With people looking for ways to make their gardens more “green”, some are replacing high water need lawns with grass turf alternatives or ground covers for their yards.
These lawn substitutes will tolerate light foot traffic and even moderate mowing. For best results set the lawn mower blade at a higher setting, at least 3″, to keep the plants thicker.
Zones 4-9. This sedge, or rush plant, is a perennial plant and is even evergreen in warm areas. The grass-like foliage is a deep blue-green color and tolerates part shade well. Carex flacca is more tolerant of dry conditions than other sedge varieties, but like most sedges, it does best in moist soil. Blue sedge does very well under trees, competing with tree roots for nutrients.
Zones 4-9. An easy-to-grow, flowering ground cover, this chamomile tolerates light foot traffic. Like most chamomile varieties, this lawn substitute tolerates drought fairly well but prefers average moisture and well-drained soil. It is a good flowering ground cover for sandy soil conditions.
Chamomile is easy to grow from seed and will spread, through running roots, to fill in a former lawn area nicely. Mow your chamomile lawn to a longer height than you would mow most grasses or let it grow to a natural, ground-cover height of about 4-6” tall.
The white, daisy-like flowers that appear every summer were traditionally used in soothing herbal teas for stomach aches, headaches and sleeplessness.
Zones 5-7. This alpine ground cover has bright yellow flowers late spring through early fall. A member of the pea family, horseshoe vetch is attractive to bees and butterflies. While it has the reported potential to become invasive in some areas, Hippocrepis comosa is fairly drought tolerant and suitable for xeriscaping.
Horseshoe vetch can grow as tall as 12”, making it a more difficult lawn substitute than some of the other plants mentioned.
Zones 7-11. Also called Creeping Lip Plant, Matchweed Frog-Fruit and Licorice Verbena. This ornamental native of Texas and South America grows in a spreading manner, making it a great turf substitute in temperate climates.
The white flowers attract bees but, more importantly, serve as a food source for white peacock butterflies and crescent butterflies. Once established, this broadleaf perennial is sturdy enough to be mowed and lightly walked on.
Matchweed is sometimes seen as a weed in regular lawns, but is not considered overly invasive and so is welcomed as a lawn substitute in other areas. Fogfruit will tolerate moderate drought and part shade. The turf-like, mat forming plant only grows about 3” tall making it a suitable grass alternative.
Zones 4-10 depending on variety. Also called Scot’s Moss or Corsican Pearlwort. A common lawn alternative, Irish moss is often seen in rock gardens, between stone pavers and used in Japanese Inspired Gardens. This evergreen ground cover is grown for the brightly colored foliage, but also sports white flowers sometimes.
Use Scot’s moss as a weed-suppressing ground cover, under flowering bulbs or as a lawn substitute. Irish moss spreads best through root division and does not tend to become overly invasive in most gardens. Moderate watering and light are usually required, and sometimes older parts of the mossy plant will need to be cut out.
While Irish moss does tolerate light foot traffic, the low-growing plant only reaches 1-2” tall and does not need mowing.