New fescue blends offer less work and more enjoyment.

Do you have better things to do than water, fertilize and mow your lawn? Get a head start on next year’s chores by planting a low maintenance, environmentally friendly lawn. You’ll save money and have less work to do.

What is an eco-lawn?

An eco lawn is an environmental alternative to conventional lawns—many of which require chemical fertilizers and loads of water to stay green throughout the growing season. Eco lawns usually showcase a blend of grasses and other plants bred to reduce your lawn’s dependence on fertilizers and water.

Eco-Lawn is also the name of a seed blend made up of fine fescues that produce a healthy, green lawn with little care, including 50% less mowing and a lot less water. Whether you go for the branded product or your own mix, here’s how to plant, grow, and maintain an eco lawn.

Purchase Eco-Lawn grass seed.

Related: Eartheasy Guide to Lawn Alternatives

When is the best time to plant?

As the title suggests, the best time to plant your eco lawn is during the fall, when moist, cool weather prevails and the weather is getting wetter. There’s also less competition from weeds at this time of year.

You can also plant in springtime, but as the weather warms you may need to water more frequently to help your lawn get established. Watch for temperatures of approximately 65 F or 18 C for perfect planting weather in spring or fall. That includes higher elevations. In California, the best season is between November and January.

The goal is to give your seed the best window to germinate and set down roots. For a more specific date according to your province or state, see this planting guide from Wildflower Farms.

The best soil for eco lawns

To achieve a lush, green lawn with less work and fewer inputs, you’ll need to start with healthy soil. While most lawns don’t have the high nutrient needs of vegetable gardens, they perform better if nutrients are readily available during the first year and the soil allows their roots to penetrate and spread.

The blend of fine fescues in most alternative lawn blends grows deeper than conventional lawns. This deeper root system prevents drying out and allows better uptake of nutrients from different layers in the soil. It’s also the reason eco lawns aren’t sold as sod. Any cutting of their extensive root system would cause the plants to die back. Seeding an eco lawn is the best (and usually only) choice.

To get your eco lawn off to the best start possible, test your soil with a simple squeeze test. Compress a handful of soil in your fist.

performing soil squeeze test

  • If the soil is sticky and remains intact when you let go, you have clay soil.
  • If the soil feels gritty and crumbles when you let go, you have sandy soil.
  • Soil that feels smooth and holds its shape for a short period of time is loamy or silty soil.
soil squeeze test part two

Perform a simple squeeze test to find your soil type. Looks like we have loam!

Once you know what type of soil you have, you can amend accordingly. Keep the following tips in mind as you prepare your site.

If your soil is very sandy, add 3” topsoil to help establish your lawn more quickly.

If your soil is predominantly clay, add a layer of peat moss or straw mulch after sowing seed to prevent moisture from evaporating.

If you have loamy or silty soil, lucky you: your soil should have what it takes to grow an eco lawn without too much fuss. Amending with organic compost as noted below is still important to give your seeds the nutrition they need for that first year.

Related: Know Your Garden Soil: How to Make the Most of Your Soil Type

How to plant an eco lawn


Begin by eliminating all the weeds on your site by hand pulling, smothering, or other means. Rake away debris, such as leaf litter and twigs, then till the site to a depth of three inches.

Rake the area again to ensure a smooth surface. Avoid sowing on steep slopes because nutrients and seeds can easily get washed away.

Fertilize the area with weed-free, organic compost or turf starter. A ¼ inch layer is all you need to provide nutrients for your lawn’s first year.

Spread your seed according to manufacturer’s instructions for coverage. Sow by hand for small areas. For larger lawns, use a fertilizer spreader loaded with half your seed, progressing lengthwise and then (using the other half) widthwise to ensure even coverage.

Rake the soil to just cover and roll in with a lawn roller.


If you already have a lawn and you’d like to convert it to an eco lawn, you have two choices: overseeding into the existing grass (a slow process that takes several years), or removing the old lawn and replacing with eco lawn (a quicker process that takes a single year).

