Outsmart the Drought: Eco-Friendly Lawn Alternatives That Save Water

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Taking care of a lawn is a ton of work. You’ve got to dutifully mow it regularly with a lawn mower so it doesn’t become overgrown, water it extensively using a timed sprinkler system and use the right weed killers so it doesn’t get overrun with invasive species. Sure, it could turn out green and lush after all that but is it worth the trouble? And furthermore, in a time of historic drought and record lows in water supplies in huge parts of the country, is it environmentally ethical?

The Drought and Your Lawn

If you live in a drought-prone area like California having a green lawn is almost impossible, and an environmental faux pas if you ask me. Given the current levels of the state’s water supply, it’s simply impossible to water certain types of grass enough to keep it alive. The entire Western half of the United States is currently in the grip of a massive, historic-level drought that’s enveloped California, the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West and some parts of the Northern Plains as well. Reservoirs in California are about half as full as they normally are this time of year, and the federal government has cut water allocations from the Central Valley Project to California cities by about 75%. 33% of the state is currently in what’s being called an “exceptional drought” which means farms, orchards and fields are removed, fire season becomes especially dangerous and the rescue and relocation of fish begins.

Now it’s more important than ever to save on water usage, and lawn maintenance is usually a top driver of water usage for the average household. Getting rid of your lawn and opting for something more drought-friendly is a great first step towards cutting back. Does this mean you have to let your lawn die, dry out and become a sad, straw-like reminder of the impermeable doom of climate change? Nope! You can if you want, but there are plenty of eco-friendly lawn alternatives out there that’ll look just as nice without the need for H2O.

What Are Lawn Alternatives?

Lawn alternatives are other options besides living grass that need little to no water, can be installed easily and still look great. You can install many of them yourself or work with a landscaper who can guide you on what would look best in your space, whether you’re looking to redo your front yard or back yard.

The options for lawn alternatives include, but are not limited to:

  • Fake grass or turf
  • Rocks and gravel
  • Succulents
  • Water-wise plants
  • All of the above

We’ve gathered our favorite options in each category below and included pictures so you can start to visualize your new, environmentally-friendly outdoor space. Here are the best lawn alternatives of 2021.


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Option 1: Fake Grass or Turf

If you’re attached to the way grass looks and want an eco-friendly equivalent, fake grass or turf is the way to go. They make many different kinds nowadays that don’t need any water, are heat-resistant and don’t get muddy after it rains if your lawn happens to be in a place that doesn’t get a ton of sun. Here are a few of our favorite brands worth checking out:

PET GROW Artificial Turf Mat

This rug is 6.5′ x 10′, for a total of 65 square feet, and comes with grass height that’s about 1.37″ in length. The grass is high-density and has 4-tone color as well as a soft, lush texture for mimicking the look and feel of grass as closely as possible. It’s made of high-quality, durable synthetic material, is rubber-backed and made with drainage holes as well. This turf requires no mowing, no water and is easy to install using press-on turf backing.

pet grow artificial grass rug, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Amazon


Petgrow Deluxe Artificial Grass Turf

This turf mat is a little smaller, at only 3.3′ x 5′ so if you’ve got a smaller area to cover it’s a good option. The grass height is the same length as the previous option, at 1.37″ and provides 70 ounces of total weight per square yard. It’s high-density grass that also has 4-tone color, soft and lush texture and is designed to feel like the real thing. It’s made with durable, quick-drying polyethylene and polypropylene yarns and is pet-friendly as well.

Petgrow deluxe artificial grass turf, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Amazon


SunVilla Realistic Indoor/Outdoor Artificial Grass

This artificial turf is made of durable, UV-resistant yarn and polyethylene fabric with latex backing made for resisting the elements. The grass is non-toxic and made environmentally-friendly with lead-free materials. The blade height is 1 3/8″ and each pad is designed to look just like real grass. This turf requires no mowing, watering spraying or maintenance to look fresh all year round, saving you time and money. The turf pads also come in a variety of sizes for small patios all the way up to large scale lawns, and can be installed yourself with just a few steps.

SunVilla turf, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Amazon


LITA Synthetic Lawn Turf Carpet

This turf comes in sheets of 91 square feet that can be easily cut to fit a certain environment if need be. It comes with all the standard features including UV-resistant polyethylene and 70 ounces of weight per square yard. The artificial grass is high-density, non-toxic and 4-tone in color so it’s got the look of real grass without all the upkeep. All it takes is preparing the area, laying out a base, rolling out the turf and sealing it to install year-round lush, green grass that’ll save you on your water bill.

LITA realistic artificial grass, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Amazon

southwest boulder & stone decomposed granite Courtesy of Amazon

Option 2: Rocks and Gravel

If you’re ready to ditch the grass and plant more water-wise plants and succulents, rocks and gravel are a great way to fill in the gaps, and make it easier to walk across your lawn. There are many types of pebbles, rocks and gravel that can fill the space, are easy to install and don’t need any water or maintenance. Options include decomposed granite, pea gravel, lava rock, river rock and marble chips. Make sure you calculate how much you’ll need before you make your purchase, as a general rule of thumb you’ll need one 20 lb. bag for every 0.5 cubic foot.

