11 Ground Cover Plants That Can Replace Your Grass

Are you looking for a ground cover to add to your garden instead of grass? There are a number of different ground cover plants that can substitute for grass, depending on your climate. In this article, gardening expert Madison Mouldon shares her favorite ground covers that can replace grass, help pollinators, and look fantastic in your garden.

Ground cover thyme plant growing instead of grass in lawn


Although it’s a controversial statement, the trends are clear – lawns are out.

Well, not out completely.

They are still useful for recreational spaces and high-traffic areas. But when it comes to environmental concerns, lawns are known for using up tons of resources and limiting biodiversity in your backyard. That’s why many gardeners are looking for lawn replacements to lower maintenance and help the environment at the same time.

Whether you’re looking for extra flowers, something that can stand up to foot traffic, or even edible plants, these 11 ground cover plants make ideal lawn replacements in most backyards.

It’s important to keep in mind that by nature of their rapid spread, a few of these plants are considered invasive in some areas. Be sure to check your local resources before planting to make sure planting is allowed, or look for one of the other alternatives.

Creeping Phlox

Creeping Phlox with flowers having five petals that form a star shape, and are light purple and white in color. The stalks of the flowers are thin and wiry. The green leaves are small, narrow, and arranged in an opposite pattern along the stems.
In rock gardens and around stone landscaping accents, this low-maintenance Phlox species is commonly used.
botanical-name botanical name Phlox subulata
genus genus Phlox
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors Pink, purple, white, red, blue
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
water-needs water needs Medium
height height 4 to 6 inches

If you want to replace your grass with something a little more colorful, Creeping Phlox is ideal. This perennial is a popular border plant but can also serve as a grass replacement in the right hardiness zones.

From late spring and throughout the summer months, you’ll be treated to masses of blooms that turn the previous lawn into a visual feast. These blooms are also great for attracting pollinators, improving the biodiversity of your garden rather than limiting it.

Growing in USDA Zones 5-9, this Phlox species is wonderfully low maintenance. It is typically planted in rock gardens or around stone landscaping features. It is also a great flowering ground cover to plant between pavers for a pop of color.

Creeping Phlox prefers full sun positions, although they will grow in partial shade with fewer flowers. They are not particularly thirsty plants, but do need additional watering when temperatures are high in summer.

Pruning can help keep them tidy when they begin to look unruly. Their growth is considered moderate, so these plants will need some time to establish before they can completely cover bare patches.

Blue Star Creeper

Blue Star Creeper with small, star-shaped, white flowers that bloom in clusters on short, slender, and green stalks. Its green leaves are tiny, serrated, and are arranged in opposite pairs along the stems.
This plant should be watched carefully since its strong, difficult-to-remove roots can suffocate other plants.
botanical-name botanical name Isotoma fluviatilis
genus genus Isotoma
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors Blue, white
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
water-needs water needs Medium to high
height height 1 to 3 inches

Blue Star Creeper is another low-maintenance option known for adapting well to a wide range of conditions.

Evident in the common name, this ground cover produces masses of delicate flowers on spreading vines. These adorable blooms are pastel blue in color and shaped just like stars with five petals on each flower. Like Creeping Phlox, the flowers appear in late spring and continue to pop up into fall.

Blue Star Creeper is best for growing in USDA Zones 6-8. But in these ideal conditions, it does grow rapidly which can become a concern.

Growth needs to be monitored as the tough roots are difficult to remove. It should also be kept away from vulnerable and slow-growing plants as these competitive plants are known to smother others.

As long as growth doesn’t get out of hand, Blue Star Creepers are incredibly easy to care for. They grow and flower best in full sun but can also handle some partial shade. They can also tolerate lower temperatures than they are used to and a little drought for short periods.


Moss has small, delicate leaves that are green in color and range in color from bright green to golden yellow. It grows in dense clusters and forms a lush, velvety carpet on soil surfaces.
It can be challenging to grow as a ground cover due to its lack of roots and technically non-leaf green growth.
botanical-name botanical name Bryophyta
genus genus Various
plant-type plant type Non-vascular plant
sun-requirements sun requirements Shade to part shade
water-needs water needs High
height height 0.4 to 4 inches

The previous two options are great for sunny areas and those who love a garden full of flowers. But if you have a shady spot to fill, often under trees where growing grass can be tricky, moss is a great alternative.

Growing moss as a ground cover can seem difficult because these plants are not quite like the others you have in your garden. Moss spreads through spores rather than roots. In fact, moss doesn’t have roots at all, and even the green growth is not technically leaves. That’s because moss is a bryophyte – a non-vascular plant that absorbs moisture from the air to grow successfully.

Despite these technical details, moss is not difficult to grow. It can take a while to become established and spread naturally. But, once established in your garden, mosses don’t require any extra attention.

As a ground cover, mosses can handle some foot traffic. However, they aren’t great for high-traffic areas, better for use under trees or between pavers.

Harvesting moss that occurs naturally is not recommended as this can impact local environments. Rather use plants from local suppliers for your garden. They can be tricky to find, but are worthwhile once established.