If you don’t mind a gradual replacement of your lawn and the work that comes with it, overseed your existing lawn with eco lawn seed. This includes the following steps:

  • Mow the existing grass as short as possible, preferably 1 or 2 inches.
  • Remove leaf litter and other debris from the area. If you’re planting in the fall, remove thatch by raking deeply. You can often rent a dethatcher from your local garden centre or tool share to save time on big lawns. Avoid raking deeply if planting in the spring because this will bring up weed seeds.
  • Spread a thin layer of finished compost over the area to be seeded.
  • Repeat the process every year for four or five years, until your lawn is predominantly fine fescues. You’ll need to continue mowing the existing lawn until your lawn converts to eco lawn, but eventually you’ll notice that your grass is growing more slowly. Overseeding twice per year will speed up the conversion.

Removing and replacing:
If you would prefer to work from a blank slate but your lawn is full of conventional grass, you’ll need to remove it using one of the following methods:

  1. Using an organic herbicide, spray your old lawn every two weeks for up to eight weeks. When your old lawn is dead, mow the grass as short as possible and rake the area to roughen the soil surface. Seed with your preferred eco lawn blend. Rake into the soil and roll flat with a lawn roller.
  2. Strip the old lawn off the soil surface to a depth of 2 ½ to 3 inches. Rototill the remaining soil or rake hard to create a level bed. Spread your seeds, raking into the soil and rolling flat as noted above.
  3. You can also smother your existing lawn under 4 inches of soil, then spread your seed onto the new soil. Rake in and roll as above. One drawback with this method is that you may end up importing weed seeds, so keep this in mind when sourcing your topsoil.

grass with water droplets

Watering guidelines

Water your newly planted seed every day for one month, unless it rains. The best time to water is early in the morning when there is less evaporation. You want the soil to be moist to a depth of one inch.

After one month has passed, and if you’ve planted your seed in the fall, you should be able to stop watering except during unseasonably dry periods. Fall rains will do the rest of the work for you.

If you plant in the spring, continue watering your lawn during dry periods to a depth of one inch for the first year.

After one year of growth, your eco lawn should only need water during periods of drought to stay green in most parts of North America. If you live in hot, dry climates like Texas or California, you should see your watering regime reduced by 75%.

Related: 45+ Ways to Conserve Water in the Home and Garden

How long will an eco lawn take to grow?

Alternative turfgrasses grow at different rates, depending on what seeds your mix contains. Most germinate quickly in cool, moist conditions, but grow slowly. That’s because their deep root systems take time to develop. But that development is well worth the wait: a deep root system is the main reason these lawns need less fertilizer and water than traditional lawns.

Growth rate also depends on exposure to sunlight. Just like conventional lawns, lawn alternatives have different needs. Eco-lawn grows well in full sun, partial sun, and even shade. Others, like straight micro clover or Dutch white clover need 4 to 6 hours of sunlight per day.

Once established, an eco lawn should require less water, virtually no fertilizer, and little to no mowing depending on your preference (see below).

When should I mow? Do I have to?

Cutting your environmentally friendly lawn is not a requirement. After all, easy-care is one of the beauties of eco lawns. But you can mow if you want.
Here are the most common options:

  1. If you like the look of a conventional, cropped lawn, go ahead and mow your eco lawn—but be sure never to cut more than one third of your lawn’s growth or you’ll stress the plants and cause them to struggle. Once established, that means never mowing your lawn shorter than 3 inches. Since eco lawns tend to grow more slowly than conventional lawns, you’ll likely find you’re mowing a lot less than you expected.
  2. If you like the flowing, natural look of an eco lawn, allow your lawn to naturalize for most of the season, cutting twice every year (after its first year) in spring and fall. If you don’t trim in the spring after its first year, your lawn will try to set seed. Trimming again in the fall will reduce thatch and help your lawn green up more quickly the following spring.

lawn mower and green grass

How long until you can use your eco lawn?

While your lawn is getting established, it’s best to avoid traffic (human or otherwise). After a full growing season, both people and pets are welcome on your lawn.

