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Lawn alternatives for low water gardens

It can sometimes be hard to 'think outside the box' when you have an already established garden, especially if it involves making significant changes to existing planting, especially where you have a well developed lawn.

The best gardens thrive because they have a realistic amount of time and resources given to them. Good lawns need time, water, expertise and financial investment to keep them looking pristine. Many Zambians have already embraced the concept of succulent planting as they have realised that how much less water and time these plants need. When it comes to our lawns, we can make a similar transition and here are some suggestions for lawn alternatives.

Ground Covers: 

Ground covers like clover, creeping thyme, or sedum can create a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant alternative to grass lawns. These plants often require less water and mowing while providing color and texture to the landscape.

Kleinia petraea (Jade creeper)

Jade creeper can take both full sun and part shade, so it can fill up areas under trees. I does suppress weeds if planted thickly enough, can once established can survive on no water through the dry season. It has soft leaves and is more suitable for low traffic areas.

Kleinia petraea
Kleinia petraea. By Pieter Pelser - [1] (found automatically by User:Picasa Review Bot) National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0542238, CC BY 3.0,

Dymondia margaretae

This is a succulent groundcover which can grow in full sun or part shade. It had small leaves and grows in a thick compact form, with silvery green leaves and flowers (a bit like gazania). It can be used in high traffic areas and is frequently used in between paving blocks. No mowing required.

Silvery grey tufts of dymondia
Silvery grey tufts of dymondia Photo Credit: By Stickpen - Own work, Public Domain,


Ruschia lineolata 'Nana' or 'Dwarf Carpet of Stars' is another succulent gem, which grows thickly in full sun. It can be planted anywhere where you would have lawn and is so touch it can survive being played on, walked on regularly. No mowing required and easy to patch up if a bare patch develops.

Ruschia in flower with small purple flowers
Ruschia in flower. Photo: By Ghislain118 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Dyamondia and Rushia are not widely available in local nurseries but you can find them and propagate your own. However, it is a great business opportunity for someone to supply the market.

Ornamental Grasses: 

Ornamental grasses come in a variety of sizes, colors, and textures and can be used to create dynamic and visually appealing landscapes. Grasses like feather reed grass, switchgrass, and fountain grass are low-maintenance and add movement and interest to the garden. Examples of evergreen, waterwise grasses include mondo grass, New Zealand flax and other sedges and dietes.

Tufts of Mondo Grass
Tufts of Mondo Grass


Xeriscaping involves landscaping with drought-tolerant plants that require minimal water. Incorporating succulents, cacti, and other arid-adapted plants can create a water-efficient and visually striking alternative to traditional lawns.

Here are a few articles that may inspire you if you are thinking of waterwise gardening

Wider Plant Beds: 

Lawns may be pleasing to the eye but there is little of interest to keep someone actively engaged in the garden. Creating wider wider beds full of ornamental plants, creates a lot of visual interest and enjoyment for gardeners. This styles of gardening is typical in cottage gardening style where is there are wide borders of flowers, herbs and even vegetables.

With this style of gardening you create paths through the garden, and the rest is just plants! Depending on the plants you choose it can also be very low maintenance.

A wide succulent bed at a home in Lusaka.  This bed only receives rain water, which means it survives with no water for almost seven months of the year.
A wide succulent bed at a home in Lusaka. This bed only receives rain water, which means it survives with no water for almost seven months of the year.

So when you do consider changing your lawn, these planting options offer alternatives to having uninteresting lawns in the landscape so you can create create a beautiful, sustainable landscape that suits your personal preferences and allow you to be environmentally sustainable around your homes.

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