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In the next few years, I will likely be getting my first home, and I don't want to mow the lawn. I see this as a large waste of time, as well as a source of waste in buying a lawnmower, fertilizer, gas, oil, and having a negative effect on the environment. I've considered a few possibilities, such as:

  1. Getting an animal to eat the grass, such as a goat. However, this would force me to care for a goat, and would add to my problem. This might also result in poop all over the lawn, forcing me to clean up after it or not be able to use it for recreational activities.
  2. Artificial Turf. This would likely result in a large upfront cost, and perhaps require some kind of maintenance, depending on the type of turf. Also, this might upset the homeowner's association, if any.
  3. Finding something to seed the lawn with that would only require mowing once or twice annually, in which case I would be fine hiring someone else to mow it for me, as this would probably be less expensive in the long run. Any flora suggestions? As low-maintenance as possible would be optimal.
  4. Other ideas?
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  • 3
    Exercise? Get a non-motor one and push it. Two things done at once. Apr 22, 2016 at 18:10
  • Or get an electric mower. Also, don't fertilizer the lawn, or water it more than necessary - that just makes it grow faster. Native grasses/turf alternatives are a possibility, but depend too much on climate to give advice.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 22, 2016 at 22:48
  • Where are you? You could maybe try Irish moss. Also, here are more ideas (I found this by googling "lawn substitute"): smsf-mastergardeners.ucanr.edu/Elkus/ground_cover May 24, 2016 at 7:58
  • I mow with electric plug in mower, super light, mows effortlessly, no oil, no gas. I only do it once every two weeks.
    – LazyReader
    Dec 22, 2022 at 6:34

10 Answers 10

11

Planting a large garden and covering other areas with gravel and/or stepping stones is one approach. Maybe look into rain gardens; water retention is a key concern here and why you want something water can go into (as opposed to concrete etc.). I've also seen folks use square flat stones to create a large playable chessboard to accomplish this goal (but it can have more runoff issues).

You could also hire a local lawn service or neighbor teen to mow for you.

If it's a smaller yard, consider using an unpowered rotary mower instead of one with an engine and all the hassles of storing & breathing the pollution/hearing the noise/maintaining the engine/etc. of a gas-powered lawnmower.

2
  • I appreciate the suggestions, but the sustainability factor is really only an added bonus. My prime concern is more that of how maintaining it would consume a large amount of my time and an unnecessary portion of my budget. I have thought about some kind of a large garden, like I've seen on some tv channels in the past for homes in arid climates, but it seems like that would still require some significant amount of maintenance, probably an equivalent amount of time. Additionally, I don't plan on living in an arid climate, more likely Montana to Wisconsin and surrounding areas.
    – Will
    Apr 21, 2016 at 21:56
  • My suggestions were intended to apply to non-arid climates.
    – WBT
    Apr 22, 2016 at 18:44
10

Building on the garden answer :

Turn your lawn into a native plant garden. Six or Seven years ago I turned the front lawn of my house (roughly 30' x 50') into a (mostly) native plant garden. The trick is to pick plants that will thrive in the conditions of your yard as well as maintain a manageable size and shape. Be very wary of invasive and/or spreading species such as bamboo or ivies.

This garden took quite a while to get going, but I have done almost no maintenance on it for three years now, and it still looks good. The house is now a rental property and they leave it be. The shurbs need to be pruned when whey grow into the driveway, but other than that nothing.

Steps for yard conversion:

  1. Cover all grass with cardboard (stores that sell appliances are a great resource).
  2. Cover cardboard with mulch (bark works well) to avoid the eyesore and stop the cardboard from blowing away.
  3. Wait about a year.
  4. Start planting.

You can avoid the waiting by digging out and backfilling the lawn, but that will be time consuming or expensive if you hire it out.

1
  • On smaller areas, I had a great success first "scraping" the grass off surface, then losening the soil with a hoe or shovel. The grass went straight to the compost. Few remaining tougher weeds were removed manually until they gave up. Nov 20, 2019 at 15:55
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Some of the alternative lawn plants don't need mowing. We looked into chamomile but decided it was too expensive or initially labour intensive.

