|I am so happy I am not a lawn nut. Spending so much time, either mine or paying someone else to spend theirs, to maintain my lawn along with the fertilizers, pesticides and supplemental water is crazy. I have a little turf left in the front yard that I probably will get rid of once the kids are gone. It takes about 20 minutes to push mow and my son does that. It is a mixture of whatever is growing - is growing.
I do think turf has its place, like a golf course, sports fields, parks, some historic gardens, and I am sure there might be others, but not the entire lot of every yard in suburban America. Front yards are usually on display for your neighbors, meant not to offend, but to fit in. People do not really use their front yards like they use the side or back yards. That is because you are on display too when you are out there. So, without going into the design aspect, let’s assume that you want to have something that looks like a lawn (low growing and wide open), but you don’t want to waste the time and materials it takes to maintain a typical lawn.
I am asked a lot by homeowners to put sod, usually tall fescue, down in a lot of places that I know it just will not do well and will probably last a few years before it just disappears. These are shady places, found with moss and pebbles exposed on the surface of the extremely sandy soils before we arrive. We will start with these areas first because they are more difficult to find anything that will grow well and look presentable without spending a lot of time nurturing it along to establishment. Remember, we are talking about things that look like grass, but are not the typical choices. So, there is one answer: Carex. Carex is a true sedge that offers a lot of choices from dry to wet, a few different colors, overall size, and textures. Most Carex available can fall into three different groups: sedges from Asia, sedges from New Zealand and native sedges which I would recommend. We have done well here with Carex pensylvanica and Carex eburnea for dry shady areas.
For the sunnier areas and where the soil may hold more moisture, the choices grow substantially. Especially if you are willing to grow something a little taller than three inches and willing to let it look a little shaggier than a clipped lawn. I will mention a few favorites of mine. Sporobolis heterolepis is a taller, clump forming, warm season grass that is spectacular. Now it is a taller choice of grass, over 2’ tall. But it is very easy to grow and mixes well with other grasses and perennials. Eragrostis spectabilis, or Purple love grass, is another favorite. This is a tough native warm season grass that does well in exposed sunny sites. It tops out at 2’ tall, but that is including the seed heads, the grassy part of the plant is much shorter.
The last grass I will mention is Sesleria autumnalis. It is not a native, but it is a great cool season grass that does resemble tall fescue if it were left uncut to grow. This one is new for me and we have it in a few different spots where it is doing well, mostly sun to part shade in somewhat dry locations.