You may have seen videos floating around using the “grasslawn” hashtag, but what does it mean? These videos often feature eco-friendly alternatives to grass yards. In grassless yards, dogs can enjoy the benefits of materials that are gentle on their paws. These spaces can also support their natural instinct to dig, run, and play.
Benefits of Going Grassless
“Typically, we landscape around our homes with grass but environmentally, it’s a very poor choice,” explains Dr. Amy Attas, DVM of New York-based practice City Pets. Grass requires a lot of water to look its best. When your dog pees, you will need more water to dilute the urine and prevent that from discoloring or killing the grass.
A grassless yard utilizes alternative materials such as mulch, concrete paving stones, or synthetic turf. “Since many dogs are allergic to grass, going grassless in the back or front yard is beneficial to dogs with sensitive skin or a history of allergies,” says Dr. Georgina Ushi, DVM, a veterinarian at Fuzzy.
Grassless alternatives make it easier to pick up and dispose of solid waste. They can save you money on fertilizers, pesticides, and other yard materials harmful to dogs. Concrete pavers, for instance, prevent dogs from digging holes and tracking mud inside the house.
If you have your heart set on a lush, green lawn, synthetic turf is a good option for reducing soil erosion and flooding. “Synthetic turf cuts down on water usage and can drastically reduce your water bill,” says Ed Ball, the founder and CEO of Ed Ball Landscape Architecture. “Without the organic elements of turfgrass, the insect population (e.g., fleas, ticks, mosquitos, etc.) will relocate.”
What You Need to Create a Grassless Yard
Start by planning how you’ll secure the area while your dogs’ size and their activity level. Dr. Attas recommends border fencing, such as a wood or vinyl fence. The fence should be tall enough to prevent your dog from climbing over. Ideally, it would go below ground so your pup can’t dig underneath and escape.
Invisible fencing is an option, but it can give “a false sense of security,” Dr. Attas says. “If a dog wants to leave an area that’s invisibly fenced, they’ll run right through, get the shock, and go after the squirrel.” Moreover, invisible fencing doesn’t prevent other animals from accessing the yard, which may pose a threat to your dog.
Choose materials that are comfortable for your dog to walk and lay on and won’t get destroyed easily. Dr. Attas suggests creating a pathway using paving stones, wood planks, or gravel. You can put in little patches of grass or add a bench or perch so your dog can have a view overlooking the yard.
Dr. Attas also recommends including places for your dog to hide and get relief from the sun. Consider adding a water source such as a pet fountain or children’s pool. Make sure it’s very shallow so your dog can submerge their head.
If you prefer the look and feel of grass, ornamental grasses are sturdy, aesthetically pleasing, and safe for your dog to chew on. These are better for the environment since they grow wild and don’t require much water or landscaping.
With synthetic turf, you don’t have to worry about your dog creating dead spots or traffic patterns. “It gives your dog a consistent playing surface, so there’s no more tripping or falling on mounds of grass,” Ball says. You can also replace damaged or uneven spots.
“A benefit of gravel is that it is easy to clean, and the liquid drains through it quickly,” Ball says. The downside is that gravel “can get stuck in paw pads and in between toes, and can get too hot without adequate shade,” Dr. Ushi says.
Gravel can be tempting for dogs that like to chew, making it a potential choking hazard or gastrointestinal obstructor, Dr. Attas explains. Accordingly, paving stones might be a better option because they tend to be flat and stay cool to the touch.
Inexpensive and easy to obtain, woodchips are a simple addition to your yard. However, they can become a choking hazard if your dog tries to eat them. Woodchips can also give pups splinters.
“If you live in a really warm area, woodchips can be a favorite place for fleas to harbor and sometimes mice like to nest in them as well,” Dr. Attas says. Woodchips may also contain chemicals and dye, which can be harmful to dogs. “If you are going to use woodchips, look for cedar (as long as your dog is not allergic to it) since it will naturally repel fleas,” Ball adds.
Organic mulch can be made from shredded bark, leaves, or moss. It may also include inorganic materials like newspaper or rubber. “Sometimes mulch is made from a cocoa plant and too much ingestion is thought to be a toxin like chocolate,” Dr. Attas says. Unless your dog tries to eat it, mulch provides a soft material for dogs that like to dig.
“A backyard with mulch can be easy to clean and drought tolerant, but pet owners have to be careful because some dogs will eat the mulch and it can also cause splinters in their paws,” Dr. Ushi says. She recommends keeping the area as clean as possible and removing any old or faded mulch.
Maintenance and Cleanup
Probably the biggest advantage of a grassless yard is that it needs “less maintenance than an actual yard with grass,” Dr. Ushi says. “Artificial grass is soft, durable, and easy to maintain but it can hold urine if it is not cleaned thoroughly.” To reduce odor, make sure to rinse the surface regularly to remove urine.
Grassless yards are an environmentally conscious and dog-friendly alternative to a traditional lawn. So long as your dog isn’t at risk of ingesting the materials, any of the options mentioned above work well since they’re easy to clean or replace. When planning your outdoor space, consider what your dog likes to do and go from there.