Resistance to pet spots

Unfortunately there aren’t many grasses available that can withstand repeated doses of highly acidic pet urine. If your dog routinely kills the grass on your current lawn, an eco lawn won’t solve this problem. Check with your dog’s vet at your next appointment to see if there’s something you can do to increase the alkalinity in your pet’s diet. Highly acidic pet urine is often a sign that something isn’t right with your pet’s health.

How much seed do I need?

Most alternative turf blends will list the amount of coverage a bag of seed will provide in their product details (either on the seed bag or on their website’s description). For example, a 5-pound bag of Eco-Lawn will cover 1000 square feet. A 50-pound bag will cover 10,000 square feet.

But how many square feet is your lawn? That’s the million dollar question.
If your lawn is square or rectangular, simply measure the length and width and multiply them together. The total will be your square footage.

how to measure your lawn

If your lawn is oval or made up of a variety of shapes, try out this calculator that lets you zoom in to any property using Google Maps and find the square footage of a specific area. It’s fast, easy, and great for estimating lawn size. (It also looks like I need the 50-pound bag of seed!)

backyard measurements using automatic calculator

This area calculator uses Google Maps to accurately measure how much square footage is in a given area.

Related: Eartheasy Guide to Lawn Alternatives

What about the cost?

Eco lawn seed generally costs more than conventional lawn seed, but most feel the savings are worth the initial investment. That’s because the longer you enjoy your eco lawn, the more you earn back in savings on water, fertilizer, and time.

To see exactly how much (and how quickly) an eco lawn can save you on your water bill, try out this water savings calculator.

To calculate the savings on amendments, deduct what you spend each season on fertilizer and compost (after the first year) for the number of years you expect to enjoy your lawn. Since most homeowners in North America fertilize on every major holiday, or up to 10 times per year, this cost can be quite significant. puts the average cost of professionally fertilizing a lawn at $223 per application. See their calculator for a cost more specific to your area.

Frequently asked questions about eco lawns

Will they grow in the shade?

Some eco lawn blends will grow in the shade, but be sure to choose one that lists this feature in its product description. Eco-Lawn will grow in shade, sun, or a combination of the two.

How about on slopes?

Planting an eco lawn on a steep slope risks losing seeds to erosion. To prevent this, mix your eco-lawn seed with annual ryegrass, which will help stabilize the soil. Roll in seed with a weighted lawn roller to ensure contact with soil. If the slope is a gentle one, you can sow eco lawn blends full strength without worry.

Will my pet ruin my eco lawn?

As noted above, pets that damage conventional lawns by marking or urinating will likely damage your eco lawn in the same way. Digging pets may harm eco lawns less overall, since the roots of most eco lawn blends are deeper and stronger than Kentucky bluegrass. Regular pet traffic is suitable for eco lawns.

Does elevation matter?

Temperature and moisture level are the most important determinants for sowing an eco lawn. Check the seeding chart for your area and adjust sowing time based on the average temperature at your elevation. The best temperature for planting is 65 F or 18 C.

What is the best soil type for an eco lawn?

While most alternative lawn blends will grow in marginal soil, the seeds need nutrients to get established. Aerated soil will also help seeds develop the extensive root system they need to thrive. If you suspect your top layer of soil lacks nutrients, perform a soil test to find out what might be lacking. Adding finished compost before planting is recommended for all soil types (see above).

What happens in the winter?

Depending on where you live, your eco lawn may have a dormant period when winter comes. Like conventional lawns, eco lawns will survive snow, ice, and other cold weather conditions, returning in the spring to their lush, green appearance. In warmer climates like California, eco lawns will stay green all year long if watered during periods of drought.

Getting started on saving time

More and more people are switching from conventional lawns to alternatives featuring everything from wildflower meadows to creeping ground covers. To seed your yard with a low maintenance option that gives you the beauty of grass with half the work, consider an eco lawn.

Related: How to Reduce the Size of Your Lawn

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