What is a native plant that can be used to replace lawn turfgrass?
We’re looking to replace our lawn grass with a low-growing, low-maintenance native plant. The area is about a quarter of an acre, in full sun.
Common groundcover alternatives to turfgrass include creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera), bearberry (Arctastaphyllos uva-ursi), and Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens), though there are many others. If you are considering a taller class of plants as well as groundcovers, there are plenty of native bushes and small shrubs that might serve as well (please see the Buffer Book below).
Two really great resources on alternatives to turfgrass:
While these are both a little south of us, the general principles are the same and they can help you get an idea for what you’d like to do. I recommend UMaine’s List of Pollinator Plants and the Maine State Buffer Book to cross reference any plants you like for Maine environments. Also please refer to our UMaine Page on Lawns for information on low-input care for any grass you’d like to keep, as well as general information on improving the soil quality moving forward.
As for removing whatever existing grass or plants you have in the space to be converted, there are multiple avenues available. If you’re in a hurry and have the tools, you can spade up the turf and physically remove it, or use a rototiller to churn it under (though keep in mind grass can resprout from broken rhizomes–spreading, underground stems–so you may need to be on the lookout for shoots emerging). A less labor intensive, but slower, method is to cover the grass with multiple layers of thick newspaper or old carpets–this will eventually kill the grass and make it much easier to dislodge and remove.
Finally, because you’re removing the old plants wholesale and putting in new ones, I recommend taking that opportunity to get your soil tested at the UMaine Analytical Laboratory. This will give you an idea what changes might need to be made in order to give your new plants their best start.