You probably don't need to cut it as often as you think, and leaving it longer keeps down weeds as well as reducing the drying effect of sun and wind. A few (ornamental or fruit) trees, by providing shade and using water can show the growth of grass while giving other benefits.

If you buy somewhere that already has grass, don't rush to replace it as you'll be busy enough anyway. Besides, what you want from your garden may change and spending a lot of money before knowing what you really want doesn't seem like a good idea.

There are plenty of good solutions for ground cover, but you mention a potential homeowners association. That could be the biggest problem as at their worst they're all about conformity, and enforce identically boring space.

1
  • This is what we did. When we bought a new house we immediately started digging up one area at a time and planting new things. We also had mulch delivered and dumped on a part of the lawn we wanted to kill (because 2m high mounds of freshly chipped wood kill lawn very effectively). Over time we expect to plant over all the lawn except the bit in and immediately each side of our bikeway (if we had a car it would be a driveway). Currently we alternate mulch mowing with "mining" the grass clippings into compost for the rest of the garden.
    – Móż
    May 4, 2016 at 4:13
5

With a lot of deciduous trees, our lawn requires minimal mowing. A few times until the leaves fill in, and not much over the summer (a couple times maybe) until fall (southern Ontario). Leaves are a much bigger deal, but that goes with the trees and the shade they create.

You may find it difficult to contract with a company to cut your law very infrequently, since they like to come regularly. A teenage neighbor may be willing to do it.

The local office of Pollution Probe (I think it was) established a "Prairie Long Grass Environment" on their office lawn, but it actually looked pretty sloppy, and might run afoul of local bylaws or HOA rules.

4
  1. There are of course robotic lawn mowers available, probably best suited for the smaller suburban yard.

I have considered the same problem, as I have quite a large area (1/3 hectare / 0.8 acres), half kudzu, half native.

  1. For now, I have a ride-on lawn mower that does the area in about 3 hours every 2 weeks to one month. I cut at the highest setting. I also leave the clippings just where they fall. Collecting them in the catcher and emptying it on the compost pile easily makes the chore a whole-day exercise.

  2. If you do go for biological lawn robots (animals), in my opinion the way to go would be to set up an intensive grazing system. You divide your area into a couple of enclosures and have your animals graze everything in it to the ground. Then rotate them to the next enclosure while that area recovers and grows lush from all the nice manure :-) In this way all plants are grazed equally (not only the tasty kudzu - while the bitter weeds are left alone to thrive). Do read the Wikipedia article. This is actually used in some areas to improve pasture by suppressing weeds (while lessening the use of weed killer).

Animals I have considered:

  • Cows. Not really. Maybe a very small breed. Rejected the idea.
  • Sheep. Probably preferably a mutton breed as you do not want to do the shearing... Else a milking breed. Look for what is available and thriving in your area. (If you are in the USA, I know mutton is all but unknown, but quite tasty, I assure you, if you need to cull some stock.) An ewe-only flock would be easier to handle.
  • Goats. Much the same as for sheep, but since they also browse (eat tree leaves - and branches, and bark), you need to keep them away from what you don't want eaten. Quite intelligent animals with a mind of their own. I would prefer a milk breed like the Swiss Saanens or the Nigerian/Cameroon dwarf goats. The latter are excellent milk producers, cute and make good pets, and may be more suited for a smaller space. Again, beginners especially should rather avoid rams.
  • Chickens. I have actually kept a couple of Dutch bantams, and am very fond of those little birds (but am now looking at a larger breed that is quite hardy in local conditions). Nice for the eggs, much better than bought. If handled regularly from an early age, can be quite tame and make nice pets. In addition, can help to control insects and slugs in your veggie patch (but should be kept separated from the plants especially cabbages and lettuce - it is quite tasty to them too). I found them quite low-maintenance, I could go away for a week or two and just leave them with a waterer and a feeder. Occasional trimming of claws and wings, maybe once or twice a year. Of course, you would need a lot more individuals for a given area than the larger animals. Also, they should not be combined with sheep (as sheep manure contains a lot of copper, which chickens are sensitive to). Depending on neighbors and city ordinances, roosters may not be a good idea due to noise - although I had a Pekinese that did not make himself all that noticeable.

