10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (2023)

Though it’s outside, there’s really nothing all that natural about the picture-perfect lawn. Artificially grown, watered, fertilized, and maintained, it’s a strange picture of modernity. We’ve made our case against the “normal” patch of featureless fescue, and if you agree with us, perhaps you’re ready to change up the backyard for something new and less wasteful.

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But we understand that it can be hard to buck convention. Old habits die hard, and changing things can be difficult when you’re doing it alone in your community. Even if you’re clear-eyed enough to see how unnecessary a dumb carpet of grass is to the quality of life, your nosy neighbors or homeowner’s association (HOA) are usually not sympathetic to your views.

Change is slow. So in the meantime, if you absolutely must have a lawn-ish thing in front of your house, but want to get out of the useless grass growing business, there are many options for you to consider to keep that ground covered.

Ground cover plants certainly need not be limited to grass. The very definition of ground cover from a landscaping perspective is a low-growing, low-maintenance, perennial, spreading plant that keeps the ground from being bare.

Note: This is a different plant than a cover crop.

Related Post: Cover Crops

The world of plants that fit the ground cover bill is diverse and fascinating, and some are specialists where grass falls short. Do you have shady areas that are looking a bit naked? Maybe a slope too steep and eroding to support turf? Peruse this list of non-traditional, fabulous ground covers that might be exactly what you need.

1. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (1)
  • Any USDA Zone
  • Most delicious ground cover

Yes, it’s that same oregano that makes your pizza sauce sing! This perennial herb grows beautifully in full sun in any zone, but it does best in areas with warm weather and well-draining soil.

Related Post: 5 Perennial Herbs for Fresh Garden Flavor All Year Long

(Video) 10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Lawn

Though any type of oregano will do, try creeping oregano O. vulgare ‘Humile’for a low-growing, mat-forming variety. Oregano can tolerate some foot traffic but won’t put up with heavy use for long, so plant it where you can enjoy the scent without stomping on it too much.

One of my favorite memories of childhood is the oregano patch that escaped into my parent’s backyard. We always joked that their yard was barely one-third grass with all the lovely wildflowers they allowed.Every time my dad mowed, the aroma was delightful. I recall running over it often without affecting its growth.

2. Chamomile

  • USDA Zones 4 to 9
  • Best ground cover to harvest as tea

Chamomile releases the scent of apple and daisies with every footfall, and if you live in zones 4 to 9, you could easily grow that beauty to cover your yard. Interestingly, the plant historically used to cover those smooth, castle fields of opulence wasn’t the Kentucky bluegrass of modern suburbs, but chamomile and thyme.

Chamomile loves both full and dappled sun and requires very little mowing which results in a dense green cover dazzled with starry white blossoms.Chamaemelum nobile is a creeping variety that is lawn-suitable. A dwarf, non-flowering variety, C. nobile ‘Treneague’ will give you a fragrant, dense, evergreen mat that some say is the perfect lawn replacement.

In order to get a chamomile lawn established, you’ll need to remove the grass. They can’t tolerate competition very well. Be sure the soil is a bit airy, too. Clay and rocky soils aren’t their cup of tea (ha). Chamomile can be stepped on reasonably once established — at least after 12 weeks — but will show signs of wear if trodden daily.

3. Thyme (Thymus spp.)

10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (3)
  • USDA Zones 5 to 8
  • Drought-tolerant ground cover

If you don’t have the time to mow your lawn regularly, perhaps it is time to replace it with thyme (if you’ll forgive me for that atrocious sentence)! Consider transforming part of your landscape into an aromatic thyme garden.

Thyme is drought-tolerant, often used in the sizzling heat of full-sun rock gardens, and available in a huge array of scents, leaf patterns, and bloom colors. They are hardy through zones 5 to 8, though growers in zone 5 may find that thyme won’t survive the winter as perennials.

It may take a bit longer to get established, but once it does, it should be hassle-free.For areas where you intend to walk, look for creeping varieties like Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’ or wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus).

Also, if you have children running around your yard, the sensitive, delicate beauty of many types of ground cover won’t be able to handle their active games. No need to bar kids from being kids outside, though. Just plant appropriately! Both thyme and clover (see below) can handle walking, running, or somersaults.

