Tired of Mowing? Try These Plants and Groundcovers

If you're tired of your high-maintenance lawn, discover a wide array of good-looking plants you can use as grass substitutes.
By: Julie A Martens


Photo By: Schlegelfotos


Photo By: Zoonar RF

©Bayer Crop Science

Red Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’)

Red creeping thyme transforms any lawn area into a breathtaking scene, especially when bright reddish blooms appear in early summer. This thyme forms a dense mat that withstands moderate foot traffic. Foliage is evergreen and turns bronze in winter. Use it around stepping stones, a flagstone patio, on slopes or to edge planting areas. Give plants a spot in full sun with well-drained soil. Creeping thyme is deer-resistant and hardy in Zones 3 to 9. Shear plants after flowers fade in midsummer to promote bushy, well-branched plants.

Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)

Roman chamomile creates a pretty, low-maintenance lawn that releases an apple fragrance with every step. Plants prefer a sunny location but will grow in part shade. Soil should be well-drained in all seasons. Remove white blooms as they fade, or leave in place — it depends on your preference. You can mow this groundcover regularly or to remove spent flowers. Once established, Roman chamomile withstands normal foot traffic. Minimize traffic on young plants. This chamomile spreads rapidly, almost aggressively in ideal conditions. Plants are hardy in Zones 4 to 9 and grow best in areas with cool summers.

Irish Moss (Sagina subulata)

When you decide to replace your lawn with a groundcover, you’ll create easy-care beauty that trims your landscape chore list. Select lawn alternatives like you would any other plant. Consider the plant’s light and soil needs, as well as hardiness and maintenance requirements. With a lawn replacement, it’s also important to know how much foot traffic a plant can tolerate. Use groundcovers that don’t tolerate foot traffic in areas where you want to eliminate lawn but don’t want to install high-maintenance plantings. Add stepping stones to protect even walkable plants, like Irish moss. Check out this selection of botanical starlets that can stand in for lawn.

Creeping Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila repens ‘Rosea’)

Pink, ruffled blooms blanket creeping baby’s breath in spring. Leaves are tiny and give the plant a ferny appearance. While heavy foot traffic will crush this perennial, it’s a wonderful choice for edging a path or adding color to planting bed edges. This perennial groundcover needs good drainage to thrive and morning to all day sun. Plants spread roughly 6 to 10 inches annually and are hardy in Zones 3 to 11. Shear plants after flowering to keep them tidy.

Creeping Speedwell (Veronica repens ‘Sunshine’)

Choose Sunshine creeping speedwell to blanket soil in part to full shade. The golden leaves sparkle in low light areas, and small blue blooms open in early summer. Plants grow at a moderate pace, covering 8 inches of ground on average annually. This perennial is hardy in Zones 4 to 8 and needs good drainage to thrive. If plants receive too much sun and not enough moisture, leaf tips burn. Creeping speedwell tolerates some foot traffic. It pairs beautifully with dark slate steppers or a flagstone patio, or tuck it into a woodland garden to skirt ferns or azaleas.

Black Scallop Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’)

Black Scallop bugleweed boasts near-black leaves that hug the ground. Use plants in areas where only moderate foot traffic occurs or to create a striking bed or path edging. Ajuga forms a thick mat that crowds out weeds, and this particular variety doesn’t spread as aggressively into lawns as other types do. Plants demand good drainage and spread at a medium rate (roughly 6 to 10 inches a year). This bugleweed is hardy in Zones 4 to 10. While plants love soil that’s high in organic matter, they tolerate poorer soils, too. Ajuga is susceptible to crown rot. Rake plants regularly to keep debris out of growing beds. Trim spent blooms using a mower or string trimmer.

Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi)

Fluorescent-pink blooms cover hardy ice plant all summer long. This drought-tolerant perennial craves sunlight and well-drained soil that isn’t waterlogged in winter. It’s a perfect choice for a slope or hillside planting. Hardy ice plant doesn’t withstand foot traffic. Use it to replace lawn as an ornamental in areas that aren’t walked on much. This perennial is evergreen in warmer climates and hardy in Zones 6 to 9. Leaves develop a red tint in fall and winter.

Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

Snow-in-summer earns its name from the blooms that blanket plants in late spring to early summer. Leaves offer an eye-catching grey hue. This perennial withstands conditions that kill other plants: full sun and poor soil. Plants spread rapidly, covering upwards of 12 inches of ground annually. Snow-in-summer doesn’t withstand much foot traffic. Use it on slopes or to replace lawn areas that aren’t heavily traveled. Plants are hardy in Zones 3 to 7.

Creeping Lilyturf (Liriope spicata)

Also known as monkey grass, creeping lilyturf is a tough perennial groundcover that withstands some foot traffic. Pale lavender flower spikes appear above leaves in midsummer. Plants spread by underground runners to form a weed-resistant mat. This is a groundcover that can compete with tree roots, making it an ideal lawn replacement beneath trees. Creeping lilyturf is bulletproof, resisting high humidity, heat, pests, diseases, deer and rabbits. Plants are hardy in Zones 4 to 10 and tolerate sun or shade, but prefer rich soil in light shade. Mow lilyturf in spring to remove winter-killed or discolored foliage and encourage new growth.

Dutch clover (Trifolium repens)

Dutch clover is a familiar face in meadows and lawns and actually makes a terrific lawn replacement. The deep green plants withstand normal foot traffic, but aren’t an ideal choice for a heavy traffic area, like a play area beneath a swing set. The small plants boast heat and drought tolerance and stand up to repeated mowing with ease. Newly developed micro-clovers are smaller and designed to blend in with turf grasses better. Dutch clover is hardy in Zones 3 to 9 and isn’t damaged by dog urine. Plants flower heaviest during a small window, but frequent mowing can keep flowers in check.

Buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides)

Buffalo grass is a native grass that spreads by runners. It makes an excellent choice for a low-maintenance lawn. This grass tolerates heat and drought, along with moderate foot traffic. Plants don’t do well in sandy soils but thrive in rich, well-drained, loamy soil and also rocky limestone soils. Buffalo grass is hardy in Zones 3 to 9. It’s a good idea to mow this perennial grass in late winter or early spring to kick off the new growing season. Mowing occasionally during the growing season helps keep the lawn in good health. Never cut buffalo grass shorter than 3 inches.

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