Brits have been in love with their lawns since they were first introduced to the UK in the 1600’s, but before lawnmowers were invented only the very wealthy could afford one.
Men were hired to scythe the grass and women followed behind collecting it up. How times have changed!
Lawns are still very important to us and here are 15 ways to help keep your lawn in tip top condition:
You can mow the lawn at any time of the year as long as the ground’s not frozen or waterlogged! Little and often is the key, especially during the summer months when grass grows quickly.
Start with the blades on a higher setting to avoid scalping it as bare lawn gives weeds the chance to settle and grow.
You’ll get the best cut if the blades on your lawnmower are kept sharp. This is a good job to do towards the end of the year when the grass isn’t growing much or in the spring before the gardening year kicks off in earnest.
It may sound obvious but make sure your lawn is clear of debris before mowing. Running over stones and woody plant stems will soon blunt your newly sharpened blades.
Keep lawn edges crisp and neat by trimming with a lawn edger. You can put the trimmings in a seed tray with soil and grow them on. This will enable you to patch damaged lawns & fill gaps after removing weeds and, better still, gives you identical looking grass for free!
Spring is a busy time of the year for the garden and this includes lawns. Various weeds start to make their presence felt; remove by hand or spot treat, filling any gaps with either your lawn edging off cuts or grass seed.
Feeding your lawn during spring and autumn is not only a great way of keeping the grass looking green and luscious, it’s also a brilliant way of fighting off weeds. A well-fed lawn encourages grass to grow more thickly which helps it outcompete the weeds. Use a high nitrogen granular lawn feed.
Scarifying. Now there’s a word you don’t hear used on a regular basis! It’s the process of getting rid of plant debris built up in the lawn over time.
It can be done twice a year; late spring and autumn BEFORE you feed the lawn but, if you only have time to do it once, autumn is probably best. Take a lawn rake and rub it vigorously over the lawn length and sideways several times. You’ll be amazed how much brown plant material comes away, and it’s a great work out too!
Opening up the soil under your lawn is another good way of keeping it looking great. Doing this helps grass roots grow deeper which gives them a better chance of getting hold of more water & nutrients lower down in the soil. An easy way to do this is going across the lawn with a garden fork. Standing on it each time will ensure the prongs go deep into the soil.
Don’t stress too much if water shortages stop you watering the lawn as often as you’d like to and it goes brown; it’s going into survival mode by shutting down until rainfall returns and then as if by magic it usually greens up again quite quickly once the drought ends.
Sometimes you may find little piles of fine soil on top of your lawn. These are made by worms. Wait for the soil piles to dry and then simply brush them across or off the lawn with a stiff broom or collect them as they make great potting soil!
If you see birds pecking at and loosening areas of your lawn, chances are they’re after leather jackets (the larvae of daddy-long-legs). An easy way to get rid of them is to give the affected area of lawn a good soaking at the end of the day and put black plastic or tarpaulin on it overnight. By the following morning the leather jackets should have worked their way to the surface and can then be swept up and disposed of.
Top dressing can help a lawn in many ways and what’s more can be done most times of the year when the grass is growing. It’s the process of adding a mix of soil and sand to the lawn by brushing it thinly over the surface with either the back of a rake or a stiff broom. Special mixes are available to suit different soil types.
During autumn start to raise the height of the cut on your mower and, as winter approaches and grass grow slows down, reduce the number of times you mow it.
Remove fallen leaves if they’re covering the lawn in a thick layer. They can be stored outside in a basic uncovered chicken wire enclosure and, as they rot down, they form a great, free compost for sowing next year’s seeds in.
On the other hand, if you’re after a low-maintenance solution, alternatives are becoming better and more widely available. Here are some of the best ground cover options and creeping plants to replace your grass.
Clover was once considered a weed in the grass, but it’s surprisingly beneficial as a lawn plant. It creates nitrogen, enriching the soil and helping other plants grow stronger. The added nitrogen also means that the lawn remains green, even in dry weather.
White flowering clover makes a good lawn alternative and attracts plenty of pollinators. You can also use microclover, which is a variety with tiny leaves. It doesn’t flower but it is hardier for walking on and really low maintenance. Look for seed mixes containing clover or microclover.
A sedum mix is a great drought-tolerant alternative to lawns and is available to buy as matting. Lay it like turf and keep watered until established.
Sedum matting features a wide range of fleshy sedums and can be mixed with a variety of wildflowers and taller plants.
There are hundreds of wildflower meadow seed mixes available. They make a great lawn alternative in areas like front gardens. Simply strip off the turf, scatter the seeds and water in.
