Groundcover plants create a beautiful, lush, uniform cover that serves as an alternative to turf. Most grow densely, making them great for covering bare areas and saving you time and effort by choking out weeds before they can grow. They also provide a wonderful finishing touch to your landscape.
Before choosing your groundcover species, have an idea of the purpose you need it to serve. Some spread well to cover medium-sized lawns, while others are smaller and easier to keep relegated to a single area with edging and regular maintenance. If you decide to use groundcover as a grass replacement, be sure to lay stepping stones where you will be walking; all non-grass groundcover types are sensitive to foot traffic. Some species are climbers, so only use these if you want them growing up your wall, tree, or fence. You can use them to accent many different landscape elements–surround a tree or palm, line a garden bed, or provide a dramatic cascade over a wall or hanging basket.
Do you have a shady area where grass doesn’t want to grow? Ferns are an excellent alternative groundcover choice. They fill in nicely, and because of this they are often used in garden beds and planters as “filler” plants to complete the triad of thrillers, spillers and fillers. Native sword fern, holly fern, staghorn fern and maidenhair fern are excellent and require little maintenance.
Alternative Groundcover Species
Asiatic Jasmine: Hardy but slow-growing. Will reach 3ft wide and up to 18” tall. Good for growing in spots where turfgrass has difficulty surviving. Evergreen with attractive, dark green leaves. Great to deter weed growth.
Blue Rug Juniper: This is an excellent groundcover for larger areas. It remains quite low at a maximum around 6” tall, but spreads out 6-8’. Juniper is hardy, beautiful, and full as an alternative groundcover.
Coral creeper: This is a lovely groundcover that can survive in either sun or partial shade. This plant produces flowers year-round, and depending on the variety the colors may be shades of red, coral, purple, or pink. It’s a bit of a taller groundcover that reaches between 1-2 feet.
Sunshine mimosa: Also known as powderpuff mimosa, this is an excellent low-growing groundcover with beautiful flowers and interesting foliage. The round, puffy pink flowers will bloom continuously from spring to fall. Once established, sunshine mimosa is hardy and drought tolerant. Contain it with regular pruning or mowing if desired. Unfortunately, this is not evergreen, so you may have to prepare for bare ground in the winter months.
Sweet potato vine: This is an attractive, tropical-looking vine to use as a groundcover or spiller in planters and garden beds. The vines can grow up to 10 feet long and produce beautiful, light green leaves. This plant is edible, but not quite as sweet as its cousin–the popular sweet potato that comprises Thanksgiving staples throughout the country. Like sunshine mimosa, sweet potato vine is not evergreen and may need to be replanted in spring after the last possibility of frost in spring.
Peperomia: Extremely low maintenance once established. It produces thick, waxy leaves that may be fully dark green or variegated with white stripes. It is slow growing, but will survive for a long time with little additional watering or fertilizing from you.