Want to eliminate lawn problems altogether?  Plant something instead of grass!

Beautiful landscapes don’t have to have expansive lawns covering the entire property, or for that matter include any lawn at all.  Replacing part of your lawn with low maintenance ground covers, planting beds, gardens, patios or walkways will add color and dimension to your landscape, while increasing your property value at the same time.
Chances are there are parts of your lawn that are giving you headaches, or perhaps parts that you really don’t see or want in the first place.  Sections of your lawn that might be better as something other than grass include areas where:

•    weeds are taking over;
•    the grass just won’t survive, such as on a hill or shady spots;
•    you can’t see, such as behind the garage;
•    it’s really tough to take care of, such as on a slope, against the house or at the base of trees;
•    you need privacy, such as the sides of the back yard; and/or
•    you want more color and interest; such as opposite your favorite window.

Almost any plant is easier to maintain than grass — especially shrubs, trees and some types of perennial flowers.  By minimizing your lawn and maximizing your planting beds, you’ll save time, money and the environment.

Create a design plan.

You can do this yourself or with help from software, garden centers, the Internet or a designer.  Check out  these designs for a few ideas to get you started.  A  good design will save you time, energy and money in the long run.  Your design should take into account the conditions of the site, existing vegetation, topography and intended uses of the property.  Plan your work in phases to suit your resources.

Choose the best locations for beds.

Your first beds should be along the borders or in the center of the property to provide lawn areas with visual contrast.  Concentrate beds on the focal points of the yard, which are usually towards the entrance of the house and opposite the most-used windows.  When choosing plants for the beds, consider the plants’ light and water requirements and preferred soil conditions, and group the plants together according to these needs.

Choose the right plants.

Select low-maintenance, drought-tolerant shrubs, trees, perennials, and groundcovers (check out our list of recommended plants).  When selecting plants, be aware of pre-vailing conditions in various areas of your yard (hot/sunny, cool/shady, moist/dry).  Avoid invasive species or high-maintenance plants that need lots of chemicals and water to survive.  For more information about invasive species in Massachusetts, see the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association or the New England Wildflower Society.

Lay out, dig and plant the new beds.

Creating planting beds isn’t back-breaking work.  Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Lay out the bed’s shape with a garden hose.  Curves look great and are easy to mow around.
  2. Paint along the line with “athletic field” paint and remove the hose.
  3. Cut and dig a new edge 4” deep and 6” wide along the painted line.
  4. Remove the grass inside the edge with a shallow spade (put the unwanted turf in your compost bin) or you can slowly kill it by covering with a sheet of plastic for several weeks.
  5. Plant as directed, mixing compost with the soil
  6. Add mulch to help retain moisture.
  7. Water the new plants as instructed, until they are well established.

Plant in “masses” and “layers” for impact and easy care.

Plant only special or “specimen” plants by themselves.  All the rest should be in groups of at least three.  Arrange plants in layers of differing heights, with short ones in the foreground and higher in the rear.  Plant closely enough to squeeze out the weeds without maintenance.  Clustering plants with similar care requirements will save you time and limit watering needs.

Use mulch and ground covers.

Mulches and ground covers can be a Greenscaper’s best friend, particularly in the areas under trees and bushes where grass won’t grow but weeds will.  Mulch is very beneficial to plants and soil because it helps retain water, minimize evaporation, inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature and prevent erosion.  Organic mulches also improve the condition of your soil as they decompose.  You can use wood bark chips, pine straw, nut shells, shredded leaves or composted grass clippings.