21 inspiring lawn-free yards

See how to ditch thirsty turf grass in favor of beautiful, easy-care gardens

Shady patio

Norm Plate

Lose the lawn: Great gardens without turf grass

Shady patio garden

A sycamore takes center stage in this lawnless California yard. Shade created by the tree keeps the patio cool while permeable paving, potted plants, and other design details keep watering to a minimum.

More: Country cool gravel patio

Space to unwind firepit

Thomas J. Story

From lawn to private retreat

"When your home and office are the same place, it's harder to stop working," says Ian Kimbrey, who works in an office above his garage, as does his wife, Joanne Forchas-Kimbrey. "You need a separate area for recreation that tells the brain it's time to switch gears."

So the couple (he's a photo editor, she works for a design firm) asked landscape designer Jay Griffith to help them turn a small lawn between their house and the garage into a transitional area, a "decompression chamber" where they can relax after work.

See more before and after photos

Desert landscape makeover

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Going lawn-free: Desert front yard facelift

The owners of this Phoenix home replaced their lawn with drought-tolerant grasses, then added young trees and a paved area beside the front door.

More: Fresh front yard facelift

Front yard low water makeover

Photo by Norm Plate

Low-water curb appeal

A variety of plants with low water requirements replaced the former sterile expanse of rocks covering the front yard of this Oregon home. They are all heat-tolerant and were chosen to provide year-round interest. Pavers take up most of the space where thirsty grass might grow instead.

Read more about this front yard makeover

San Diego landscape makeover

Photo by Sharon Cohoon

Succulents replace turf grass

A tapestry of succulents replaced the lawn in this San Diego, CA, front yard.

Designer Kendra Berger of Revive Landscape Design used 5 kinds of aloes, two types of aeonium, Bulbine frutescens, Agave attenuata, and lots of blue Senecio mandraliscae to play off the Moroccan blue of the pots.

She added a new set of pilasters along the stairs—perfect perches for more pots—and faced the risers with blue and white Spanish tiles.

More on this makeover in our garden blog

Easy-care deck and patio

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

No-chores backyard

Easy-care plants and materials create a low-maintenance garden that can fend for itself for weeks at a stretch. See how durable furnishings, bulletproof plants, no-fuss flooring, and clever details make it work.

More: Care-free garden design

low-water yard design

Photo by Steven A. Gunther

Big on features, not on grass

Bridges, islands, and a shaded fireplace add plenty of whimsical details to this Albuquerque backyard­­—no water necessary. And a smattering of carefully chosen drought-resistant plants offer just enough no-fuss greenery to create a lush feel.

More: Southwestern garden escape

Front-yard meadow

Norm Plate

Front-yard meadow

Two great ideas from this garden

Grassy screen Tall Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ grass screens the sitting area from the street.

“Character” plants From fluffy mounds to floppy giants: Rusty-hued Carex testacea softens the front path, while green kniphofia, plum Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, Libertia peregrinans ‘Bronze Sword’, and euphorbia surround the ‘Karl Foerster’ grass. Across the path, drifts of Picea sitchensis ‘Papoose’, variegated iris, and Phormium ‘Dusky Chief’ encircle a ginkgo tree.

Design/Build Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman, Mosaic Gardens, Eugene, OR

Low water yard.

Photo by Lori Brookes

Drought-tolerant yard

A low retaining wall of stacked flagstone has the effect of setting this San Diego house and garden on a pedestal. The wide pathway, also of flagstone, adds importance, too.

Dymondia margaretae, a gray-leafed South African ground cover, has replaced the lawn, and a range of drought-tolerant plants, including New Zealand flax (Phormium), kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos), Leucadendron, and Lomandra add further interest.

More on this front yard makeover in the blogs

Lawn-free makeover

Thomas J. Story

Easy-care front yard

Flagstone paths curve through a low-water front yard. A low berm of soil on either side of the walk adds interest, and weed cloth topped with permeable pea gravel allows excess water to soak into the earth rather than run off into the street.

More lessons from this front yard

Front-yard makeover

Norm Plate

Low-water curb appeal

Rocks covered the front yard when Ken and Beverly Behymer bought this house in Grants Pass, Oregon. But summers here are hot, and the couple yearned for a more inviting garden, one that wouldn't bake in the sun or raise their water bill by much.