Stonecrops feature green, fleshy leaves that are typically organized in rosette formations. They spread out in close clusters.
With its towering stalks and colorful blossoms, stonecrop grows into dense mats of succulent growth.
botanical-name botanical name Sedum
genus genus Sedum
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors Pink, red, yellow, and white
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
water-needs water needs Low
height height 2 to 24 inches

Mosses are great for damp or humid areas, but not ideal for dry spots around your lawn. In hot climates where soil remains dry, replacing your lawn can help save water and keep your garden looking green year-round. To do that, you need stonecrop, also known as sedum.

Stonecrop is the common name for low-growing members of the Sedum genus. These popular succulents come in many shapes, sizes and colors, allowing you to choose the perfect species for your space. They form dense mats of succulent growth, with bright flowers popping up on tall stalks.

As succulents, stonecrops are great for water-wise gardens. They don’t require much attention to look good, surviving well on rain water and the occasional top-up when temperatures are high. Many tolerate cold quite well, although they perform best in warmer weather.

The downside is that stonecrops do tend to grow slowly, taking a while to fill a space. If you need to replace your lawn quickly, this option may not be for you. However, if you’re looking for a long-term solution that requires almost no attention, these plants are ideal.

Creeping Thyme

Dense cluster of Creeping Thyme in a garden. The flowers are small, and white and purple in color.  Its green woody stems are prostrate and  rooting at the nodes to form a dense mat.
The most desirable feature of creeping thyme is its eye-catching purple flowers, which produce vibrant carpets and attract pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Thymus serpyllum
genus genus Thymus
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors Pink, lavender, or white
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
water-needs water needs Low
height height 1 to 3 inches

Thyme is a common herb in home gardens, appreciated for its adorable leaves and delicious flavor. But that’s not all it’s good for. Species commonly known as Creeping Thyme are a wonderful lawn replacement for sunny spots.

Creeping Thyme has a spreading growth habit, quickly filling bare areas and forming dense coverage. They are also great in rock gardens or for growing between pavers. What Creeping Thyme is most appreciated for is the stunning purple blooms that form giant carpets of color and attract nearby pollinators.

To add to the benefits, Creeping Thyme is also easy to grow. It can take a while to fill out, but once established and adapted to your garden environment, it needs very little attention. They grow in almost any soil conditions, including nutrient-poor soils. The only thing they don’t appreciate is waterlogged soil.

Even though you probably won’t want to step on your Creeping Thyme lawn – especially when it’s flowering – they can handle quite a bit of foot traffic. This makes it perfect for spots of lawn that get a lot of use, without the maintenance or high resource needs.


Dense cluster of Microclover featuring green leaves that are small and trifoliate, with a crescent-shaped spot on each leaflet. Its stems are slender, upright, and green.
For a dense, wholesome lawn, microclover seeds are typically combined with normal grass seeds.
botanical-name botanical name Trifolium repens var. Pipolina
genus genus Trifolium
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors White or pink
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
water-needs water needs Medium to high
height height 1 to 6 inches

Clover is typically a plant gardeners look to remove from their lawns rather than grow purposefully. But if you want to help the local environment and reduce maintenance at the same time, it is something to consider.

Rather than planting a common White Clover lawn that can look sparse, try the more compact Microclover instead. The leaves are much smaller than typical clover, growing close together to create dense compact growth that keeps empty gaps looking green.

Microclover also flowers less than White Clover. While this can be a downside to some, it does work better in high-traffic areas. Fewer flowers mean fewer bees, saving you or your family from unsuspecting bee stings when using the area for recreation.

Typically Microclover seeds are combined with regular grass seeds to form a dense and healthy green lawn. That’s because Microclover is nitrogen-fixing, adding nutrients to the soil to help the grass grow better. But if you have an open patch in a sunny spot and enough seed, you can also grow Microclover on its own to eliminate the need to mow completely.


Several Bugleweed with flowers that are small, tubular, and purple in color. Its stems are slender, and straight. The leaves are small, glossy, and dark green leaves.
Bugleweed is an adaptable and fast-spreading plant that requires minimal maintenance.
botanical-name botanical name Ajuga reptans
genus genus Ajuga
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors Blue, purple, or white
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
water-needs water needs Medium to high
height height 4 to 8 inches

The common name Bugleweed often discourages gardeners from considering it as a lawn replacement. And don’t get me wrong, this plant does come with a few warnings. It is considered invasive in a few states and is known for smothering other plants and taking over existing lawns.

But if you can keep the plant contained and stop it from spreading to other beds or beyond the garden, it can make a great lawn replacement.

Bugleweed grows best in partially shady spots that aren’t in deep shade. There are a number of cultivars to choose from, each with different colored foliage from deep burgundy to creamy white and more. Foliage colors will be best in brighter areas, but the leaves will stand out no matter where they are planted.

This plant can grow in almost any conditions, adapting well and spreading quickly. In terms of growing conditions and needs, that makes it one of the more low-maintenance options on this list. However, one maintenance task you cannot skip for this plant is pruning. Any growth escaping the predefined area needs to be trimmed regularly to stop Bugleweed from taking over your garden.

