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Dog-Friendly Lawn Alternatives

Key Takeaways

  • Many eco-conscious people are looking for alternatives to traditional grass lawns to save water and avoid pesticides.
  • If you have a dog, several lawn alternatives are hearty and still allow pets to sniff and urinate.
  • Grass lawn replacements suitable for pets include other ground covers, drought-resistant natural grasses, and artificial turf designed for dogs.

The American lawn is as ingrained in our culture as baseball, apple pie, and playing a game of fetch with the family dog. Many people consider it the most desirable use of outdoor space, especially for those with children or pets. In fact, manicured turf grass lawns cover up to 50 million acres of land in the U.S., according to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).

Advantages of a Grass Free Yard

But a persistent drought in the west has many eco-conscious people ditching their lawns because of the huge amount of water, fertilizer and pesticides needed to keep all that grass healthy. Lawns also harm the environment because they do not support pollinators and cause water pollution due to runoff, the NRDC says. Some people are turning to xeriscaping, which uses drought-tolerant plants and landscaping techniques to create a unique, eco-friendly outdoor space. Others are installing wood chips, rock or other ground coverings.

If you are one of those people, you may be wondering if there’s a lawn alternative that works for pets. You can rip up your lawn and plant other ground coverings yourself or find a landscaper specializing in low-maintenance, native plant ground coverings. More companies are offering grass alternatives that allow pets to enjoy the softness, smell and feel of grass.

Another option is to install an artificial turf that is suitable for pets.

Ground coverings to replace grass for dogs

Many ground covers use less water, grow more quickly, and require less maintenance than a lawn while still providing the feel of a green space. Which ground cover you choose will be influenced by local conditions, so do your research to see which ground covers thrive in your environment. Some ground covers tolerate foot traffic more than others, which is also a consideration. Besides ground covers, there are also natural grasses that require less water and care.

Install It Direct, a company that specializes in landscapes that replace lawns, says these ground covers are popular and suitable for dogs:

1. Silver carpet (dymondia margaretae)

This silver-green leaved ground cover sprouts yellow flowers in warm weather and grows low to the ground. It tolerates foot traffic extremely well.

2. Irish moss (sagina subulata)

Irish moss is an attractive, popular alternative to natural grass that grows about an inch tall and sprouts little white flowers in the spring, but they are not drought tolerant, so it is a better choice for areas that receive regular rainfall. This soft, mat-like ground cover can take partial or full sun and requires consistent watering that will need to increase with temperatures.

3. Elfin thyme (thymus serpyllum “elfin”)

This ornamental herb has a pleasant smell and is edible. Elfin thyme grows to two inches tall with purple flowers and is an attractive addition to rock gardens and container gardens, where it cascades over the sides. Thyme’s dense, hardy nature allows it to handle light to moderate human and animal traffic.

4. Miniature stonecrop (sedum requieni)

This tiny, lesser-known sedum can take quite a bit of foot traffic and reseeds itself if damaged. Tiny leaves form a tight mat with small yellow flowers appearing in the summer. Miniature sedum works well in drought-tolerant gardens.

5. Snow in summer (cerastium tomentosum)

This relatively drought-tolerant ground cover grows to six inches tall and does well in full sun or partial shade. Its hardiness makes it a pet-friendly ground cover. White flowers and silvery-green leaves mimic winter tones when they bloom in early summer.

white and brown dog rolling in grass

Natural grass for dogs

If you want a natural grass lawn with pets, you will have to lower your expectations of having a perfectly manicured lawn. Live grass will be roughed up with brown spots from urination, digging and dog play.

There are grass options that require less watering and pesticides than the traditional turf, and also stand up better to traffic from people and pets. Install It Direct says these grasses are popular and suitable for dogs:

1. Buffalo grass

Buffalo grass is marketed as a low-water, drought-tolerant grass and may be purchased as seed or in plugs by special order at many local nurseries. It is a hardy grass that grows to three inches tall while requiring little maintenance.

2. Kentucky bluegrass 

More suitable for cooler climates, this grass grows quickly, can reseed itself, and withstand high traffic. It can be used to patch bare spots in other types of lawn.

3. Tall fescue 

Tall fescue tolerates lawn burn from pet urine better than other grasses, which is great news for dog lovers. Because tall fescue is deeply rooted and has wider blades than other grasses, it can also handle heavy traffic.

4. Zoysia Grass 

Excellent for warm, dry climates, Zoysia grass is sturdy and long-lasting, making it a perfect drought-tolerant ground cover option.

Fake grass or artificial turf for dogs

Artificial turf may be a solution if you want a lawn that looks like a manicured lawn but without all the maintenance and environmental impacts. While more expensive than other options, at least initially, it is long-lasting and easy to care for. Artificial grass means not worrying about brown spots, bare patches, or holes from digging. Made with UV-resistant plastic, it’s easy to clean after your pet goes potty on it and provides a level, smooth surface with fewer tripping hazards for play for pets and children. Another bonus is there are no wet blades of grass or mud to mop up off the floor when they come in from playing on the lawn — even right after it rains.

The negatives are that the turf can get hot in the summer and holds on to urine smells if not cleaned properly. Install it Direct recommends applying a deodorizer or urine odor eliminator to help absorb pet urine odors.

Cost of artificial turf

Ideal Turf says for a 500-1,000 sq. ft. installation, plan on about $6.16 – $8.98 per square foot, depending on the quality of the product. For a 1,000 sq. ft. space, that comes out to $6,160-$8,980. The company has an artificial grass cost calculator you can use to estimate your costs. Remember that after the initial installation, it costs almost nothing to maintain, and the manufacturers promise it will last 10 years or more.

dog with ball trotting on astro turf

Artificial turf designed for dogs

Several companies now offer artificial turf designed specifically for dogs. One such company, GrassWorx, sells a product called Natura for dogs. Besides being easy to maintain, the company says that the hybrid turf allows liquids, odors, and sunlight to pass through it, so there’s no pooling of water or urine. They also say you can install the turf yourself without hiring a professional.

Ideal Turf says to look for these features when shopping for artificial turf for pets:

  • Durability – Look for a heavier face weight to ensure you get artificial grass that will withstand time and heavy traffic.
  • Fully permeable backing – This is a must-have for pet owners who want to avoid the buildup of odors from pet urine in their lawn.
  • Warranty – a warranty indicates that the manufacturer is willing to stand behind their product.
  • Matches neighborhood grass type – note what grasses are common in your area, and match the color and look if you can.
  • Low pile height – A low pile height of around one inch is suitable for pet turf, as it makes cleanup of solid waste quick and easy.
  • Affordability – With so many choices on the market, you can find an artificial grass product that meets your needs and fits your budget.

Maintaining or cleaning artificial turf

Fake turf for pets is much easier to maintain than a typical lawn but will still need to be sprayed down once or twice a week to ensure that the ammonia from pet urine doesn’t build up and cause odors. Of course, you will also need to pick up any pet waste.  Ideal Turf says not to use a pressure washer, as the excess force could damage the grass. 

The only other maintenance is regularly raking up any leaf or twig debris that may fall on it and “fluff” it up with a rake or broom if it gets too trodden.