5 Striking Alternatives to Grass Lawns, According to Real Estate Pros

published May 16, 2023
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Flowerbed with tall perennial plant of white flowers and undergrowth of yellow perennials and sage in a dry composition of yellow blue purple and white around a park with a lawn.
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Americans have been known to flaunt front lawns as status symbols. However, maintaining a sprawling grass lawn can get expensive, not to mention water-intensive. 

“More of today’s homebuyers prefer low-maintenance lawns,” says Debbie Drummond, a Realtor with Simply Vegas in Las Vegas. “Most buyers are looking for this because they don’t want to do much yard work and saving on their water bill is a nice bonus.”

What real estate experts think about grass-free front yards depends on the location of a home and the region’s demographics. Yet the grass-free no-mow movement is undoubtedly spreading from coast to coast. Case in point? According to the Sierra Club, anti-lawn Gen Zers are leading the trend of buyers seeking sustainable, affordable alternatives, thanks to their newfound home-buying power. Ahead, find five budget-friendly and sustainable alternatives to grass lawns. 

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Microclover is what it sounds like: tiny green clovers used as ground cover. Microclover’s sustainability  is one reason why TikTok’s clover lawns are gaining popularity among homeowners. Case in point? This dramatic lawn replacement video from user Bri Smith, which garnered more than 42,000 likes. 

Plush and green microclover grows fast, thrives in the shade, and requires little watering and no mowing or fertilizing. In addition to its sustainability, microclover’s affordability is appealing to homeowners; seed store Outsidepride sells their branded “Miniclover®” at $19.99 for a one-pound bag. According to Cinch Home Services, online searches for clover lawns increased by 1,017 percent from last year.

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Prairie Lawns

A wistful and romantic prairie lawn is a low-maintenance yard option that retains its charm through all seasons. Prairie lawns contain drought-tolerant native plants, including various tall grasses and wildflowers. Prairie lawns work in most regions, but are especially popular in the Midwest, where the grasses endure harsh winters. It’s common to find prairie garden starter kits at local nurseries throughout the Midwest.

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New American Garden 

Like prairie lawns, the New American Garden incorporates native plants and little to no short-cut grass. Considered founders of the New American Garden, Wolfgang Oehme and Jim van Sweden developed the concept of ditching artificial structures such as flower bed borders and allowing native plants to grow organically. The New American Garden deemphasizes cookie-cutter lawns and promotes clusters of native ornamental grasses, perennials, and ground covers. 

To achieve this style, avoid sprinkling perennials in a sea of grass — instead, bunch the same plants in masses. In explaining the contrast between the New American Garden style versus how Americans typically approach landscaping, the late van Sweden suggested 3,000 Black Eyed Susans instead of six. Lawn-less yards packed with plants hinder weeds and reduce the need for water.

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Hardscapes use stone, slate, gravel, pebbles, sand, and rocks to create a lawn-alternative landscape. Sometimes called desertscapes in Arizona, Southwest Texas, and Las Vegas, hardscapes are sustainable and sensible. 

“Replacing grass with a desertscape, some ornamental grass, and drought-resistant plants creates a more natural look for our desert,” Drummond says. “Lot sizes in Las Vegas are smaller than in most of the country. A quarter-acre lot is large by our standards. That can result in some yards that feel like postage stamps. For small backyards, a hardscape is a perfect solution. It’s easier to walk on than the rock used in desertscape, and it’s practically maintenance-free.” Hardscapes are a good solution for the no-maintenance crowd. Alexandria, Virginia-based Realtor Elizabeth Lucchesi says buyers and sellers in the third-oldest historic district in the country have little time or space for landscaping. “Their yards are so small, the investment to update them with perennials and hardscapes is one time and done.”

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Mulch and Ornamental Grasses

A simple, affordable, and easy-to-install lawn alternative is the mulch and ornamental grasses combo. Ornamental grass is low-maintenance and drought-resistant. Mulch, meanwhile, enriches soil and keeps weeds away. 

No need to stick to homebuilders’ popular choice in grass, liriope, either. Add interest with ornamental grasses in various shapes and colors. Do the same with mulch, layering the look with different shades and textures of mulch, such as shredded bark, wood chips, cocoa hull, or straw. 

Before getting rid of your high-maintenance grass lawn, consult your homeowner’s association. Some HOAs have restrictions to grass lawn alternatives. If the HOA says it’s OK, rip that lawn up and replace it with a striking alternative. “Sellers have lots of options to create curb appeal without having grass,” Drummond says.