What Can I Grow for a Lawn Instead of Grass?

Maintaining a grass turf lawn can be time consuming and expensive. Seeding, mowing, watering and fertilizing to keep your lawn looking attractive can also be harmful to the environment. Deciding to grow an alternative to a lawn, whether it is ground cover, shrubs, plants or ornamental grasses will be eco-friendly and give your landscaping a unique personal touch.

Ground Cover

Clover in place of turf lawns makes an inviting ground cover.

Ground cover in place of a turf lawn will be comprised of low-growing plants that spread horizontally across the ground, eventually carpeting it. Once established, perennial ground covers need little maintenance and care. A barrier, such as a low wall or lawn edging, to contain the spreading plants is recommended to avoid the labor-intense task of continually trimming the plants back. There is a wide variety of ground-cover plants to select from, depending on your preference for flowers, texture, greenery and aroma. Many herbs make ideal lawn alternatives, like pennyroyal, wild ginger, sweet woodruff and oregano. Other favorite ground-cover lawn alternatives are periwinkle, baron strawberry, Japanese spurge, violets and clover.


Low-growing shrubbery makes an attractive lawn alternative. Evergreen shrubs like creeping juniper, black huckleberry, wintergreen and kinnikinnik are frequently used in place of lawns. There are many flowering shrubs, particularly in dwarf variety, that can be used as an alternative to grass, either alone or integrated with evergreens or ground cover. Azalea, lowbush blueberry, fragrant sumac, Himalayan sweetbox, pasture rose and Rose of Sharon are low-maintenance attractive lawn alternatives.


Perennial plants, flowering or not, can give a former grass area visual interest. Select plants that are native to your region for easy care and low maintenance. The university cooperative extension office in your area, or local garden center, can provide you with a list of suitable plants. Several phlox varieties, like creeping phlox and moss phlox, lend themselves to lawn substitutes, as well as lily of the valley, dianthus, Virginia creeper, geranium, lamb's ear, foam flower and coleus. In areas of your landscape that are in shade or partial shade with moist or wet soil, ferns can be an attractive substitute to hard-to-grow turf grass.

Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses can give you a similar look of a lawn without the maintenance requirements. Some ornamental grasses spread runners or rhizomes and will fill in an area, such as sedge, quaking and rye, but may need some type of low wall or lawn barrier to keep the grass contained. Mound-type ornamental grasses are less invasive and will also eventually grow and fill in an area, though much more slowly. Favorite mound-growing ornamental grasses that will grow to low heights and are suitable as a lawn alternative are mondo, fescues, fountain and rush grass varieties.

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