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10 drought resistant alternatives to lawn turf

16/08/2022 - Featured Products

If summer 2022 has shown us anything at all, it’s that we probably need to future proof our planting plans.  Let’s start with lawns. The quintessential British lawn has many benefits, but left to its own devices, it will turn brown in summer.  It’s only a temporary change, but it may affect the whole look and feel of the garden.  

Establishing new lawns in a drought year is a different matter altogether.  Newly laid turf is incredibly greedy for water. Most water authorities grant an exemption for watering turf during a hosepipe ban, but is all that irrigation the ‘right’ thing to do when water is scarce?

So are there any drought resistant alternatives to lawn turf that you could use instead? Angela Lambert aka LadyLawn has some suggestions.

deck chairs sitting on a scorched brown lawn in midsummer
Scenes like this are all too familiar during a summer heatwave - is there a drought resistant alternative to a grass lawn?

  1. Avoid laying turf in summer, establish it during the winter months instead.
  2. Make a lawn by growing drought resistant grasses from seed.
  3. Instead of grass, use clover. 
  4. Create a low maintenance gravel garden.
  5. Wild Flower Meadows are incredibly resilient in dry conditions.
  6. How about areas of paving or decking with planting pockets filled with drought tolerant ornamental grasses, shrubs and perennials?
  7. Mind your own business has all the benefits of a grass lawn and doesn’t need mowing.
  8. For a hard landscaping solution, may we suggest Self binding gravel? 
  9. Creeping thyme makes an aromatic drought tolerant lawn.
  10. For a good, all round solution, swap grasses for a mix of low growing native perennials.

Avoid Laying Turf During The Summer Months

OK, so this isn’t an alternative to lawn turf, more a matter of changing practice. Once established, turf is pretty drought resistant. Yes, it will turn brown in a hot dry summer, but it will recover and it certainly doesn’t need to be watered. There are so many advantages to a grass lawn, not just aesthetic but environmental too. So maybe we should go back to the way our Grandad’s method of turfing…. Lay the turf in autumn so that Mother Nature can help with the watering and so that the roots have plenty of time to get established before the next heatwave.

Grow Drought Resistant Grass Species From Seed

We’re sticking with grass for the moment, simply because it is so difficult to find an alternative to lawn turf that offers the exact same aesthetic.  I truly believe that turf grown in a field develops in part, according to the soil type and microclimate on that field. So it follows that a lawn grown from seed in a garden will adapt quicker to conditions in that garden.  Throw into the mix a grass species or two that are known to thrive in dry conditions, and you are well on the way to creating a drought resistant alternative to lawn turf.  Take a look at this seed available to order online from Arbour Landscape Solutions .  If you can sow grass seed in autumn rather than spring, you’ll be giving your lawn a chance to get established before dry weather becomes a problem.

Instead Of Grass, Grow Clover

mass of clover leaves forming an alternative lawn

Have you noticed that when a lawn turns brown in summer, some of the broadleaved weeds that have sneaked into the sward, show up as green patches?  Clover is brilliant at doing that, so why not harness that strength and deliberately grow a clover lawn? This incredible wildflower will have similar aesthetic to a grass lawn, is reasonably hard wearing, offers a fantastic source of pollen and nectar for insects and feeds itself by fixing nitrogen from the air.  So no need to water it once established and no need for expensive lawn feed either.

Create A Gravel Garden Instead

If your clients don’t plan to lay out on the lawn or play football, do they really need a grass lawn? Perhaps a low maintenance gravel garden would be to their taste? The late great Beth Chatto has created a beautiful garden on poor soil and has used plenty of drought resistant alternatives to lawns. One of which is to allow plants to grow and seed themselves through a thick layer of aggregate.  If you are ever in Essex, the garden is open to the public and well worth a visit.

Wild Flower Meadows  

Such a useful tool in the quest for biodiversity net gain and incredibly versatile.  Many perennial wild flowers have lovely deep roots that can access ground water in really dry conditions. Allowing the plants and grasses to grow to their full height also shades the soil and creates a lovely humid microclimate which holds moisture close and reduces the risk of evapotranspiration.  Mowing paths and seating areas into a wildflower area creates a wonderfully romantic look and feel and the wildlife will love the variety of habitats you have created. Wildflowers can be tricky to grow in fertile garden soil, so why not try this seed mix containing native species that thrive in nutrient rich growing mediums?


Mind Your Own Business aka Soleirolia soleirolii

Mind your own business, baby's tears very much a marmite plant.  Folks either love it or they hate it.  Personally I think its rather special….especially in the context of a Japanese style garden.  It’s native to the Western Mediterranean so well adapted to the sort of summers we can expect in the future.  Evergreen, reasonably frost hardy and tolerates short periods of drought. Mind Your Own Business is from the same plant family as stinging nettles. Thankfully it does't 'bite', but it does have that same robustness and persistence about it. All I would say, is that if you are using it as ground cover, have some way of containing its spread. Like all successful plants, it can be invasive.

Self Binding Gravel

The reason I’ve added this to my list of 10 drought tolerant alternatives to lawn turf is that it’s permeable.  One of the things that is most environmentally friendly about a natural lawn is that when we do get rain, water can soak through the surface and replenish the ground water.
Self binding gravel may not boost biodiversity or provide us with oxygen, but at least it helps with water management.

Creeping Thyme

Another wonderful alternative lawn plant that is easy to care for and thrives in dry soil. You do get flowers, and bees and all things wonderful with creeping thyme, but I don’t think I’d want to walk barefoot across it! If you need help finding the plants, get in touch with the Arbour Landscape Solutions team - our plant sourcing service is fast and hassle free.

Species Rich Lawn. 

Of all of the drought tolerant alternatives to lawn turf on this list, this is my favourite.  I’ve definitely saved the best til last. All the advantages of a grass lawn, but lower maintenance and more drought tolerant. The beauty of a mixed sward like this is that when once species is weakened, others will spread to fill the gap.  Available as wildflower turf or as Meadowscape ProTM pre-seeded growing medium.  

If you are designing a garden layout or a planting plan and you want to futureproof your project against extreme weather conditions, there are a gazillion alternatives to a grass lawn. 

Browse the Arbour Landscape Solutions website for insights into over 5,000 landscaping products that will excite and inspire you. 

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