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The Best Lawn Replacement Ground Covers

By Moira Clune ; Updated September 21, 2017

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, pre-1997 lawn mowers are responsible for “as much as 5 percent of the total man-made hydrocarbons that contribute to ozone formation.” To help reduce emissions and pollution, the agency recommends mowing less and decreasing the size of areas that need mowing. Ground covers are an easy, low maintenance way to eliminate grassy areas, add color and texture to the landscape and decrease weeding chores.

Steep Slopes

Ground covers are a good choice for steep slopes that may be dangerous or difficult to mow. Crown vetch, a small, shrubby plant that spreads by underground runners, can cover up to 6 feet of terrain in two to three years. It grows to a height of 3 feet and develops pink flowers in spring. Daylilies tolerate drought and salt well, provide erosion control and flower profusely in late summer. Bird’s-foot trefoil is low growing perennial herb that forms a dense, 3-foot-wide mat in its first year. It develops yellow flowers in summer.

Deep Shade

This condition requires careful plant choices and rules out many options. Low-growing sweet woodruff, wild ginger and pachysandra will cover bare areas quickly with lush growth in shady confines. English ivy, often thought of as a wall-covering vine, can be grown as a ground cover in deep shade. Wild ginger, pachysandra and English ivy are evergreen. Intensely scented, lily-of-the-valley prefers partial to full shade and is often used under evergreen trees.

Full Sun

Sunny, bare soil is a weed's paradise, but the dense foliage of low-growing foliage plants will crowd out invaders. The chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) develops small, white flowers, but it is grown for its colorful, fast-spreading foliage. Very hardy, its ivy-shaped leaves are multicolored: pinks, whites, greens and yellows. Suitable for acidic soil conditions, wineleaf cinquefoil's dense, weed-blocking foliage turns deep red in fall. Periwinkle, also known as vinca, is a trailing evergreen suitable for sun or shade. Its small, purple flowers appear in spring.

Flowering Ground covers

Flowering ground covers provide weed suppression, erosion control and bright bursts of color. Creeping phlox is available in a variety of colors and used in rock gardens and sunny borders. St. John’s Wort spreads quickly, and in full sun will flower from July through September. Fragrant, flowering creeping thyme grows to a maximum height of 1 foot, but it often stays smaller. Used between the pavers of a walkway, it will release a pleasant, woody scent when the durable leaves are bruised by normal foot traffic.