By Amanda Tedrow
University of Georgia
All right, you caught me. I don’t have turf in my front yard. I have a wonderful collection of weeds. My excuse is that it makes it so easy to collect samples for the weed science class I teach.
I have no problem telling everyone who comes into the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office in Athens how to take care of turf. But my own yard operates on a different motto of live and let live. Apparently, the remains of turfgrass in my yard are not listening to the first part of that particular motto.
Between pruning, mulching and moving plants to their second and third locations, I have so much fun working on everything else in the yard that I don’t worry about the turf. There are good and bad aspects to my method, and I know there are many dormant weed seeds in my soil. But I need something a little less demanding in the area of maintenance.
I have been considering some other options for my shaded front yard. There are some beautiful turf alternatives available if you have the right conditions. My two favorites are moss and dwarf mondo grass.
A moss lawn is perfect when you have a heavily shaded yard. Moss prefers a low pH, which is rather typical in central and north Georgia due to clay soils and acidic leaf litter. Moss is also attracted to areas of low fertility, improper drainage and compaction.
If you have moss growing in your yard, chances are most turfs will struggle in that particular area. I once heard another gardener say, “Embrace the moss.”
A moss lawn will never need to be mowed but will need to be raked each fall. They will not tolerate heavy foot traffic so you may need to use stepping stones in well-traveled areas. Also, mixing in ferns, hostas and other shade-loving perennials will create a much different look than a struggling turf lawn.
Another turf alternative is dwarf mondo grass. Dwarf mondo is an evergreen groundcover that is grassy in appearance but is actually in the lily family. Dwarf mondo matures at three inches and typically does not need to be mown.
Another selling point for this groundcover is that deer typically do not munch on it like they do some other shady perennials.
Dwarf mondo is typically planted using plugs since it is not available in sod form. Because of this, it is more expensive to purchase and install than traditional turf options. But it is well worth the time and money once established.
When planting from plugs, know that dwarf mondo is a clumping perennial. It can take over a year for it to fill in between plugs depending on your spacing and budget.
Like moss, dwarf mondo prefers shade and will burn in full sun, detracting from the lush, dark green color. If there is sun damage, this groundcover can be mown in late winter before new growth begins.
So, if you, like me, have been fighting a losing battle of shade versus turf, try one of these low maintenance alternatives. Happy planting.