Drought tolerant lawn replacements

It’s the time of year that I start itching to get gardening. I’ve started my pepper, onion, and tomato seedlings indoors under a florescent light and I’m doing sun-dances in the middle of our yard, which, of course, is the opposite of rain dances which I’ll be doing in July. I’m lucky (or so I tell myself) that I live in an area that rarely has a drought–although I grew up in an area that was more years than not in a state of drought. However, much of the US is not so lucky. I don’t want to single California out, but it’s clearly under huge water restraints. Since not everyone gets the 8 months of rain that we do (I’d be willing to barter my left arm for a week of sun at this point) I’d like to discuss some of the options of drought tolerant plants. I’ll be breaking this down over a couple blogs; there’s a lot of ground to cover! Let’s begin with your typical lawn.

So, what are some options for drought-tolerant landscaping?

Dead Lawn in a drought
Does your lawn look like this?

Sasha, please don’t recommend rocks as a yard.  

Okay, okay. I know; rocks aren’t much of a yard if you have kids running around. I get it, you want a “lawn.” Grass can take a lot of water and fertilizing to keep looking lush and green. Each time you fertilize, your lawn needs a lot of water so it won’t burn–leaving it worse off than before. So how do you get around this?  Depending on your HOA,  you may be able to tear up that dead lawn and plant something lush, soft, durable and –best of all– drought tolerant.

Lawn Alternatives


Pros: Aren’t you tired of trying to weed the clover out of your yard? Honey bees love it–although I have lawn since I live in an incredibly wet area,  I always mow around a patch of clover, alternating the patch each week. I have a huge affinity for the honey bees that help my garden and food supply so much, and it’s a long-blooming option. It doesn’t require much watering–even in the hot, long months of summer sun it remains a vibrant, deep green. The low-growing clover you often see peeking through grass doesn’t require much mowing. Unlike lawn, it has a shorter growing height. It’s also cheap!

Cons: it’s not as durable as lawn so it won’t stand up to dogs playing for long, or playing a set of badminton on. (This reminds me, why don’t I have a badminton set?!)  Be careful if you’re barefoot on clover to avoid unaware bees perched on the flowers.

Sedums are wonderful succulent, drought tolerant plants that grow like weeds and need little babying.” –Bonnie L. Grant


sedum drought tolerant
Sedum Ground Cover

Pros: Sedums grow like weeds. In the high desert where I grew up, it was a constant battle to keep the sedum out of the lawn. (We had less than 11 inches of precipitation annually-the majority of it being snow.)  Eventually once us kids were grown up, my parents tore the lawn up and let the sedum replace it.  It’s a good solution for a shaded yard that doesn’t have a lot of rain fall, since it doesn’t love harsh sun. It also is attractive, lush-colored, and doesn’t require diligent watering. The low-growing, drought tolerant  sedum isn’t any taller than you’d keep a traditional lawn at, which is great since it never needs mowing!

Cons: It grows like a weed. So, if you have landscaping that you don’t want it encroaching on, you’ll need to be diligent about cutting it back. Also, it’s not durable like lawn. Although it grows incredibly quickly, it also breaks down easily as well.  It won’t hold up as well under a lot of direct, hot sun.


Creeping Thyme

Pros: Creeping thyme blooms beautifully and smells great. You won’t miss the bright smell of freshly cut grass if you pull a piece of thyme off and give it a whiff. It spreads through rocky or poor soil, and the drought resistant plant loves shade. If you have a pathway of pavers rocks, consider planting it in between to spread through them for a lovely walkway.

Cons: Unlike sedum, although it grows quickly, it won’t overtake your yard your first year of having it. It tends to grow a bit more slowly than sedum or clover. While a good drought tolerant option in the shade, it’s not a huge fan of the hot sun.

Creeping Phlox

Pros: Unlike a traditional grass lawn, creeping phlox has bright spring flowers that can cheer up an otherwise desolate drought area.

Cons: Like creeping thyme, it won’t grow as vigorously as sedum. Also, if you have rabbits nearby, they may consider your phlox and thyme handy treats.  You won’t be mowing your ground cover, but you may need to weed it until it becomes established. (Once established your drought tolerant ground cover will be more or less self-sustaining.

If you research, you’ll find a lot of plants with “creeping” in the name are often drought tolerant. Much of the reason why is they act as their own mulch, protecting the soil from evaporation during hot spells, and mulch is absolutely something I want to discuss in this drought tolerant landscaping series.


Hold tight for next week’s blog on drought tolerant veggies. Yes–you can have a vegetable garden! It just might not be tomatoes and onions.

Drought tolerant lawn replacements

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