Steele: Alternatives to a make-work lawn

The abundance of spring flowers is most welcome but lawn growth just creates work.

Much needed spring rains have really stimulated new growth.

The abundance of spring flowers is most welcome but lawn growth just creates work.

Lawn maintenance is generally the most labour intensive and costly item in a conventional landscape.

Consider the time spent mowing and edge trimming every week for 24 or more weeks, not to mention all the other things that get done to lawns to make them perfect monocultures.

Additionally 24 per cent of all water used in this valley is used for outdoor residential irrigation.

Most of this treated drinking water goes to keeping turf green all season. We use seven per cent indoors.

Much of what goes on in the world is out of our control.

Many of us feel there is nothing we can do to help save the environment for future generations.

However, you can make a difference in your own yard.

Make a decision to take out some or all of your lawn this spring, reducing your water use and eliminating chemical lawn fertilizers and pesticides that leach down into our ground water, and ultimately into the drinking water.

There are many interesting and productive things you could grow instead of turfgrass.

If you want to get to know your neighbours better, and you like to grow flowers, vegetables or herbs, plant these out front.

While you are enjoying tending them, you will get to know your neighbours as they walk by.

Be prepared to talk gardening and be the trend-setter on your block. This idea is contagious.

My friend did this and discovered her young children much preferred being with the plants and watching all the different insect and bird visitors to playing on the back lawn she had kept for them.

In areas that won’t be walked on, a drought tolerant ground cover such as blue rug juniper is a very low maintenance option, or use woolly thyme that can stand up to some foot traffic.

Interest can be added with shrubs selected for mature size.

Also select for shape, leaf colour and texture, bloom time and winter interest.

The plant database at is very useful for finding appropriate plants to suit your criteria.

Hardscape pathways can be made of interesting materials and curve invitingly to add a sculptural element.

I was once visited an amazing back yard of winding mulched pathways among mature shrubs and small trees.

Their flowers and seeds brought many birds to watch and listen to as I sat on one of the inviting benches.

It felt like a large and peaceful oasis in a noisy city. When I went up and looked out the second floor balcony, I discovered it was a regular city-sized back yard.


To learn more and for the xeriscape class schedule visit

OXA’s xeriscape plant sale takes place Saturday, April 27, 9 a.m. to noon, in the unH2O Garden in front of the H2O Aquatic Centre, a great place to get plants to replace some of your lawn.

Gwen Steele is executive director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association.