Alternative lawn experiments

By Mike Lorenc, Conservation Garden Park

Gardening isn’t always an exact science. That is both its joy and its frustration. Some of us enjoy experimenting and others would rather simply enjoy the benefit of someone else’s knowledge. Part of our goal at the Conservation Garden Park is to experiment with plants and materials, finding those that work best for our Utah climate—saving you time and frustration in the process.

Since lawn is the main component of most Utah yards and highest water using plant in the landscape, we regularly experiment with different types of grass as well as plants that could be used in place of lawn to a similar effect. Today, we’d like to report on our findings from some recent trials of lawn alternatives.

Lawn Alternatives for Sun

Dog Tuff™ is a warm season grass which means it greens up in late spring and goes dormant come frost. It looks nice and feels nice when walked on and has an attractive bright green color. As the name indicates, it is purported to withstand the wear and tear of pets. Though we haven’t pet-tested it, the nice, thick mat of turf it creates seems to support that claim.


Achillea millifolium (non-cultivar). Yarrow is a ferny-leaved, low growing perennial that spreads easily. We used a standard, seed-grown species of yarrow to create a green space that has nice color and texture. We mow it once a week to keep it in check. The yarrow has the added benefit of occasional blooms which the pollinators love.

Lawn Alternatives for Shade

Shade is almost always an issue in mature landscapes and finding grass that does well in both the shade and dry environment is especially challenging. Sedge is known for being a wet-soil loving plant, but we have heard it can be fairly drought tolerant, so we decided to experiment and learn for ourselves if this was the case. We planted three different types of sedge, all in dry shade conditions, and a “successful” sedge would be one that could grow and thrive in this circumstance.

‘Blue Zinger’ Sedge

Carex flacca. This grass-like plant did really well in both sun and shade conditions. We don’t mow sedge and it forms a sea of blue flowing leaves that are about 10 inches tall. In moist climates, sedge can spread aggressively but planting it in a drier situation that it prefers seemed to keep this trait well in check. We count this alternative a success.

Appalachian Sedge

Carex appalachia. This one gets a mixed review. It was far taller than expected (14 inches) and really seemed to like the sunny spots more than the shady spots.

‘Silver Scepter‘ Sedge

Carex morrowii. This Japanese sedge has silver variegated leaves in 10 inch arching clumps. In the dry shade conditions where we tested it, it failed completely.

Stop by and visit the Conservation Garden Park (8275 South 1300 West in West Jordan) to see these and many other lawn types and lawn alternatives then decide for yourself which might work best in your own landscape.