At this point in the summer, the extreme heat and amount of water required to keep your grass from turning brown might have you rethinking whether you need a traditional “green” lawn. Curious about what to consider when making a transition to a sustainable ground-covering, we reached out to Brandan Minor of Organic Green Lawn Care in Topping, Virginia, and Tanner Shepard of Lawn Pop in Austin, Texas, for advice. Here, Minor explains how to choose the proper lawn for your environment, from outside-the-box grasses to ground cover, and for those who truly want a low-maintenance lawn routine, Shepard shares the advances and benefits of artificial turf.
Assess the type of lawn you have. According to experts, the best way to have an ecologically sound lawn is to grow the right kind of grass for your area. Some lawns, due to a variety of conditions, simply may not support grass or maintain it for long periods. So, how do you determine what to plant? “Finding the right type of grass for your lawn depends on several factors,” Minor says. “Primarily soil type, amount of sunlight, and surrounding area.” When you seed or put down sod that’s destined to grow in your area, then you aren’t wasting water trying to grow it, or over-fertilizing, which can send chemicals into nearby creeks and rivers.
Know your soil. As mentioned above, it’s imperative you determine the type of soil you’re dealing with. Assessing the pH, calcium, magnesium, and organic matter of a soil affects how grass will grow, Minor explains. Acquire a soil test, either through a lawn expert or a specialized garden shop, to make that determination.
Understand shade. Shade can be one of the biggest challenges to your lawn, as sunlight is the primary source of energy for the plant, and as light diminishes, the cycle of photosynthesis is broken. When you add summer stresses to that energy depletion, Minor says, the plant roots draw up and thin out, resulting in a patchy, dead lawn. If you have at least four hours of sun a day, he notes, you can get away with a shade-blended Fescue variety.
Explore your full sun options. Full sun lawns will have the most flexibility, supporting summer turf grasses like Zoysia, Bermuda, St. Augustine, and Centipede (depending on your locale), according to Minor. However, timing is everything if you want to be successful with growth and eco-minded with your landscaping. All summer turf grasses are seeded/sodded when soil temperature is above 65 degrees and day and night temperatures added together average 150 degrees, which is usually late-Spring to early-Summer, depending on where you live. If you’re planting Fescue, which is the primary grass in Mid-Atlantic regions, it’s best to seed in the fall to give your lawn at least nine to ten months of root development prior to summer stress periods.
Remember that there are many ground cover alternatives. If you’re dealing with a shady lawn, don’t worry—you still have options. While Minor points out that these lawns will not maintain grass, there are ground cover and landscaping options that will stabilize the ground. “Ground covers such as periwinkle, ground ivy, lilyturf, liriope, and sweet woodruff are all good options,” he says. Clover is also a popular choice for shaded lawns, with Dutch white and micro clover being top picks. Clover by itself is great for pollination, and improves soil as it naturally improves nitrogen. Once established, clover requires minimum maintenance.
Consider artificial turf. Another eco-friendly solution is the combination of native plant material and artificial turf, like LawnPop astro turf, Shepard shares, noting that those worried about the aesthetics needn’t fret. “Incorporating drought tolerant plant material, xeriscaping, and synthetic turf can look beautiful,” he explains, adding that thanks to advancements, artificial turf now appears realistic and lush. As added perks, these options save water, money, and your time. Artificial turf can also cut down on muddy footprints, according to Shephard. “One of my favorite uses is around pools,” he says. “It allows kids and pets to go back and forth from the pool without making a mess.”
Featured project by Lawn Pop photographed by Paige Newton Photography. TSG Tip 377 from Brandan Minor of Organic Green Lawn Care in Topping, Virginia, and Tanner Shepard of Lawn Pop in Austin, Texas. Organic Green Lawn Care is featured in The Scout Guide Williamsburg & The Chesapeake Bay and Lawn Pop is featured in The Scout Guide Austin.