Droppings are not that much of a problem. The grazers and browsers have fairly fibrous pellets, due to the free nature of their confinement they dry out quickly and break down to provide plant nourishment. The poultry may be a slightly bigger problem, but simply avoid the grazed area for a few days until dried out :-)

Of course, an enclosure would disrupt your lawn's flow of movement. But you do not absolutely need permanent enclosures, you may make movable ones (examples: chicken tractor, electrified tape or mesh). You would also have patches in various stages of grazing/recovery so your lawn would not always look suburb-pristine. You would need to find out (or determine through experimentation) your property's carrying capacity to determine how many animals to get, and then you need to keep in mind that grazing in spring and summer will feed more animals than in fall and winter - so you would need to cull your flock in winter and/or buy feed, then get additional animals in spring (new offspring is nature's way, but all the advice against the males may make that difficult to achieve).

Milking breeds may need daily milking (if they were pregnant), which can be a lot of trouble (milking machines do exist), but can at the same time be rewarding in the self-sufficiency department.

Obviously, animals should always have access to drinking water (which luckily can be made movable and/or automated) and depending on your climate, shelter. So some thinking should go into that. Also, chickens should have a nesting box, which makes it easier to find and collect eggs.

Last suggestion:

  1. You can always do away with the lawn and put it to use for (most of) your food needs, perhaps similar to the One Acre Farm concept. Obviously, this depends a lot on how many people in your family, how much land, climate and soil fertility, and not least, your expertise. I guess something like that is more like an ideal to work towards...

====

Additional note regarding chickens combined with grazers: I know of this Zimbabwean farmer, having bred an extremely hardy indigenous breed of chicken (Boschvelder), that would accompany the cattle and peck ticks off them, thus helping to keep them more healthy without the need for dips and antibiotics.

2

What we do here with my brother, since we have a vast field we don't use for now, is we allow a local goat-keeper to us it every now and then. The goats and sheep succeed in maintaining the grass low over the years. The poop left by them is not too much of an issue, its not like cow's, it smaller and less sticky.

I started planting trees around, but to do this I had to protect them from the beasts - especially the goats who can do hard damages to even adult trees. So I had to use wire protecting nets.

2

There are different types of grass which require less water and grow at different rates. You have to pick a type which is suitable for your area.

You can purchase a robotic lawnmower if the lawn is small enough but they are pricey.

If you can go without a conventional lawn you can just let native plants grow or plant lots of trees which will eventually kill the grass by blocking the sunlight.

1

I've started replacing my lawn with pearls premium grass which is supposed to be never water and once a month mowing (or you can let it grow and it will be a "4in meadow"). I'm just in my first season (planted in the fall) so I can't say if it lives up to its billing just yet but the lawn looks beautiful at this point.

The main point is that there are slow growing, deep rooted grasses available that are extremely low maintenance if you shop around.

0

I have heard strangers refer to my house as " the one with no grass". Not really true as there is some grass between azaleas, camellias, and other shrubbery, etc. Not difficult; I also left about a 50 ft. frontage in original piney woods - no work at all. So put in landscape shrubbery and/ or don't do anything. No animals needed. Also plenty of places to blow leaves from a large driveway. My only problem is deer come to my house to eat because most other yards are St. Augustine which deer do not touch.

-1

I don't want to mow the lawn. I see this as a large waste of time, as well as a source of waste in buying a lawnmower, fertilizer, gas, oil, and having a negative effect on the environment.

I don't agree entirely.

It's true mowing the lawn requires time, but by mowing less often you can reduce the time needed.

