Turf Alternatives

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Choose an Alternative to Turf

Turf grass has its place. It is a hardy surface to play and lounge on, and its dense network of shallow roots controls erosion. But it also has its drawbacks. Healthy turf grass requires frequent mowing, chemicals that don’t stay where they’re put, and substantial irrigation to stay green through the summer. It also does a poor job of infiltrating water into the ground where it can be cleaned and cooled naturally—contributing to runoff that pollutes our lakes and rivers. Lastly, it offers nothing to the beneficial insects we rely on to pollinate our gardens and control pests. With so much of our urban and suburban environment covered by impermeable surfaces (roofs, streets, parking lots, etc.), what we choose to plant in the remaining patches of soil has drastic consequences for water and habitat quality.

Turf alternatives are low-growing ground covers that can supplement or replace Kentucky blue and other traditional turf grasses while still providing the qualities that are generally looked for in a lawn.


An Option for (Almost) Everyone

Turf alternatives can be grouped into three categories.  Whether you’re looking for something that looks like a “normal” lawn, or want to include as many native flowers as possible in your yard; whether you’re willing to start from scratch or convert your existing lawn piece by piece; whether you want to play on your yard or just look at it—there are options for you!


  • Low Maintenance Turf 

Functions as a typical lawn but is composed of species that require less water and fewer inputs. This option may be appealing if you want to keep the appearance of a traditional lawn and have areas that see intense or frequent use.

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  • Pollinator-Friendly Lawn 

Introduces low-growing flowering plants to a typical lawn. This produces forage for pollinators and deeper roots that need less watering. If you have areas that are frequently used and are not concerned with having a pure green carpet of lawn, this may be the best option to help restore the ecological function of your yard.

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  • Perennial Ground Cover

Can be created from a matrix of tightly-knit grasses and forbs. If you have areas of low foot traffic or use and welcome a non-traditional look, this option offers the maximum ecological impact—though it requires investment of planning, time, money and has higher maintenance needs while establishing.

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Blue Thumb Resources

  • Search for a Blue Thumb partner to help you fund, design, install, maintain and/or provide plants for your project
  • Use the Plant Selector tool to customize your plant list