Ditch the Grass: 10 Low-Maintenance Landscaping Ideas You Won’t Have to Mow

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated August 18, 2022
A man replacing mulch in front yard
Photo: wanderluster / E+ / Getty Images

The kind of yard that makes your neighbors jealous doesn’t have to take a lot of work

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Anyone who’s ever lived in a home with outdoor space knows that a lot of the maintenance happens in the yard. Some of the best local landscapers even recommend mowing your lawn once a week during the growing season (with an average lawn mowing cost of $50 to $210 a pop). Things add up, especially in the spring and summer.

Luckily, you don’t have to put in a lot of effort to have a gorgeous yard. These low-maintenance landscaping ideas will save you time, water, and energy—so you can spend your weekend doing anything else.

1. Fake It With Artificial Grass

A garden with artificial grass
Photo: Courtesy of Dirty Turf

Want a gorgeous backyard that stays green year-round? Say hello to artificial grass. Artificial grass, also known as turf, has come a long way since its invention in the 1960s. It’s less mini-golf putting green, and more perfectly manicured landscaping. Since you don’t need to water plastic, it’ll also slash your home’s watering bills.

Artificial grass does require a little maintenance for pet owners, but it beats weekly watering. Steve DiFabio, who owns the Phoenix-based cleaning service Dirty Turf, recommends spot-cleaning your grass with an antimicrobial deodorizing spray along with occasional deep cleanings. 

2. Ditch Seasonal Planting With Perennials

Garden with perennial plants
Photo: Courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection

Unlike annuals, perennial plants are a simple landscaping idea that never goes out of style. Literally, they come back each spring—which means you won’t have to redo this landscaping project—as long as you choose the right plant for your USDA plant hardiness zone. For example, something like a gardenia may act like an annual in a cold-weather climate.

Kip McConnell, director of the Southern Living Plant Collection, recommends abelia for its long flowering season and low water requirements. Abelia is a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t require a lot of water and can withstand temperatures that dip below freezing. In zones 5 or 6 (the northern United States), the stems might die back during the colder months—but don’t worry. The flowers will return.

3. Add Texture With Low-Maintenance Shrubs and Ground Cover

A garden with bushes and shrubs
Photo: Courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection

A little texture can transform your yard, but it doesn’t have to involve planting loads of different flowers. Low-maintenance bushes and shrubs can have a major impact—especially when layered with ground cover plants like alpine strawberries or creeping thyme.  

McConnell suggests soft caress mahonia for its unique texture and ease. “Fine textured foliage makes it look like a fern or palm, and sprays of yellow blossoms in fall bring a thrilling pop of late-season color,” he says. Other low-maintenance shrubs include hydrangea, bottlebrush buckeye, beautyberry, and goldthread cypress (but always check what works best with your zone).

4. Choose Drought-Tolerant Plants

Drought-tolerant plants
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Hancock/Costa Farms

Not every garden needs a lot of water to stay lush. Drought-resistant (or drought-tolerant) plants are a landscaping idea able to withstand large periods without water. The first thing that might come to mind is your average succulent, but this type of low-maintenance plant can include flowers and shrubs. Justin Hancock, who runs Costa Farms in Miami, Florida, recommends the perennials Gaillardia, Gaura, Lavender, or Russian Sage.

5. Opt for Native Plants

A garden with native plants
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Hancock/Costa Farms

Simply put, native plants are plants that grow naturally in your climate. Think: the succulents in California gardens or the violets that grow wild in New Jersey farmland. These plants will naturally thrive without constant maintenance.

In addition to ease, native plants actually help the environment. According to the Audubon Society, these plants provide nectar for pollinators like hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, along with essential food for local wildlife.

6. Use River Rocks

A garden with river rocks
Photo: Courtesy of Renco Home Improvements

River rocks are a great low-maintenance landscaping idea for a couple of reasons. First, they require almost no effort beyond the initial installation and occasional weed control. Second, they help prevent water damage and erosion—particularly if you live on a hill or an area with heavy runoff.  

Terry Fraser, owner of Renco Home Improvements in Ottawa, Canada, says this landscape idea is ideal around your home’s foundation because it prevents water damage. Just be aware that river rocks do absorb heat from the sun, which can overwhelm some types of plants.

Or, enjoy the best of both worlds. “If you like the look of the traditional grass lawn in your front yard, but want something lower maintenance in your backyard, keep the grass in your front and install a rock garden in your backyard,” suggests Rupa Mehta, outdoor home expert at Angi.

7. Fresh Mulch Is an Instant Upgrade

A garden with fresh mulch
Photo: Courtesy of Green Yard Landscaping

The best kind of mulch for your yard doesn’t just make your landscaping look put together. It improves the soil, providing nutrients to plants and insulating their roots. Unfortunately, it does get discolored and break down over time. That’s how it feeds your flowers and ornamental grass. To keep your garden looking fresh, you’ll have to replace your mulch periodically—but that’s just about all the maintenance it needs.

8. Let Your Jungle Grow Wild

A  forest garden
Photo: Courtesy of Justin West/Thrive Lot

A forest garden is one of the few low-maintenance landscaping ideas that thrive on neglect and still ends up looking magical. Justin West, CEO of Thrive Lot, recommends starting with a tree and layering smaller shrubs and herbaceous plants around it. “As the forest grows, the plants can fill themselves in for a lush, jungle aesthetic, which doesn't require mowing, watering, or any other maintenance,” he says. To get the best results, create a garden using native plants.

9. Potted Plants Aren’t Just for Indoors

An outdoor plants
Photo: Courtesy of Hicks Nurseries

If you don’t want to spend your time cutting back overgrown flowers and shrubs, a few well-placed pots are a low-maintenance option with a big impact. Fill your pots with outdoor plants that are hard to kill like ornamental grass or wild geranium. It’s also important to factor in how your plants will grow.

According to NYS-certified nursery pro, Karen Musgrave, who works with Hicks Nurseries in Long Island, each pot should have a thriller, filler, and spiller. “A ‘thriller’ plant that is a strong focal point,” she says. “A ‘filler’ that covers most of the soil in the pot; and a ‘spiller’ that weeps over the edge of the pot.” 

10. Decomposed Granite

A garden with decomposed granite
Photo: Courtesy of Betterly By Design

Who said your landscaping needs grass at all? Decomposed granite is popular for paths, walkways, and driveways, but it’s also a great ground cover for xeriscape (or irrigation-free) gardens. You can also use it alongside drought-resistant plants like succulents and certain ornamental grasses because it’s similar to mulch. It acts as a fertilizer while it wears down.

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