(Video) Amazing PET FRIENDLY No-Mow Lawn Substitute - Ruschia 'Nana' (Dwarf Carpet of Stars)

4. White Clover (Trifolium repens)

10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (4)
  • USDA Zones 3 to 10
  • Low-maintenance and pollinator-friendly ground cover

Clover may be seen as a weed in a traditional lawn, but what if it was the whole lawn? White clover is super low-maintenance, fantastic for pollinators, thrives in drought, doesn’t grow tall, smells amazing, and won’t need to be watered or fertilized. As a legume, it is a nitrogen fixer, so you can think of it as creating its own fertilizer. It grows beautifully in zones 3 to 10 in full sun or partial shade, and it isn’t picky about soil quality.

Related Post: 6 Reasons Why I Chose Clover as a Living Mulch

There are two downsides that I see to clover. The first is that it is a little less durable than a grass lawn, but this can be easily remedied by planting grass and clover together. They’ll back up each other and give you a surface that will take the worst of what your kids and dogs can throw at it.

The second downside is that it’s considered invasive in the United States. Clover is originally a native of Europe. I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about its invasiveness, however, as it is a fantastic fodder crop, wonderful for bees, and in my opinion, far better than grass alone.There’s absolutely no chance of eradicating clover, but if you’re intending to plant an entirely native patch on your land, be aware that clover does spread and isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

As a side note, be sure you’re planting white clover. Red clover while edible and medicinal, grows to be feet taller than the comfortable strolling-height of its more diminutive cousin.

5. Lily Turf (Liriope)

10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (5)
  • USDA Zones 4 to 10
  • Most grass-like ground cover

Also called monkey grass (though there’s a totally different family of plants that also shares the common name) and lilyturf, this easy-care perennial is a fantastic choice for borders and those awkward areas of ground between sidewalks and the road, or around trees.

If you don’t need your yard for kickball games, you could even plant this flowering relative of narcissus in the whole yard. It forms a dense cover that barely requires maintenance. It is actually damaged most by overwatering and certainly doesn’t need to be mowed — though it’s not a plant you should plan on walking over.

Grow it in full sun or partial shade in zones 4 to 10 and enjoy your extra time without maintenance. There are a few different varieties of Liriope including L. muscari (clumping), L. gigantea (giant), and L. spicata (spreading).

⚠️ Caution: Lily Turf can be invasive in some areas, particularly the spreading variety. Please research your area and make sure you select non-invasive varieties before planting this one.

(Video) Ground cover instead of grass for Easy Landscaping 🌼✅

6. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (6)
  • USDA Zones 4 to 8
  • Best ground cover for acidic soils

Many of us probably have some evergreen trees with bare spots surrounding them. The acid soil produced by their dropped needles is not always welcoming for growth. There are some plants, however, that can thrive in that environment, particularly if your pines and spruces are open enough to let some light hit the ground. Check through this list of native plants that tolerate acid soils (go for wild ginger and wintergreen for some bonus edible treats).

Related Post: Acid-Loving Plants

Also useful for shady, acid areas is sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). This European beauty is anon-native but very pretty ground cover that gives off an attractive aroma and grows in shade from zones 4 to 8.With starry, compound leaves and delicate white flowers, it can fill that bare patch with grace.

Care for this plant is simple. It doesn’t need to be watered, fertilized, or really messed with except for keeping its runners contained. Like all the creeping plants in this list, it can invade surrounding areas if left unchecked.

7. Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (7)
  • USDA Zones 5 to 9
  • Fast-growing ground cover

I know, the name makes you feel like there’s a mustachioed man secretively staring at you from a fifteen-passenger van, but this pretty ground cover deserves a better reputation. Many people spend a lot of effort trying to poison it out of their lawns as a weed. It’s truly a shame because this “weed” does just great as a lawn in its own right.

It’s low growing with purple and green foliage, medicinally useful, pleasantly-flowered with little purple blooms, and able to flourish in the shade.Why does everyone hate this poor plant? You probably already have it growing in your yard if you live in zones 5 to 9. I would recommend letting it do its thing.

An issue with ground ivy, as it is also known, is keeping its invasive nature contained. If you’re interested in growing only native plants in a certain area, be on your guard against the aggressive runners. Also, it’s apparently toxic to horses, so plan accordingly.

