Grass lawns can be boring. They can be a lot of trouble, too--all that mowing and watering and vigilance against weeds. Against the tyranny of grass, some gardeners turn to other ground covers, which can be anything a gardener needs them to be as long as they, well, cover the ground. Covering the ground implies that the plant will spread to fill the area it's put into. Beyond that, gardeners specify requirements such as ease of care or successful growth in a difficult area.
For some, moss evokes the magic of shady, peaceful forests, for others, it's the answer to a prayer. If you have a shady yard with acidic soil, instead of battling your situation, moss might be the way to go. Three pluses right off the bat: no fertilizing, no watering and no mowing. Moss is also an evergreen.
Moss is good at retaining water. One happy byproduct of that is a green ground cover with less water than would be used by grass. Another benefit of moss's ability to absorb and retain is less problems with rainwater run-off and snow-melt.
While most plants like a soil pH that hovers somewhat below neutral 7, mosses enjoy an acid soil with a pH range of about 5 to 5.5. For yards with acid soil, planting moss avoids the need to amend soil with lime.
Some possible downsides to moss include the need to keep foot traffic to a minimum, which means you'll have to put in actual paths, using, for example, pavers. You'll also need to go easy on the raking.
Rutgers University says that moss takes 2 years to become well established.
Lily-of-the-valley is a good idea for a ground cover when the soil is poor and the light is thin, though it can even handle dense shade. For this reason, lilies-of-the-valley are good covers for areas under trees and shrubs in the yard. The plant grows to about 8 inches tall, producing scented, white flowers during spring. Flame-colored berries follow, but these are not edible.
The plant is a herbaceous perennial, which means it will die back in winter, so if you want a dense ground cover all year round, this plant isn't for you.
Lilies-of-the-valley are not only shade tolerant, but tolerate drought fairly well. They also can get along in poor soil. This plant will spread rapidly.
If you're going to grow violets, know that some kinds can be invasive, so choose with care. Additionally, keep in mind that overwatering and overfertilizing can cause violets to escape the area in which you've planted them. When chosen wisely and cared for appropriately, though, violets can add lovely and delicate notes to areas of partial shade as found around every yard. The plants also take sun, so they're versatile.
Violets grow about 6 to 8 inches high, depending on the variety. They need well-drained soil that is at least somewhat rich. Violets are perennials.