Using groundcover for a lawn is a good alternative for shady yards, difficult-to-mow areas and dry locations. Native plants make excellent choices for groundcovers because they adapt readily to the environment and nature meets the plants' requirements. The low maintenance needs of most groundcovers saves time and money. Flowering groundcovers enhance the lawn with the addition of colorful blooms. Evergreen selections provide year-round color and interest. The groundcovers take at least a year to establish and perform as a lawn.
Choose a perennial groundcover plant that is suitable to your climate and soil conditions. Look for plants that grow no higher than about 6-inches and have a spreading habit. Check the plants' light requirements and match them to the planting site. Some groundcovers, such as thyme, need full sun, while vines like ivy grow in shadier locations. See resources for plant ideas.
Measure the planting area's length and width. Multiply the numbers to calculate the total square feet. Look up the mature spread (size) of your plant selection. Divide the square footage by the plant spread to see how many plants you need to cover the area.
Remove existing grass, plants and weeds from the lawn area. A spade works well for skimming off the grass. Make sure to get all of the roots so the grass and plants do not grow back.
Spread a 3-inch layer of compost over the area. Work it into the ground by digging or tilling to a depth up to a foot. If your soil is sandy and you choose appropriate groundcovers, skip this step.
Pick a corner to start planting your groundcover. Measure in from both sides of the right angle to half the spread of the plant. Dig a hole with a trowel deep enough for the root ball to fit and place the plant. Refill with the soil.
Measure from the center of the first plant, along the edge of the lawn area, the distance of the full spread of the mature groundcover plant. Plant the next one at that distance, creating a row. Continue this process to fill the first row.
Measure out the full mature spread distance from the first plant to mark the next row. Plant the groundcover in that row, and the following rows, with the same method used in Step 6.
Water the whole lawn area thoroughly. Water when there is less than an inch of rain in a week to supplement. Apply fertilizer designed for the plants you chose following package directions.
Weed between the plants as needed. Once they reach their mature spread, weeds will have a harder time getting established. You can spread mulch between the plants to aid in weed prevention and moisture retention. A 3-inch layer spread in the spring suffices.