Alternative Lawns

Gardening with Nature 

Article by Sigrie Kendrick

Try a drought-tolerant alternative to lawn grasses

One of the easiest ways to reduce your water use on the landscape is to reduce your turf area and to consider alternatives to the traditional lawn.

Traditional turf is a monoculture, a single species developed to out-compete other species and is far from a natural, biodiverse ecosystem. Turf as such offers little benefit to pollinators and can only be maintained using resource-intensive practices: think water, water, and more water.

Traditional lawns also require herbicides, fertilizer, and pesticides to maintain that perfect, even shade of green. These chemicals often end up in our waterways with harmful consequences for all manner of aquatic life. No less dangerous on land, the toxic effects of many lawn chemicals on wildlife, especially birds, have been well-documented.

With record drought and water restrictions throughout the Okanagan Valley, you may be faced with limited irrigation to use on your lawn and so allow it to go dormant over summer.

By Famartin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81043675

Rather than over-seeding with a traditional lawn mixture this fall, consider transitioning away from turf and instead plant Trifolium repens, known commonly as Dutch white clover.

There are many compelling reasons for transitioning to a lawn of clover:

  • Dutch white clover needs very little supplemental water and maintains its green throughout the driest of summers.
  • White clover requires no fertilizer and is in fact a member of the pea family known for ‘fixing nitrogen’ in the soil, thereby allowing plants to better access available nitrogen.
  • Clover is immune to the burnt patches dog urine creates on a traditional turf lawn.
  • Trifolium repens is a favourite with bees that will visit your clover lawn and pollinate your garden while doing so.
  • Dutch white clover is not particular about soil and will thrive in even nutrient-poor soil common to the Okanagan Valley.
  • A lawn of clover is comfortable to walk on with bare feet.
  • Dutch white clover seldom needs mowing, so planting it reduces pollution from mowers and the corresponding fuel costs.
  • The seed itself is also extremely inexpensive and can be found at West Coast Seeds listed at $9.99 for 125 grams, enough to cover one thousand square feet.
One of the single most important changes we as individuals can make to support the health of our environment is to reduce our reliance on traditional turf lawns, so why not give this a try? Visit the Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s UnH2O demonstration garden on Gordon Drive to see other lawn alternative options.

As a group blog and forum, we really appreciate your contributions and comments and hope to create a blossoming community of xeriscape gardeners well as a valuable archive of articles.

8 Comments

  1. Hannah

    I have 4 dogs and love the clover idea suggested here in this blog. Would you still suggest the Trifolium repens?

    Reply
    • Sigire Kendrick

      Hello Hannah– I absolutely would suggest the Trifolium repens! Clover is unbothered by pet urine so makes a fantastic lawn alternative for dog owners.

      Sigrie

      Reply
  2. Alex

    Hi, we have so many deer wandering through our front yard, I wonder if they would eat it all up?

    Reply
    • Sigire Kendrick

      Hello Alex … Deer will eat everything, but you could use yarrow as a lawn alternative. They tend not to eat that but have not gotten the message on some supposedly “deer-resistant” plants. Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Marie

    Can I throw seed on top of a traditional lawn and water it in? Or do I have to remove the grass?

    Reply
    • Sigire Kendrick

      Hi Marie… If the lawn is patchy, you could overseed with clover in those bare areas, but otherwise, you would have to remove the grass.

      Reply
  4. Elizabeth wilson

    I have a wide boulevard with terrible grass in Penticton and west facing.
    I want to seed and plant hardy drought tolerant and fast growing seeds and plants. We do have irrigation but I do not want to water it once it is established
    Suggestions please

    Reply
    • Sigire Kendrick

      Hi Elizabeth … It really is personal preference! A great place to start is our plant database It contains hundreds of drought-tolerant plants well adapted to the Okanagan climate and is searchable by plant type, height and spread, light and water availability, colour of blooms and foliage. It’s also a good idea to check out other successful boulevards in your area to see which plants they have used.

      Reply

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