Suggested plants to replace backyard lawn in North York


Hello, we are looking at alternative plants for our lawn. We have replaced our grassed lawn three times with new earth and sod. It went dormant 1.5 years ago after a summer heat. Initially there was thatch and some weeds whose leaves looked similar to strawberry plants (but not). They were both removed. We re-seeded twice with new grass seed but it didn’t take. The earth is clay and dry and is positioned in full sun and south facing. The flower garden surrounding the lawn does very well. We have no issues growing a variety of long lasting perennials, shrubs and annuals. i.e. roses, hydrangeas, lavender, dahlias, tulips and daffodils. We are considering the following plants as lawn alternatives: roman chamomile, Caucasian stonecrop or creeping speedwell or a mixture like Vesey’s We would like to mow the lawn occasionally, be able to walk on it as well as sit on a lawn chair from time to time. We do not have pets nor children. Would it be best to go with one type of plant or a mixture of species. Also, should we consider seeds or plugs for the new planting. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you.


Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners regarding alternative plants for your lawn.

Many gardeners today (including me) are replacing their lawns with grass alternatives.

Traditional grass is really not well suited to our climate. The key to a successful lawn alternative is to choose plants that flourish in your growing conditions.  Based on personal experience, I would recommend a mix of plant species.

The City of Guelph has a good overview of Groundcovers and lawn alternatives that are suited to Guelph’s climate and soil conditions, which are similar to conditions in Toronto.

For your sunny, dry clay soil location with some traffic, they suggest:

  • Anthemis nobilis, botanical name now Chamaemelum nobile, also known as roman chamomile, resilient to heavy foot traffic
  • Armeria maritima, sea thrift, can tolerate light traffic
  • Potentilla reptans, creeping potentilla, tolerates light foot traffic
  • Thymus sp., thyme, can withstand moderate foot traffic
  • Although suggested for part shade, I would also consider Trifolium repens, white Dutch clover which will provide nitrogen to the soil.

Sedges are another possibility. A recent study by the Mt Cuba Center Carex for the Mid-Atlantic Region identified several sedges that are suitable lawn replacements and should grow in the Toronto area as well. Worth considering are Carex woodii and Carex pensylvanica . Note the study did not consider foot traffic, but sedges should tolerate light foot traffic.

As to the plants you mentioned:

  • Roman chamomile is a good choice as per City of Guelph’s recommendation
  • Caucasian stonecrop, botanical name Sedum spurium, is an option. It is available in many varieties so look for a cold tolerant variety which tolerates foot traffic.
  • Creeping speedwell, Veronica repens, could work. It will tolerate light foot traffic.
  • The Vesey’s mix may be suitable.

I suggest you start your lawn replacement project by touring your neighbourhood and observing ground covers that are thriving in conditions similar to your yard. Then, choose several species to trial based on your observations and the recommendations above. Seeds or plants could be used. Seeds are cheaper but take longer. Some species are not easy to grow from seeds. Consult your local garden center for recommendations on the best method.

Follow the planting recommendations included with the seeds or plugs, or as recommended by your garden center.

Good luck with your lawn replacement.