I live in a rented house in Toronto. The south facing backyard is in sun/shade. It had grass but now it’s mostly mud thanks to two dogs using it. I need to plant an inexpensive, hardy, self-renewing ground cover that can withstand the dogs as it grows. I know that’s a lot to ask. Any suggestions?
There are a number of alternatives to standard lawns that are also more environmentally friendly and able to take foot traffic. These include some quick growing grasses such as perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) not to be confused with annual rye, various fescues, clovers especially Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens) and micro-clover (Trifolium repens var. Pipolina) and a mix of low growing flowers such as sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), English daisy (Bellis perennis), and Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) for example. Most will not provide the same manicured look as a conventional lawn but will be a low maintenance ground cover and can be mowed as well.
The various components of alternative lawn seeds mixes have their pros and cons. Here are some examples:
Perennial ryegrass grows quickly and doesn’t require a lot of soil preparation. However it is sometimes not so perennial in colder climates. It is a clumping grass and struggles in shady area.
Sheep fescue is a low growing, low maintenance grass that greens up well with spring and fall rains but may not with stand drier summers. Its root system helps prevent erosion. It is often used in combination with other grasses such as perennial ryegrass in orchards between rows of trees.
Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), commonly used for recreational field and school yards, is a tough perennial and while most fescues are clumping, this grass sends out rhizomes so gives a more unified appearance. This grass may winter-kill in cold climates and is not tolerant of hot dry summers.
Clover – All of the clovers are nitrogen fixers that add nutrients to the soil so will help any of the grasses they are grown with. They grow densely so help keep moisture in and crowd out weeds. Both Dutch white clover and micro-clover can take heavier traffic and withstand dog urine. Mowing micro-clover causes its leaves to get smaller and more numerous and reduces flowering. White clover will also grow in the shadier areas.
Seed nurseries often have seed mixes for sale with instructions on how much is required and how to plant. You will still have to do some ground preparation, adding some new soil in which to plant the seeds depending on the type of seeds. Where can you find these? Look on line at nurseries selling seeds. You can also check companies that provide seeds to farmers for cover crops.
The Organic Lawn Care Manual Paul Tukey, Storey Publishing, 2007.