Lawn alternative

(Question)

I’m looking for a sort of lawn alternative. We have a large area of dirt (4 thousand square feet) that is needing coverage. We do not want to plant grass due to maintenance. We are looking for a low growing, medium traffic, drought tolerant, not too picky on soil type and something that won’t attract a whole slew of bees (as kids and adults will be playing in an around). We live about 4 hours north of Toronto and so has to be durable enough to sustain winters. We initially thought of clovers however I believe this attracts bees and hornets. After months of research I think the elfin creeping thyme is a good choice. Do you have any suggestions?

 

(Answer)

It is a great idea not to try to create a golf-course-like grass lawn; too much water, chemicals, and labour, when you could create a far more interesting landscape.

Elfin thyme is a good plant to consider; however, for an area as large as you are describing, it could be extremely expensive to use only thyme. Thyme requires very well draining soil, so that is a consideration. And if using thyme, a more interesting effect can be created by using several additional thymes, such as silver, creeping, and woolly, for a variety of colors and flowering times. Of course, thyme does flower, so bees will love it. But bees are really quite harmless. Dutch White Clover is, indeed, a great groundcover and I would urge you to rethink this option.

You don’t specify whether this is large area is all sun, all shade or a mix (which is more likely). Again, in such a large space, I would recommend a mixture of plants, not a monoculture, basing your choices on the light available. Here are some to consider for the sunny areas:

Wintercreeper Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’)

Creeping Juniper ( Juniperus horizontalis )cedar.

For areas that get partial sun:

Bearberry ( Arctostaphylos  uva-ursi)

For the shadier areas:

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) 

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) 

Barrenwort (Epimedium), various species and cultivars

Wintergreen ( Gaultheria procumbens )

Finally, here is a link to a Gardening Guide on lawn alternatives that we prepared for the City of Toronto: Lawn Alternatives and Organic Care of Groundcovers.