Landscaping Ideas for Where Grass Won’t Grow

If you have an area where grass won’t grow, it’s a fantastic opportunity to employ some alternate landscaping ideas which will make your garden look better. There are a variety of options, ranging from simple fixes to full installations. There are ways to improve grass growth, alternate plants to consider, as well as features like patios and ponds. This guide is designed to put all the options on the table, so that you can decide what will work for you.

Common Reasons Why Grass Won’t Grow

The main reason that grass wont grow in certain areas is because of the amount of daylight it receives. Grass needs at least 6 hours of sunlight to grow properly. You can try trimming foliage to improve the light access to the area in question, having a tree removed, or trimming back on branches can solve this problem.

 Foot traffic also hampers the ability of a lawn to grow properly, you may end up with sparse patches where there are foot routes through your garden. You may avoid this by creating paths, these may be made of gravel, or paved using concrete. You can also plant ground-covers which are tolerant of foot traffic for a less artificial look. Sometimes, the problem is to do with the soil. A lack of nutrients, or particularly dry soil can stop grass from growing properly. Grass is particularly sensitive to nitrogen and phosphorus. Try using a soil PH test, if acidity is above 6.5, it’s likely the reason that your grass wont grow. This can be fixed simply using neutralizers.

Soft Landscaping Ideas For Where Grass Won’t Grow

Artificial turf is the most obvious solution for sparsely growing lawns. It can be installed cheaply and easily, and will last a long time with almost no maintenance. Artificial lawns come in many styles and qualities, and they have improved across the board over the last 5 years. However, many people don’t like the look of artificial grass, there are many other options to consider.

There are many planting options that work much better than grass in poor soil or shady areas. We have detailed some native options in the next section. It’s a good idea to plant a variety of flowers and shrubs, to create a natural and interesting space which you will likely even prefer to grass. Creating a flower bed, or sectioning off a part of your garden with ground-cover planting is a great solution in keeping with a wildlife friendly and aesthetically pleasing design.

Another option is to use mulch. Mulch helps with moisture retention, weed control and root protection. There are many options to discuss with a landscaping contractor, such as wood chips, bark, sawdust, straw, pine needles and rubber. Stone mulch can also be used to give a unique texture, and to help with drainage. By improving the soil quality and moisture retention, it’s possible to improve grass growth while also improving the overall health of your garden. Used in conjunction with solutions which improve light access, you may be able to completely restore grass growth in your garden.

Native Plants That Grow Well in the Shade

There are many species of plants, native to Canmore and Canada, which are especially suited to areas where grass wont grow. Before selecting a specific one, consider the area in question, particularly the cause of the issue. Key things to look out for are: tolerance to drought, tolerance to foot traffic, how well they grow in shade, low/high PH and on slopes. The thing that causes grass to grow poorly can be the very same factor which allows other planting to thrive.


Rattlesnake Master – This is a hardy and great looking plant which is drought resistant once established, and can deal soil acidity

Foxglove Beardtongue – Prefers dry soil and partial sun, making it ideal for areas where grass struggles to grow, it is also great for attracting pollinators.

Sky Blue Aster – Is a perennial well suited to difficult areas, it looks fantastic and is good for attracting pollinators.

Oak Sedge – Is a grass-like ground-cover which helps to fill out gardens, giving a natural look. It grows to about 30cm and can tolerate foot traffic and shade.

Bush Honeysuckle – Is great for low-sun areas. It’s a low growing ground-cover, suited for foot traffic and low-nutrient areas.


Maple-leaved Arrowood – Is prized for it’s appearance, producing white flowers in the spring and purple berries in the fall. They are shade tolerance and attract birds, growing to almost 2m tall.

Hard Landscaping Ideas for Where Grass Won’t Grow

A great solution for a space where grass wont grow is building a pond. They not only look amazing, but can help to bring nature into your garden. Most ponds use a concrete or fiberglass lining, which both require very low maintenance. Borders of stones or rocks (especially locally sourced ones, see our big rocks landscaping advice here), can provide a special finishing touch.

Depending on how you use your garden, you may want to consider creating a raised bed, filled with sand, gravel or specialty plants. This is a good way to add a personal touch to your outdoor space. If you have children, these areas can make for excellent play areas.

If you want to make your garden even more wildlife friendly, you can use shaded areas to build bug houses and composting spaces. This is a contemporary solution that we are seeing more and more people keen to try out.

Patios work especially well in places where grass wont grow. They may be installed on any type of soil, and poor light access can be made up for using artificial lighting (see our guide to outdoor lights here). There are many types of patio to choose from, ranging from concrete, wood, clay, gravel or natural stone. Patios are a great way to transform poorly performing areas into functional and aesthetic spaces.

Closing Thoughts

There are many options to consider for areas where grass wont grow. Simple fixes such as PH testing and sunlight management can be effective, but many prefer to turn a sparse and dull area into a feature. Specially selected plants well suited to shady areas, and hard options like patios and ponds are the go-to for gardens across the world. To work with Pine & Pillar to design your ideal space, click here.