A recent post on an alternative use for grass elicited a great response from a reader about alternative lawns. As I've said before I'm not a big fan of grass, but I know there are reasons to maintain these open spaces - family recreation, picnic spots, pets, etc. - that look a little more traditional. Buffalo grass and members of the sedge family are two options that come to mind almost immediately as viable alternatives.
Sedges look like grass, but are not. In the woods they often look like a wispy version of lawn grass, but upon closer inspection they have an edge. Literally. If you've ever pulled a piece of grass, you'll notice that the base stem is round with a hole. A sedge is not round, but has an edge. A good friend reminded me of this little ditty: Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses, like a--es, have holes. A native plant unlike traditional lawn grasses, sedges have a deeper root system, can be deer repellent, and relatively drought resistant. David Mindell at PlantWise, a friend as well as a restoration and native plant expert, suggested Pennsylvania sedge as a good option. "It tolerates light shade, some traffic, and dry conditions. It's beautiful, never needs mowing, and can be established with plugs or seeds."
Buffalo grass is a grass, but a native one in the western prairies that works well for grazing. With roots that can reach five feet down it is terrifically drought tolerant and great for stabilizing soils, and is especially happy in sandy, well-drained spots. According to David Mindell at PlantWise, he's used it on the west side of the state with great success.
Useful Information Sources
Planting and Maintaining a Buffalo Grass Lawn by Terrance P. Riordan
This book from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens on installing and maintaining a buffalo grass lawn looks quite promising and helpful. The page itself about the book clarified a great deal for me, and offered further inspiration.
Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape by John Greenlee
Another great book from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens this one offers a number of good suggestions about sedges and using them as an alternative to grass.
Michigan Wildflower Farm
A local source for alternative lawn mixes using seeds from Michigan natives. David has used some of these at different sites with good success. The site also offers valuable information to get you started with native plants.
Another great resource for learning about native plants and how and why to incorporate them.