Groundcovers to Replace Turfgrass – What?
Open Letter to Ann Lovejoy


Note to me: she’s not saying to get rid of the whole lawn, so my list of plants for that purpose doesn’t make sense.

Here in a recent issue of Fine Gardening Magazine is one of my all-time favorite garden writers, Ann Lovejoy, writing about low-maintenance, eco-friendly gardening.  She rightly counsels us to choose plants that thrive with the soil type, climate and
water distribution patterns in our bioregions. then goes on to a subject I seemingly can’t get enough of – lawn replacement.

For most people, the fastest way to reduce both the weekly workload and high resource use is by getting rid of the lawn. No ground cover or perennial plant you can name needs to be watered, mowed, and fed as often or as much as a lawn. If you have young kids, unmanicured play lawns are great, but plan to edit them out after the kids grow up.

Well, while it’s true that most lawn replacements don’t have to be mowed, I wonder exactly which plants she would suggest that are lower maintenance.  I’m in the midst of following her advice but kinda stuck on that essential question.   Let’s explore some possibilities.

Because turfgrasses are sun plants, let’s look first at groundcovers that might work in sunny spots formerly occupied by lawn.  Lovejoy recommends combining spring and summer-blooming bulbs with "drought-tolerant evergreen ground covers that can be mowed once or twice a year," and the one she mentions by name is a selection of Vinca minor or periwinkle.  Now I’m also a fan of periwinkle but it seems to struggle in the sun.  In fact, contrary to its reputation in some parts as invasive, it’s anything but in my town; we struggle just to keep it alive.  So what else?

  • Mazus is a gorgeous gold groundcover that toleratesfor the SUN?sun, but is it evergreen? Also, it tolerates wet, not drought. (LOOK UP)
  • Liriope is the ultimate do-er of groundcovers and can take any amount of sun or shade it’s subjected to.  It’s spreading form, Liriope spicata, is such a rampant spreader it’ll overtake anything in its path that isn’t tall and woody, even sucking way too much moisture from the woodies.  It’s only safe where it can’t do any harm – like between the sidewalk and the street perhaps, or in any other well defined area all by itself.  Any variegated liriope, or the clumping, purple-blooming L. muscari, is well behaved, however, and can be used in mixed border situations, with neighbors.  It costs more, though, because you can’t find it free all over the neighborhood, or just divide the ones you bought last year now into 6 pieces each.
  • What about Delosperma, iceplant?
  • How about this Euonymous ‘Emerald Gaity’?  Almost every visitor to my garden stops to admire it, writes down the name.  Evergreen, baby!
  • Creeping Hypericum or St. John’s Wort is great but not evergreen.
  • Mondo grass would do the job and never need mowing.
  • Creeping sedum, creeping Jenny, and other Stepable-type creepers, like the many varieties of thyme.  Photos and full report coming soon.


Lovejoy lumps all
turfgrasses together and assuming there’s only one way to grow them,
too.  Also, what about raking leaves?  Think you can rake those other groundcovers like you can lawn?  How about weeding?  My poorly cared-for lawn has fewer weeds than my flower borders.  "Well-filled beds are far easier to care for than lawn.  If you have weeds, you don’t have enough plants."
If cared-for organically ( and allowed to go dormant in the summer, is it really that much work?