’ve been known to contribute to the chorus on that one, but I’m only ranting”

    Yeah, you were “only” ranting, but in that rant didn’t you have the perfect answer for the inquisitive landscape designer? Clover. Doesn’t it meet all of his requirements?

  2. Heather says:

    I finally spread my clover seeds last Wednesday! I’m excited to see how it grows (if it grows).

  3. firefly says:

    “AND don’t forget the grass that IS already there. To replace it, you’d need to kill that existing sod. That’s a LOT of work … Plus, grass is about as weedy as it gets, and any of the existing turf you didn’t kill completely would likely quickly out-compete its replacement. …”

    I can testify to that — I used a digging fork to remove sod from two 3×14 strips and four raised beds. It worked, but oh my back — and the grass is creeping in at the edges, so Never Again.

    For the next ‘reclamation’ I put down newspaper and mulched over it, which should do the trick by spring and be less insulting to the earthworms.

    Meanwhile, our ‘neglected’ front lawn got compliments from the neighbors — we had it aerated and fertilized (organic) by a landscape company last fall, sprayed 3x in spring with nematodes for grubs, and mowed only every other week, and it sailed past grubs and late-summer drought and pretty much stayed green.

    It was surprising, because our neighbors on either side, who dug up their lawns, put down Grub-X, re-seeded, watered, mowed every Saturday, and raked up every leaf fragment, now have big dead brown patches and will have to do the same again next year.

  4. Everything requires maintenance. Even if you covered the yard in asphalt or concrete, you’d have to sweep the trash and leaves off it and hose it down from time to time. People who have spent most of their lives in apartments typically underestimate the amount of maintenance a house and yard require. I’m amazed at how many people I know just hire out the work. I don’t understand how they afford it and I can’t imagine letting someone else work in my personal space.

    Still, when I click over to Catherine’s Antal’s original question, I think y’all have misrepresented it. She’s not designing for private front yards but for the well sites of the Suffolk County Water Authority. They want to save money by not having to mow and would like some suggestions for easily naturalized short grasses or flowers.

    In Texas, the highway department lines our highways with beautiful displays of grasses and wildflowers that grow on their own (less vigorously during these drought years). These would be too tall to meet the Water Authority’s requirement (they are afraid of breeding ticks). Texas highway verges are mown several times a year to keep the trees out and lessen the danger of wildfire. However that is hardly the kind of maintenance that a lawn requires. Is there nothing similar that can be done in New York’s climate?

  5. Pam J. says:

    At the risk of sounding all defensive and stuff, I don’t think anyone “misrepresented” Catherine Antal’s original question. She said this: “looking for seed sources that would provide short ground cover — grass or flower — that requires no maintenance. Our well sites are built on all kinds of terrains, and it has become costly to mow …also hoping that the ground cover could be something native to the area.” I completely agree that there’s no such thing as “no maintenance” (except for full-scale neglect). But I still think clover satisfies all of Catherine’s requirements.

  6. Lawn has gotten a very bad rap from the promotion of and resulting desire for the perfect lawn and all the tools, potions and procedures needed to achieve this “perfect” lawn. For much of suburbia the lawn is the focal point of the landscape not the shrub borders, flower beds or trees and that is part of the problem that causes this need for a perfect lawn. All of the suggestions you and Mike make plus choosing the right grass species for your area can make the lawn a very painless and environmentally sound choice.

    Living in a warm climate the biggest hurdle to overcome can be what seems to be an ingrained notion that grass must have very skinny leaf blades. Some of the best warm season grasses are wide bladed. My favorite hands down is Centipede Grass, Eremochloa ophiuroides.

    Mike did leave out an obvious no maintenance choice, Astroturf or discarded pieces of old carpet. It would have to be laid out as sod and depending on the production factory it may be considered native.

    With some experience the Landscape Duhsigner may find some groundcovers that come incredibly close to no maintenance. Two that work for me are Asparagus Fern, Asparagus densiflorus and Aloe Vera, Aloe barbadensis. The key is to mulch well before planting to supress weed growth while they fill in. Once established both of these do great jobs at weed supression on their own.

  7. susan harris says:

    Great discussion going here and I’m joining with Pam in promoting clover. Except for locally native, isn’t it everything asked for?

  8. Kathy Jentz says:

    How about the sedums being used now for Green Rood purposes? Or Moss? Depending on whether the site is sun or shade and amount of moisture – once either of these are installed – no pr at least pretty low maintenance.

  9. This is good. I happen to (God forbid) LIKE grass (in small areas).

    Great post. Thank you.

  10. Pam J. says:

    From the obit section of yesterday’s Wash Post: “Clemens Michael Zubres, 85, science teacher … died in College Park… A competitive tennis player, Mr. Zubres … also enjoyed lawn care…” So there you go: some people actually consider lawn care something to enjoy, a hobby. I thought this was rather sweet.

  11. Pam J. says:

    From the obit section of yesterday’s Wash Post: “Clemens Michael Zubres, 85, science teacher … died in College Park… A competitive tennis player, Mr. Zubres … also enjoyed lawn care…” So there you go: some people actually consider lawn care something to enjoy, a hobby. I thought this was rather sweet.

  12. max says:

    People interested in lawn alternatives should read about San Marcos Growers’ yarrow lawn:
    They used Achillea millefolium, but I’m pretty sure there are other species that would be appropriate almost everywhere in the US.

  13. McLaren says:

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