You can choose colour-themed wildflower seed mixes, or mixes designed for wildlife. Look for varieties that include some meadow grasses too, which will give a great wildflower meadow effect.
Alternatively, let your existing lawn grow out and add plug plants into the mix. Mow a path through the middle for access and you have a striking informal garden that the pollinators will love.
This is a fantastic ground cover plant and very common as a lawn alternative. Creeping thyme is a great choice for sunny spots and releases a rich scent when you walk on it. The purple flowers also look stunning in summer.
Sow creeping thyme from seed or buy plug plants and let it spread. It is really low maintenance and can also be used to fill gaps and cracks in the patio.
These seed mixes are ideal if you don’t want to get rid of grass entirely. They use hardy, slow-growing ryegrass and fescue that will only need mowing once a month or less.
They are widely available in America and slowly making an appearance in Britain. Eco lawns are perfect if you still want to have grass, especially if you want a hardy lawn that kids can play on.
Replacing grass with moss seems the wrong way round, but it’s a great idea if your lawn is in shade. You need to buy moss plugs (small clumps of moss with roots intact) and plant them 15cm apart in bare soil.
Keep the ground moist and they will spread and join together. Make sure to keep on top of weeds too. Moss comes in a variety of colours and thicknesses to suit different types of use.
On the other hand, if your current lawn is growing moss where you don’t want it, Miracle-Gro® Moss Remover Lawn Food will reduce moss regrowth whilst feeding your lawn for 3 months and keeping your grass looking greener.
This creeping perennial is also known as mind-your-own-business. It’s a great lawn alternative because it is evergreen, with rich green colour and needs little maintenance. It’s best for moist, shaded areas and can tolerate sun or shade, so a great grass substitute for a shaded courtyard.
Bear in mind, it is invasive and only suitable for enclosed spaces where it can’t get out of hand. It tolerates partial shade as well as full sun and should be sown from seed.
This is a low-growing alternative to grass that has an appealing minty aroma and its clusters of bright green leaves make a carpet-like effect. It grows happily in full sun or partial shade but can rot in wet conditions.
Like all mints, Mentha requienii is invasive and spreads quickly, so only plant it in enclosed spaces.
This scented plant does the same job as creeping thyme and has a lovely fragrance. It needs full sun to grow well and doesn’t like soils that are very wet or very dry. You can choose from flowering and non-flowering varieties.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
I like the advice but do you have any suggestions as to where these plants can be purchased in the UK? I keep finding alternatives to grass but can’t locate where to actually source them. Thanks for your help.
Copy and paste the name of ones you like the sound of into google then change the settings of search results to UK only. Simple.
It is a great list considering these plants would not wilt because of a little negligence. Thanks for including some uncommon plants too, like chamomile and thyme.I hope they would bloom in indian climate as well.
As i will be putting them in my balcony How much sunlight would they require?
Thanks for your comment. Thyme does best with plenty of sun, whilst Camomile is a better option if your balcony is partially shaded.
hope this helps!
I would like to swop my lawn for something more unusual. A scented lawn would be lovely but the cost of the plants to cover it would be very expensive.
Which plants cover the quickest and are least expensive?
Thank you for your comment. I would suggest planting wildflower, as the seed is relatively cheap and its fast-growing. You can get some amazing seed mixes that both look and smell great.
Have a look at my guide on how to create a wildflower meadow in the garden.
I hope this helps.
I want to replace my front lawn but am not sure which alternatives would do well in central Scotland where we do get lots of rain, sometimes snow and sunshine at times. My front lawn is east facing so gets sun in the morning.
My expert guide to lawns should help you: https://www.daviddomoney.com/the-complete-guide-to-lawn-care/
My garden is surrounded by large shrubs and part of the grass is shaded by these so grass doesn’t grow. It also gets very wet and boggy during winter. What would you suggest?
Now’s a good time to be laying new turf, but you first need to sort out the drainage. Identify what sort of soil you have, each type has different drainage. My blog will help with this: https://www.daviddomoney.com/expert-guide-to-soil/
Then, once drainage is better, you can look to lay turf or opt for shade-tolerant grass mixes.
Hope this helps!
I have a bed of mixed shrubs which looks lovely but there’s a lot of soil on show. Could I put bedding plants in ground to cover the soil between the shrubs. If so what would you suggest for colour and effect. It’s a clay type soil but fertile. Thank you
Greater periwinkle are great evergreens for ground cover. Take a look at my blog for the best plants for clay soil. https://www.daviddomoney.com/best-plants-clay-soil-grow-full-sun-partial-shade/.