However, you don't necessarily need fertilizer. If you use a mulching lawnmower, it will leave all nutrients on the lawn without moving any of them away. So, it's a closed cycle, no new nutrients necessarily needed.

As for minimizing time needed and the environmental impact of lawnmower, my solution is a gasoline powered lawnmower.

Surprised? I carefully analyzed this and considered the best solution after using a battery lawnmower mistakenly for 4 years.

For the first 2 years, the battery powered lawnmower worked fine. Then one battery of its 2 failed (it requires 2 to operate). I had to purchase 2 new batteries (no individual batteries were available for sale at the time where I bought the 2 new batteries). It was a wise purchase to buy 2 new, since a short time after, the second battery failed. The new batteries immediately often overheated, needing me to stop mowing since overheating protection would cut power, and start after hour of cooling down. A major annoyance. I used the repeatedly-overheating batteries for 2 more years and suffered the interruptions needed. Then the batteries had degraded to the point where they don't have enough capacity to mow my entire lawn.

My gasoline powered new lawnmower on the other hand is very ideal. In contrast to a battery powered lawnmower where you can't be certain whether compatible batteries are available for sale 10 years from now, the gasoline powered lawnmower takes gasoline, something that has been available for 100 years and will be for hundreds of years more to come. It consumes about 0.15 liters per mowing (so I can mow the lawn at least 5 maybe even 6 times with the 0.9 liter tank), or about a liter per year if I mow often, once every 2 weeks. So the environmental impact is around 3 kilograms of CO2 per year. Cost 3 euros per year.

Compare that to the environmental impact of having to buy two new batteries every 2 years, or a battery per year at 50 EUR / battery. I'm not sure about the CO2 footprint but somewhere I found out that for electronics manufactured in China, one euro spent in electronics is about as bad as one euro spent in gasoline at Finnish heavily taxed gasoline prices. So, I'd say the environmental impact of having to buy new batteries all the time is 10x the impact of gasoline. Futhermore, your expensive lawnmower could become useless due to manufacturer discontinuing compatible batteries -- perhaps the manufacturer went out of business, perhaps the manufacturer replaced its models with "new improved" models that use different batteries. With gasoline lawnmowers, all you need is maybe few spare air filters and spark plugs and it'll run forever.

The lawnmower also requires 0.5 liters of oil per oil change. At oil change every 2 years, that's 0.25 liters per year. It's true this has some environmental impact, but probably not as big as buying one 50 EUR battery every year.

If I mow the lawn 4 hours per year, the lawnmower lasts for at least 25 years until the service schedule reaches the point where the engine should be inspected by a specialist dealer (100 hour usage). It lasts for 12 and half years until engine oil needs to be changed by 50 operating hours (but changing by time every 2 years is advisable) and until spark plugs needs to be inspected (not necessarily changed). It requires cleaning the air filter by tapping it every 6 years (every 25 hours), maybe sometimes tapping isn't enough and a new filter is needed.

About the only mistake you can do with a gasoline powered lawnmower is by not using alkylate gasoline / small engine gasoline. Then the carburetor can clog, requiring expensive carburetor cleaning. By only using alkylate gasoline / small engine gasoline, it will not clog even if stored full of gas over winter.

By using a mulching lawnmower, the environmental impact is small. Don't mow it every week, let it occasionally grow flowers for pollinators. Also you can select an area you mow less often to allow even more flower growth.

A goat is way worse than a lawnmower. Goat emits huge amounts of methane, a significant greenhouse gas. Same is true of sheep and cows -- in fact, probably every animal that can eat grass. (Edit: found from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3402/tellusb.v38i3-4.15135 that a single goat produces 5 kg of methane per year; that's 150 kg of CO2 equivalent per year if we assume climate change happens slowly in 100 years, or 425 kg of CO2 equivalent per year if we assume climate change happens quickly in 20 years -- quite high to compared to 3 kg of year from lawnmower).

Robotic lawnmower could minimize time needed, but never let any flowers grow, since they mow so often, thus causing harm to pollinators.

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