Dwarf Pink Yarrow as Lawn Substitute

dwarf pink yarrow (Achillea millefolium 'Rosea')

dwarf pink yarrow (Achillea millefolium ‘Rosea’), 7 years after planting

Q: We have Marathon tall fescue grass in our rear yard that has never done well, possibly due to two Dobermans. However, they are much calmer now that they are older and won’t be around forever. We would like to remove the grass and replace it with some kind of low-maintenance ground cover. We looked at Veronica repens. The lawn consists of two areas, 18 feet by 18 feet, and 24 feet by 28 feet. We need something that doesn’t require mowing and uses little water, or at least less than a lawn. What do you suggest?
A: Veronica repens is a small-leafed, blue- or white-flowered ground cover recommended for planting between the cracks of stepping stones. It is in the same category as Isotoma, Viola hederacea and wooly thyme. It might be too slow-growing, however, for the more than 1,000 square feet you wish to plant. Before establishment and even beyond, weed control can be a major headache, because stepping-stone ground covers are not terribly aggressive growers.
Years ago, the Lummis House in Pasadena, adjacent to the Southwest Museum, used a dwarf yarrow with pinkish flowers, Achillea millefolium `Rosea,’ as a lawn substitute.
Yarrow is a drought-tolerant ground cover that may be mowed — or cut back with a string trimmer (weed whacker) every now and then without ill effect. The `Rosea’ variety is even available as seed. The look it gives is certainly not as lush as a lawn, so you will have to readjust your thinking if you go with it. Also, I cannot vouch for its long-term durability — or any ground cover, for that matter — if you wish to use it as a lawn. UPDATE:  The attached photo shows the Lummis pink yarrow, during winter, 7 years after planting.
Faux grass
Synthetic grass is increasingly being used as a lawn substitute.
The rap against synthetic grass is that it heats up in the summer, so you cannot play tag on it in bare feet on the Fourth of July. If you are a golf enthusiast, you may opt for a synthetic putting green as a way to utilize your dog-damaged grass.
I am facing a similar challenge with my own backyard.
Grass once grew there, but my dog destroyed it. My yard is about the same size as yours, and I considered putting in a new lawn now that the dog is out of the picture, but decided to do something different. Under the best of circumstances, lawns are expensive and laborious to maintain, considering their water, fertilization and aeration requirements.
Another approach
I have decided to plant a variety of fruit trees, interconnected by paths of decomposed granite. Once the trees are in place, I will plant annual flowers, vegetables and perennials along the paths.
There will also be two or three benches among the trees and pathways, so that there will be a place to sit, in sun or shade, during most of the hours of the day. If I wanted, I could also add a water feature or two to my lawnless landscape.
My inspiration for a Valley orchard comes from David Silber and his son, Alex, who are the fruit-tree mavens of Los Angeles. The Silbers have made both back and front yards of their Granada Hills home into impressive orchards, where they grow more than 100 varieties of tropical and deciduous fruit trees. For more information about their nursery, call (818) 363-3680. You can also visit their Web site at www.papayatreenursery. com.

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