8. Most Shade-Tolerant: Moss

10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (8)
  • All USDA Zones
  • Most shade-tolerant ground cover

Recreate that dreamy, dense carpet of spongy green that covers forest floors with a moss bed of your own. These soft-to-walk-on carpets require no mowing and can even tolerate some foot traffic. If you’re going to be trampling them a lot, I would recommend using flagstones for the heavy-use areas and letting them fill in the gaps with their luscious green.

(Video) How to Replace Grass & Mulch With Groundcover : Green Savvy

Related Post: Shade Plants: 15 Garden Greats To Grow In Full Or Partial Shade

Moss does require some specific situations for its best growth.The optimal choice for your area is native types that want to grow there anyway, so you’ll have to do some local research.Don’t harvest mosses from the wild. If you can, try to harvest them from your own lawn (they’re probably there) and use that as your base.

You can use a blender to make a moss slurry to propagate them (or to use as green graffiti — but that’s a whole different topic). Generally, they need acid soils, compact earth, shade, and enough moisture to keep them from drying out and turning brown.

9. Lithodora (Lithodora diffusa)

This ornamental takes a few years to spread out, but Kane here at Insteading is a big fan of it because it does a great job of blocking weeds. The blueish purple flowers show color much of the year in the Pacific Northwest and do a good job of attracting pollinators as well.

While the 4 inch or gallon pots you buy at the store will say these spread 24-36 inches wide, we’ve seen them spread up to 5 feet in diameter after 4-6 years. It spreads in a thick carpet shape and will cascade nicely over rockeries and planter edges. It grows too tall to serve as a pathway but does a good job of withstanding foot traffic if you do walk on it.

10. Let the Meadow Return!

10 Ground Cover Plants to Replace Your Grass Lawn • Insteading (9)

Maintaining a traditional lawn is a lot of work. You’re essentially forcing a monoculture to exist on land that wants anything but that!If you have the space for it, and the freedom to do what you want on your land without your HOA getting their panties in a bunch, consider returning the majority of your lawn back to what it was originally. For many of us, this could be a prairie, meadow, or desert xeriscape depending on your location.

  • All USDA Zones
  • Most low-maintenance ground cover

This return could be as simple as just letting “nature do its thing” on your property.The birds will poop out some local seeds, the wind will carry in others, and eventually, you’ll start seeing more variety than boring old grass. This is how my parents handled their lawn. They still mowed it when needed to keep it from growing too tall, but when it came time for a middle-school wildflower collection project, I found 15 of the 20 specimens required from my own backyard!

Related Post: 5 Compelling Reasons to Turn Your Lawn Into a Meadow

If you want to restore your land to a healthy, biodiverse zone of totally native plants, however, you’ll need to take out the old and bring in the new. Some beautiful and useful plants just can’t get a foothold if grass and clover are in the way. You will need to research what local, native plants could live in your area. Websites like Grow Native can help you rediscover what your land once grew.

Meadows benefit from being mowed (or scythed) only twice a year. So the weekly task of mowing the lawn is one you won’t need to put on the to-do list! Instead, you can welcome the hosts of butterflies, bees, pollinators, and birds that benefit from the food-rich habitat you’ve returned to your patch of Earth.For more information and motivation to convert at least part of your yard into a beautiful meadow, check out this article.

(Video) Low Maintenance Lawn Alternatives and Ground Covers you can Walk on

We may have inherited a legacy of carefully nursing non-native grasses into a bizarre, artificial carpet of featureless green, but we don’t need to accept that as our lawn-fate. Make your yard more than just an obsolete status-symbol, and transform it into something beautiful, aromatic, edible, and biodiverse.

Have any of you dared to spurn convention and gotten rid of your lawns for something better? If you have to deal with an HOA, what are your strategies for trying to make them see the light? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!


What is the least expensive ground cover? ›

Cheap Natural Perennial Ground Cover Options
  • Creeping Periwinkle – $1.07 per plant.
  • Walk-on-Me Thyme – $3.99 per plant.
  • Moss Phlox – $4.59 per plant.
  • Violets and Pansies – Seeds range from $0.95 to $2.95.
  • Early Snow Glories – $2.40 per plant.
15 Jun 2022

Is there a ground cover that looks like grass? ›

Monkey grass tolerates drought and requires remarkably little upkeep once planted. Monkey grass is native to Asia and is resistant to most pests and disease. This attractive groundcover grows quickly to form a grass-like border that will either creep or clump depending on the species planted.

