Ask the Gardener: Want to replace your lawn? Here are three alternatives.

Including one that needs to be mowed only once a year. Send your questions and comments to [email protected]

Christopher Habermann
Replacing your lawn can make your property more climate-resistant.

What to do this month Plant annual flowers, decorative container gardens, culinary herbs, and vegetables. If you cannot water regularly through the summer, wait until September to plant lawns, perennials, trees, and shrubs when they won’t have to survive the high heat. Prune back dead shrubs and rose branches to growing leaves. Check cut ends for traces of green cells, using a magnifying glass if necessary. Fertilize plantings organically. Garlic mustard (alliaria petiolata) is in bloom now. Yank it out before it goes to seed. The clusters of small flowers each have four white upward-facing petals. A single plant can produce a thousand seeds next month that will sprout over several years, keeping you very busy later if you don’t pull it now.


The invasive Garlic Mustard plant at Holly Hill Farms in Cohasset. (Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe/File/2017)
( Debee Tlumacki / for the Boston Globe )

Q. We are happy with our trees and shrubs, but what can we replace the lawn with, or at least major sections, to make it more climate-resilient? We’ve already agreed not to water it (much) during an extended drought. I’m getting tired of crabgrass being so prolific, but we don’t use herbicides to control such weeds.

B.R., Waltham

A. Try over-seeding now with low-growing white “Dutch” clover (Trifolium repens) seed as a thickener to your existing high-traffic grass. Rake the tiny seeds into the soil at the rate of 6 ounces per 1,000 square feet. Water well, and keep the soil slightly damp for the next month. Do not fertilize it, or you will kill the clover, which will enrich the soil naturally and can restore your lawn to a more natural state. You can also buy lawn mixes that include clover, which used to be part of every lawn until big lawn care companies eradicated it as collateral damage with the herbicides they used for weeds. Be warned that clover will attract so many bees that you don’t want to use it where children run barefoot. Clover requires spring planting.

You can also replace your lawn around trees and shrubs with mulch out to the dripline. Also, more people are planting meadows, which are trickier and messier than lawns but full of life and pollinators. Start with a small area and experiment. The Native Plant Trust in Framingham has information about lawn alternatives. They sell a native Pennsylvania sedge that looks like grass but is better in the shade and requires mowing only once a year.


Q. I still had tomatoes, peppers, and marigolds in my garden last November. They have never lasted so late. If it is true that the growing season is getting longer, what can I plant this spring to take advantage of that so my garden is still going in November?

S.F., Marlborough

A. Memorial Day weekend used to be considered the frost-free planting date in the Boston area, but you can chance planting now and cross your fingers. The weather has become warmer in general, but also more erratic and unpredictable. Increasingly, extreme weather such as drought, heat waves, and flooding can negate the benefits of a longer season, so grow resilient plants and plan to water them regularly. A good example is chive, a perennial onion relative that will even survive light shade. The purple flowers are pretty, too. Snip the grassy leaves with scissors for salads. Plant flats of pansies now. Cut them almost to the ground before they go to seed, and they may rebloom again in the fall. The same is true of snapdragons and low-growing sweet alyssum.

Q. I enjoy your gardening columns, but I was dismayed to see your advice to homeowners to use high phosphorus fertilizer on their lawns. Please see this link on the state website. Municipalities are under pressure to remove excess phosphorus from the environment under the Environmental Protection Agency-mandated MS4 general permit. Can you issue a clarification that phosphorus should be used only if a soil test shows it is needed?


G.C., Franklin

A. Here it is. Thanks for setting me straight!

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