Southwest Boulder & Stone Decomposed Granite

This granite is super versatile and can be used anywhere around your home for filling in gaps with vibrant color and functional material. It’s available in a variety of colors including this California gold, is inexpensive to purchase and very easy to install. It’s made with all-natural mulch material that won’t attract pests and naturally provides excellent drainage.

southwest boulder & stone landscape decomposed granite Courtesy of Amazon


Brimstone Landscape Beige Decomposed Granite

This decomposed granite is a combination mix of small granite pieces and granite fines, and is available in a wide range of colors from gold to gray, pink, brown and white. It’s got a very low installation cost, a natural appearance and good porosity as well which allows water to drain through it and penetrate the soil beneath. It’s 100% natural, designed to not attract pests and is very easy to install.

Brimstone landscape decomposed granite, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Home Depot


Black Mexican Beach Pebble Smooth Round Rock

This attractive pebble stone is bigger in size and more textured in look, but could look very nice layered on top of decomposed granite in the right yard. It gives it a modern touch and a naturally smooth finish, and will look great surrounding succulents or water-wise plants as well. These Mexican pebbles are hand-picked from beaches in Baja and are 100% natural stones. They come in beautiful color patterns and help retain moisture in the soil, so when it does rain your plants will get the maximum benefit.

southwest boulder & stone black mexican beach pebble, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Home Depot


Midwest Hearth Store Polished Mixed Pebbles

Speaking of pebbles, pea gravel is another popular pick for lawn alternatives due to the size (pea size!) and versatility of the rock. These shiny, decorative pebbles are 3/8″ and coated in paraffin wax for enhanced color. Each bag contains a whole bunch of natural shapes and colors, and they contain no dyes or artificial oils making them an eco-friendly pick.

naturally decorative polished mixed pebbles, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Amazon


Garick Pea Gravel

These pea pebbles from Garick are a decorative stone with a coverage area of about 6 square feet. They’re super easy to spread and help control erosion and retain moisture for your landscaped areas. Each 14 litre bag can cover about 0.6 cubic feet, so many sure you buy enough before installation day.

Garick pea gravel, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Home Depot


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Option 3: Succulents

Succulents are made for the desert, as they tend to be plants that need less water and do very well in the heat. Spice up your new gravel lawn by planting a few succulents here and there to introduce life back in. They don’t need a lot of water, grow quickly in the summertime and will match the southwestern look of your new drought-friendly outdoor space. Here are a few options, but there are many more available via Amazon, Home Depot and your local gardening stores.

Altman Plants Aloe Vera 3-Pack

Aloe vera is one of the most famous drought-friendly plants known for being super low-maintenance. It also helps relieve sunburns and can help cuts and scrapes heal faster as well. This pack comes with three plants that’ll each grow tall and produce yellow flowers for a vibrant display of color. These plants thrive in areas that are well-lit, so if your lawn gets a ton of sun and you’re worried other plants will get overheated, aloe is the way to go.

Altman plants aloe vera plant 3-pack, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Home Depot


Altman Plants Succulent Assortment 18-Pack

For a variety of succulents, this 18-pack is a great option. They’re all small, but planting them along a walkway or driveway would add a fun, festive look that’s drought-friendly as well. No two succulents are the same, and all of them are low-maintenance and made for areas that get a ton of sunlight.

succulent assortment pack, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Home Depot


Option 4: Water-Wise Plants

There are plenty of plants out there native to dry, hot areas that don’t need a ton of water to survive. Many of them would look great either as a lawn replacement or interspersed throughout your gravel lawn, complemented by pebbles, succulents and other details. We’ve included a few options below including moss, clover lawn and ornamental grasses.

Avalanche Feather Reed Grass

This super tall grass is deer-resistant and thrives with daily exposure to direct sunlight. The long blades of it dance in the wind for a peaceful, calming effect and it can add vertical variety to your new flat, gravel-covered outdoor space. It’s got natural color variation and is very low-maintenance. It’s perfect for lining a driveway or sidewalk, and has strong stems built for long-term growth.

Avalanche feather reed grass, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Home Depot


Elijah Blue Fescue Grass

This is another ornamental grass meant to fill in spaces in a large drought-friendly lawn and make a statement in the process. It’s got beautiful blue, green and orange colors and is made to grow in full sunlight. It can be planted between the fall and spring, and is super tolerant of hot, humid summers. The finely textured blades add definition and dimension, and it’s a super low-maintenance plant with low watering requirements.

elijah blue fescue grass, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Home Depot


Scotts Turfbuilder Clover Lawn

Clover lawn is a great way to save on water and still have a live, lush lawn without a ton of maintenance. Clover lawn naturally self-fertilizes and will stay greener longer than conventional lawn during a short-term drought. We wouldn’t recommend this option for those living in California or other super drought-prone state where droughts tend to last for multiple years, but if you’re on the cusp of a dry season and want a lawn you don’t need to worry about, it’s a great pick. This Clover lawn is formulated with strawberry clover that establishes itself quickly and is made to grow in salient, tough soils.

scotts turfbuilder clover lawn, lawn alternatives Courtesy of Home Depot


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