What is the easiest ground cover? ›

In addition to its fragrant spring blooms, lily-of-the-valley is one of the easiest groundcovers to grow. It's perfect in a shady spot under a big tree in your backyard because it tolerates dry conditions well.

What is a good ground cover to walk on? ›

Here are some good groundcovers you can walk on: Thyme (Thymus sp.) – Includes several walkable groundcovers such as woolly thyme, red creeping thyme, and mother-of-thyme. Thyme thrives in full sunlight and nearly any well-drained soil.

What is the toughest ground cover? ›

Ivy is one of the toughest, hardiest groundcovers available. Adaptable to almost any condition but dry full sun, it has saved many an “unplantable” area. It can become invasive, especially when seeds are dispersed far and wide by birds.

What grows extremely fast? ›

Bamboo is the fastest-growing plant on Earth. In fact, the Chinese moso bamboo can grow almost a metre in a single day. Bamboo grows in dense forests where little light reaches the ground and there is strong evolutionary pressure to reach the sunlight as quickly as possible.

How many ground cover plants do I need? ›

How Many Plants Do I Need?
Spacing between plantsSq ft per plantNumber of plants per 100 sq. ft.
12"1 sq ft100
15"1.56 sq ft64
18"2.25 sq ft44
24"4 sq ft24
2 more rows

How do you replace grass with ground cover? ›

How to Replace Grass & Mulch With Groundcover : Green Savvy

What is the cheapest way to cover dirt in backyard? ›

The best cheap ways to cover dirt in your backyard are with shingles, organic mulch, recycled bricks, gravel, wood or composite decks, by building a water pond, by using natural grass, or by using artificial grass.

What looks like grass but is not? ›

What is this? Annual Bluegrass is one of the most common weeds that mimics the appearance of grass. Known simply as Poa due to its genus name Poa annua, it's related to other Poa grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass. Annual Bluegrass can be distinguished by its brighter and more vivid coloring.

Do I have to remove grass before planting ground cover? ›

Before planting groundcovers, remove any weeds or turf grasses. If the area was in lawn previously use a sharp spade to remove the grass, roots and all. Then improve the soil by adding as much organic matter as possible (compost, rotted manure, shredded leaves).

What plant grows quickly for privacy? ›

Privet (Ligustrum spp.)

Privet is a fast-growing shrub that includes roughly 50 species [7]. They grow upright, they grow quickly, and like boxwood, they tolerate pruning.

What grows fast and tall for privacy? ›

Some vining plants that grow fast are ivy, clematis or hops. These plants will quickly cover a fence and provide privacy. Rose of Sharon – Not only can you plant a privacy screen with a Rose of Sharon, but it will provide you with plenty of lovely flowers in the summer.

What is the purple ground cover called? ›

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Bugleweed is a vigorous evergreen purple ground cover plant that produces spikes of blue, lavender, or purple flowers. Also called carpet bugle, this spreading plant is ideal for ground cover in full shade or full sun. Its dense growth means it is perfect for choking out weeds.

What is the fastest growing evergreen ground cover? ›

Q: What is the fastest-growing evergreen ground cover? A: There are many evergreen ground cover plants that grow quickly and one of the fastest is creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum). Use it to fill in crevices along your stone path because it will fill the spaces in no time and it tolerates foot traffic.

What can I put in my backyard to cover the dirt? ›

You can cover dirt in your yard with fresh sods, a concrete slab, artificial turf, mulch (wood chips), a small wooden deck, paver stones, plants, a picnic area, or you can build a playground in the dirt area.

What is a good ground cover for winter? ›

Examples include winter field beans and peas, clover and vetch. These are all types of legume and are a great choice for sowing before nitrogen-hungry brassicas such as cabbage. Phacelia can be sown in late summer in milder areas – or wait until spring if winters are cold where you are.

What can you put in your yard to keep people from walking? ›

You can also plant shrubs and hedges with thorns and spines to prevent people from walking through the barrier. Barberry, for example, grows in USDA zones 5 through 8, producing stems covered in sharp thorns.