Landscape architect Jim Love's solution: Add mostly low-water plants that give the yard all-season appeal.

Learn more about this low-water makeover

Water-wise front yard

Steven Gunther

Santa Monica eco-conscious landscape

Three great ideas from this garden

1. Use permeable paving It helps rainfall percolate easily into the soil. The paths in the Zinners' garden are covered with gravel, and a small square patio in the front yard is of decomposed granite.

2. Extend the season Since most California natives bloom in spring, combine them with plants that flower at other times. Blanc added butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis), and Mexican lobelia (Lobelia laxiflora) for summer color.

3. Go on sustainable-garden tours You'll find ideas as well as designers who can help you realize them. The Zinners discovered garden designer Stephanie Blanc on such a tour.

Learn more about this yard

Lawnless in Ventura

Steven Gunther

Lawnless in Ventura, CA

Water-conserving gardens can be as colorful as any other. The front yard of Rick Cole, Ventura's city manager, is blooming proof.

Get planting ideas from this Southern California garden

Lush garden

Karyn R. Millet

Lush garden, light touch

Instead of expanding their 1,250-square-foot Spanish colonial revival home ― even though there was ample room on the lot to do so ― Gabe Gelbart and landscape designer Paul Rhoadzhagen decided to keep the house compact and let the garden shine, providing plenty of outdoor living nooks, colorful plantings that require little water, and lessons on incorporating environmentally sound materials and practices into the landscape.

Get Gelbart and Rhoadzhagen's low-water secrets

After

Jim McCausland

Lawn-free tapestry in Seattle

Lawns demand about an inch of water each week during the growing season. That was too much for Seattle-based landscape designer Stacie Crooks of Crooks Garden Design. She knew she could create a traffic-stopping tapestry of plants that would survive on half the water.

So one spring, she ripped out much of her lawn and replaced it with a mixture of perennials and shrubs.

Get Crooks's plant palette

No-mow lawn

Kimberley Burch

No-mow grasses

Some grasses can live on rainfall alone in their native Western ranges, and they need mowing just once or twice a year to keep tidy.

Get details and sources

go-native-stream

Steven Gunther

A natural backyard

Plant natives, and birds will follow. That's what Mary and Joe Bochiechio found when they installed their garden in San Marcos.

After removing the lawn, designer and contractor Greg Rubin ― who specializes in California natives ― installed a meandering path bordered by fragrant 'Bee's Bliss' salvia, wild lilacs, and an existing non-native purple tree mallow ― all pretty, low-water plants.

Get more planting ideas from this yard

 

Green

Norm Plate

Small and lawnless

Landscape designer Shirley Watts is on a mission to green up her gardens. That doesn't mean she packs them with foliage. Watts is committed to green solutions that benefit the environment by preserving resources and by recycling materials.

Find out more about this tiny backyard

Planting for butterflies

Thomas J. Story

A butterfly-friendly fountain

Multitiered raised beds and house walls protect this courtyard from breezes. The fountain in the center provides butterflies with a necessary supply of water. (After spilling down the column, it moistens the rocks below before disappearing underground; siphoning water from a puddle beneath wet rocks is a butterfly's preferred way to drink.)

Get three great ideas from this garden

Drought

Steven Gunther

Low-water landscaping made easy

When Claudia Armann and her husband, Kurt, moved in, the first-time homeowners faced a boring patch of lawn and little else. Two years later, they enjoy a vibrant landscape composed of succulents and drought-tolerant perennials that win admiring looks from passersby.

Get Armann's makeover basics

Water management

Norm Plate

Water wisdom saves irrigation dollars

Style and practicality determined the design of this water-conserving garden in Clovis, California. For owner Claudia Kus, the distinctively Southwestern house style suggested a less thirsty garden to match. But the real issues ― a costly water supply, serious soil problems, and the hot, dry summers of the San Joaquin Valley ― were the clinchers.

As in many areas of the West, water is precious ― a limited commodity. Kus needed to manage carefully the available water.

Get water management tips from this yard

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