Apparently I can’t get ENOUGH of the subject of lawn substitutes – evidenced by my attending two talks on the subject in the last week. Which I suppose tells us people want to know about it, and that’s a good thing.
So here are the lawn alternatives shown off by Chuck Hinkle, gardener at The Scott Arboretum, at their recent confab on this hot topic. After seeing a slide show about various lawn alternatives, we followed Chuck on a tour of some real-life examples from around the campus and viewed the following:
Carex pensylvanica (photo above) is native to the Northeast and suitable for shade, part shade, and even tolerates full sun. Deciduous, mounding, and semi-evergreen, according to sources (meaning evergreen if the winter is mild?). It’s usually cut back in early spring, and Chuck suggests cutting it back again in July, especially if it’s in full sun. He also says it’ll tolerate mowing.
Carex appalachia is native to dry woods in the eastern half of North America. It’s deciduous and stays short. Suitable for shady areas.
Carex platyphylla (photo above) is native to woodland areas with "balanced moisture" from Maine to Alabama. It’s evergreen where winters are milder, otherwise only partly so. Chuck gives it a haircut in late winter. If winter is mild, evergreen. Part sun to light shade to shade. Also available at Plant Delights.
Carex morrowii ‘Silk Tassel" (photo above) is a Japanese sedge that’s evergreen and happy in full sun or shade. I’ve been growing the variety ‘Ice Dance’ for years with great success.
Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) (photo above) is native to prairies of the Midwest and eastward, so best in full sun. Mounding, deciduous and VERY drought-tolerant. Amazing thing: its bloom is fragrant. Chuck cuts it back in spring (and says it’s a real pain to do, that burning is better but illegal). It’s also deer-resistant. Zones 3-9. I see that they cost $22 each, so wonder if it can be grown from seed or reproduced by division.
Juncus tenuis (photo above) is also known as poverty rush, winegrass or slender rush. It’s native to all of N. America. Goes dormant in winter. Likes full sun to part shade, and Chuck mentioned they paid $1/square foot for it. Likes full sun to part shade.
Dwarf mondo (Ophiopogon japonicus) is Japanese (duh). This short evergreen groundcover is slow to spread, so buy enough to fill up the area immediately (I notice on eBay they’re selling for $90 for 24 of them or 500 for $190) Chuck just divides them often. Best in shade.
Hard fescue (festuca longifolia) (photo above) is a "no-mow" grass that looked scrumptuous in November. It has good pest tolerance, can tolerate some shade, and doesn’t need fertilizer at all. Chuck mows it once in the spring. On the negative side, it doesn’t tolerate foot traffic and it’s slow to establish from seed. I can’t find info on where hard fescue comes from, except that it’s listed on this compendium of weeds.
Charles Hinkle, Gardener, joined the staff full-time in 1998. Previously, he was a gardener at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia. He holds a B.S. in horticulture from Temple University, and has completed Longwood Gardens series I and II in Ornamental Plants. He is also an instructor at Temple University.