What is the fastest and easiest plant to grow? ›

1. Radishes. Radishes are one of the fastest vegetables, taking just three to four weeks to reach harvest time. They're also exceptionally easy to grow.

What is the fastest spreading plant? ›

The tiny aquatic plant Wolffia, also known as duckweed, is the fastest-growing plant known.

Which plant can grow in 2 days? ›

Chives are a great herb to grow on your kitchen counter! They come up very quickly—it'll only take 2-3 days for chives to sprout.

Which plant can grow in 10 days? ›

Vegetables. Several vegetables grow very quickly, including most types of lettuce and radishes. Cucumbers germinate within seven to 10 days, as well, and mustard greens, spinach, scallions and turnips hold their own in the race.

What plant can grow in 1 month? ›

Lettuce is one of the few plants that can grow well even under low temperatures and can produce a good volume of harvest in less than 30 days. The best thing about lettuce is the fact that there are a number of varieties of the same that are available and each of them has a different taste.

How can I cover my ground without grass? ›

Moss as a ground cover is the perfect solution for shady lawns as well as lawns with poor soil. The two key ingredients for growing moss are moisture, a two-minute watering daily, and daylight, but not direct sun. For yards that are heavily shaded, moss is both practical—needs no mowing—and provides aesthetic value.

Can I plant weeds instead of grass? ›

Growing Clovers

Clovers make great lawns. They grow easily, and they don't need as much water as grass. They also don't need fertilizer or herbicide. They reach a certain height and stop growing, so you don't have to cut them.

What to plant if you don't want to mow? ›

Best no-mow varieties: Hard fescue or fescue mixes that include sheep fescue, Chewings fescue, and creeping red fescue. Bunch-forming fine fescues like hard fescue and sheep fescue are highly drought- and heat-tolerant. Chewings fescue prevents weeds and grows well in shady and dry areas.

What is the easiest ground cover? ›

In addition to its fragrant spring blooms, lily-of-the-valley is one of the easiest groundcovers to grow. It's perfect in a shady spot under a big tree in your backyard because it tolerates dry conditions well.

What is a good ground cover to walk on? ›

Here are some good groundcovers you can walk on: Thyme (Thymus sp.) – Includes several walkable groundcovers such as woolly thyme, red creeping thyme, and mother-of-thyme. Thyme thrives in full sunlight and nearly any well-drained soil.

What is the cheapest way to cover a dirt yard? ›

The best cheap ways to cover dirt in your backyard are with shingles, organic mulch, recycled bricks, gravel, wood or composite decks, by building a water pond, by using natural grass, or by using artificial grass.

What type of grass will choke out weeds? ›

Bermuda grass is the best warm-season grass for choking out weeds. Kentucky Bluegrass is the top option for battling weeds in cool-season grass lawns.

Can you plant over existing grass? ›

While it's possible to simply sow the new grass seed over your existing lawn, taking the time to prepare your lawn beforehand will increase the likelihood of seed germination and improve your end result.

How do I replace my lawn with my garden? ›

One of the easiest ways to convert lawn to garden is the sheet mulch technique. Cut the grass as short as possible, then cover it with a layer of cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper. Make sure the pieces overlap to keep sunlight from reaching the lawn. Cover with at least 4 inches of mulch or compost.

What is the most low maintenance garden? ›

Ideas for Low Maintenance Gardens

Lavender – lavenders (Lavendula) are easy care. Give them plenty of sun and don't overwater them. Their scent will make you swoon. Pentemon – beard tongue plants (Penstemon) will bloom all summer and fall and only require an annual trimming to keep it neat.

How do I start my lawn from nothing? ›

  1. Clear the Area. Remove any old grass plants and weeds from the area. ...
  2. Test the Soil. Take a sample of the soil and have it tested for soil pH. ...
  3. Prepare the Soil. Break up the compacted soil with a rented tiller or rototiller. ...
  4. Apply the Seed. ...
  5. Water the New Lawn. ...
  6. Maintain the New Grass.
1 May 2022

Can you plant a garden without removing grass? ›

You will need to remove grass from the area before starting the garden. Removing the grass ensures ample room for plants to grow and eliminates competition for water and nutrients. Start preparing the soil the fall before you plan to plant to allow time for soil conditioning and improvement.


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