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: Courtesy Bonnie Plants

Photo By: Schlegelfotos

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Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Photo By: Zoonar RF

Photo By: Courtesy Bailey Nurseries

©Stepables.com

Photo By: Proven Winners

Photo By: Joshua McCullough

©2013

Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

Groundcovers don't just provide color and interest in winter; they can also help control erosion and suppress weeds that try to sprout when the weather warms up. Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum, a mat-forming woolly thyme) is rugged enough to walk on and releases a pleasant scent when crushed.

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 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.

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.

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.

Dwarf Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nanus')

This evergreen turf alternative grows in dense clumps. It prefers filtered light and to be watered regularly. It's a good match for Zones 7 to 11. As the name of the grass suggests, it is a smaller plant and only grows up to four inches in height. It is fairly drought-resistant as long as it has enough water during germination. It does take some time to fully grow, but is worth it for how striking it looks in full landscapes or as edging.

Juniper 'Old Gold' (Juniperus x pfitzeriana)

Spreading junipers like 'Old Gold' can be planted approximately three feet apart for groundcovers that hold their color all winter. This slow-growing juniper, which tops out around 2 to 3 feet tall, is an attractive golden-yellow. It is a low maintenance variety that serves as a great hedge as well. It grows best in Zones 4 to 9.

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)

Creeping Jenny, sometimes also called moneywort, is a creeping evergreen that is another great option for winter color. In the summer, the plant blooms with small, cup shaped flowers to add another dimension to the lovely groundcover. It is a quick-growing plant that only takes a little time to establish, so it is best to plant it 18 inches apart in moist soil. It's best in Zones 3 to 8.

Vinca (Vinca major or Vinca minor)

Plant Vinca major, sometimes called periwinkle, or Vinca minor, for an evergreen ground cover in shady or wooded areas. Both will bloom, starting in the spring, and both can spread aggressively under the right conditions. Some states list one or both as invasive, so check to see if there are planting restrictions in your area. Shown here: Vinca reticulata, an annual trailing plant for containers or landscapes that is hardy in Zones 7 to 10.

Dead Nettle (Lamium galeobdolo)

While there are over 50 varieties of the Lamium species in the mint family, Lamium galeobdolo will produce small yellow blooms. As any gardner knows, mint plants can run wild if left unchecked. However, that makes Lamium a perfect alternative to traditional turf. It grows great in partial to full shade. Called "dead nettle" because of its resemblence to the stinging nettle plant, this beauty is best for Zones 4 to 10. Another bonus: it's deer-resistant.

Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum)

Something of a misnomer, this plant isn't related to the common jasmine plant. It is, however, another low maintenance groundcover option for the turf-averse. The plant grows anywhere from 6 to 18 inches tall and at least 3 feet wide. It tolerates many different growing conditions and actually prevents weed growth. They should be planted 18 inches apart and will take two growing seasons to completely fill in. After that, the plants require very little maintenance to look spectacular. Asiatic jasmine is best suited to Zones 8 to 10.

Blooming Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)

The lovely lilac blooms in this picture represent blooming lamb's ear, a wonderful groundcover plant that prefers full sun. Too much shade can make this wooly plant prone to disease as it won't dry out all the way. For use as a groundcover, it is best to plant lamb's ear 12 to 18 inches apart in Zones 4 to 8.

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Creeping phlox, a deer- and drought-resistant flowering plant, is a great groundcover option. Native to rocky and sandy areas of the Appalachian region, these beauties bloom in April or May. Pictured is the 'Candy Stripe' variety, a lovely, pink-and-white-striped creeping phlox that creates a carpet of color in the spring—plus, its foliage is evergreen and its typically hardy in Zones 3 to 9, making it a great year-round groundcover for most gardeners.

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