Poll: What should we do with our lawn?

September 17, 2008

Update, July 2010: What we (finally!) did with our lawn

Okay, so as we inch closer to the rainy season, one of my big projects is to rototill all of our dead grass and get the yard ready so we can plant something drought-tolerant as soon as the rains start. (We do have a traditional sprinkler system that we’ll use to water it while it’s getting established, but after that I want something that can fly on its own.) We have a big labradane, so the second requirement is that we choose a groundcover that can survive being trampled. D.’s request is to please please please pick one that doesn’t need to be mowed. It doesn’t necessarily need to look pretty in all seasons, as long as it doesn’t keel over (so summer-dormant is fine by us). Natives are great if we can find a good mix that meets these goals.

So far, here are the top contenders, in no particular order:

1) California meadow sedge (Carex pansa)

Supposedly this one is summer-dormant, but it is a less traditional groundcover and thus won’t look like a lawn per se. Big downside is it must be grown from plugs (small plants), not seed or sod.

Carex pansa lawn from Greenlee Nursery

Carex pansa lawn from Greenlee Nursery

2) “No-Mow” grass mix

This is a local nursery’s recommendation. It’s a mix of fescue grasses that is apparently drought-tolerant and no-mow. A big plus is that it comes as sod and is from a California company.

No Mow from Pacific Earth

No Mow from Pacific Earth

3) Fleur de Lawn, a low-mow flowering mix. It’s pretty but still needs monthly mowing. This comes as seed so it’s likely the cheapest.

Fleur de Lawn from Hobbs & Hopkins

Fleur de Lawn from Hobbs & Hopkins

Other contenders include chamomile lawn (but may not be appropriate to Northern California) and other fescue blends. Other ideas? Part of the yard gets full sun, and part gets shade for much of the day (but the bermuda grass was growing there quite happily). What do you think—which looks best?


  1. We planted Fleur de Lawn in our back yard last year and have probably mowed it only 4 times, haven’t fertilized or watered it and its stayed looking great. Different flowers bloom through the seasons which we like a lot.

  2. What did you decide on? We’re also deciding between fleur de lawn and pacific sod’s no mow sod. Thanks!

  3. Hi Kacie–This is in my long queue of posts on assorted projects that should go up in July after our wedding, so keep an eye out for photos then…but we ultimately went with Earth Turf (which is, I think, basically the Hobbs & Hopkins “Rough & Ready” mix rebranded; they’re sold by the same company). It’s similar to the Fleur de Lawn, but without any flowers, and some people who’d used it reported that it was especially resilient to dogs, which was key for us. (We also read a number of reports of the Fleur de Lawn attracting slugs, which is a huge issue where we live, so we decided to pass on the flowers.) The lawn’s only been in for a month, so definitely still a work in progress! Where the grass has come up, we like it so far, but have had challenges with seeding in general. I would say if you think the No Mow would work for you, it’s worth the extra money to get the sod. (We just didn’t like the mix as much as the Earth Turf mix…but we’re probably going to end up spending nearly as much on the seed when all is said and done, and it’s a lot more agonizing to watch grass grow!) I’ll post the photos next month, though—good luck!

  4. One important consideration is to provide food for pollinators, even a lawn can be helpful to them if small wild flowers are included. It is too bad that most people regard them as “broad leaf weeds”; I call these plants lawn companions.

  5. (Our dog died of old age). We’ve ripped up the grass, and planted a bunch of stuff, including yerba buena, santa barbara daisies, wild strawberry, creeping thyme, yarrow, and some sprawling chaparral-esque sage. It’s growing like weeds, because well, it kind of IS weeds. Thriving much better than the grass ever did. Looks great, low water. Don’t know if it would survive a large dog. Most of the rest of the backyard is other native species and some citrus and roses.

  6. Thanks Naomi! We’re still sort of playing ours by ear—a year+ later, the Earth Turf is well-established, but definitely *not* no-mow (gets over a foot high, at which point the dog is afraid to walk through it!) and verdict is out on how drought-tolerant it is. (It’s brown now that the rains have stopped, so we’re waiting to see if it’s going to rebound in the fall or not…) If not, I’ll probably explore some non-grass options like yours. We’ll see! I do think it’s a nice mix if you mow regularly, though, for anyone looking at planting it. In Northern California, you’d need to mow at least once a month to really keep it in check, though. Once it goes to seed, it’s pretty messy—more like meadow grass at that point.

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