Creeping Jenny

Close-up of Creeping Jenny that has bright yellow, cup-shaped flowers. Its leaves are small, round, and green in color. Its green stems are thin and flexible.
This popular ground cover requires consistently moist soil due to its natural habitat near water sources.
botanical-name botanical name Lysimachia nummularia
genus genus Lysimachia
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors Yellow
sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade to full sun
water-needs water needs Medium to high
height height 2 to 4 inches

Creeping Jenny is another rapidly spreading plant that needs a regular trim to be controlled. But when you consider the maintenance required for regular lawns, Creeping Jenny ends up being a much more low-effort lawn alternative.

This plant is also known as moneywort after the small, rounded leaves that look just like coins. The leaves are a bright, almost luminous green that can turn drab areas of lawn into a bright and exciting spectacle. To add to this explosion of color, bright yellow flowers appear along the vines in summer.

Creeping Jenny grows in full sun to partial shade. However, keep in mind that the amount of light you give the plant will determine the color of the foliage.

Full sun spots will deliver brighter leaves, while plants in shadier spots produce darker leaves from increased chlorophyll production. They will also flower far better in full sun, as long as there is enough moisture to keep the vines happy during high temperatures.

Although Creeping Jenny is quite low maintenance in general terms, it is needy when it comes to water. These plants are naturally found near water sources, accustomed to consistently moist soil. Don’t plant these spreaders in dry spots unless you plan to water regularly throughout the growing season.

Corsican Mint

Dense cluster of Corsican Mint with small, circular, and green leaves.
Some US states have deemed this mint plant invasive, making it illegal to grow there.
botanical-name botanical name Mentha requienii
genus genus Mentha
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors Lavender to pink
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
water-needs water needs Medium to high
height height 1 to 2 inches

This adorable mint variety is incredibly compact, growing less than an inch tall and spreading rapidly to cover areas with scented leaves.

Unfortunately, this plant does retain the same reputation as other members of the mint family. It has an aggressive spread, smothering out other plants and readily escaping the confines of our gardens. It is also declared invasive in some parts of the US, with its growth prohibited.

However, if you are allowed to grow Corsican Mint in your area and are willing to keep it under control, it will reward you with mountains of fresh leaves to enjoy as a lawn replacement.

Corsican Mint grows best in shady areas that don’t receive lots of foot traffic. If you have a lawn bank or slope that you want to replace with something a little more exciting, this plant is a great option. As the small leaves don’t retain much moisture, it’s important to keep the soil consistently moist. Although these plants are tough, they don’t like their roots to dry out.

Wild Strawberries

Strawberry plants with small, juicy, and red fruits. Its green leaves are trifoliate, with three oval-shaped leaflets that are serrated along the edges. The plant's stems are thin and green in color.
Wild strawberry plants are small and spread via runners along the ground.
botanical-name botanical name Fragaria × ananassa
genus genus Fragaria
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors White
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
water-needs water needs Medium to high
height height 6 to 10 inches

When thinking of common lawn replacements, strawberries are not likely the first thing to come to mind. They don’t handle foot traffic well (especially if you plan on eating the fruits) and aren’t often seen as ground covers in large patches.

But, if you look to the world of foodscaping for inspiration, you’ll find that these edible plants can make quite useful lawn replacements.

Wild strawberries are low-growing and compact plants that spread naturally along the ground via runners. When given the space and time to establish, they can cover entire patches with lush green foliage, dotted with the occasional bright red strawberry.

Strawberries clearly need to be kept away from any areas of lawn frequently walked on. No one wants to hear the squelch of fresh fruits under their feet. But if you can have an area of lawn that sees no traffic and is taking up valuable space, you can fill that space with edible plants to start your foodscaping journey.


Hosta plants that have large, broad leaves that grow in a rosette-like pattern. The leaves are green in color, and variegated with white or yellow. The green stalks emerge from the center of the rosette of leaves.
Grouping mini Hosta varieties together can create a lawn-like bed without any upkeep.
botanical-name botanical name Hosta
genus genus Hosta
plant-type plant type Perennial
bloom-colors bloom colors Lavender or white
sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade to full shade
water-needs water needs Medium to high
height height 12 to 36 inches

Hostas are excellent plants for shade gardens, sporting lush leaves in a variety of interesting colors (even blue). They come in many shapes and sizes, from small to giant. When looking for lawn replacements, keep an eye out for mini hostas that remain compact, even when mature.

Hostas don’t have the same spreading habit as some of the other vining plants on this list. But, if you have a small area to fill, you can group a few different mini Hosta varieties together to create a bed that has the same effect as a green lawn, without the maintenance.

Hostas are also great companions for a few other ground covers on this list – such as Creeping Jenny – allowing you to curate a colorful bed of plants that grow perfectly together.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have many different ground covers to replace your grass this season, the next step is picking the perfect ground cover to do the job!

Whether you stick with a more ornamental and easy-care look with Phlox, or go the less conventional edible route with strawberries, all of the plants on this list should be lower maintenance than traditional lawn care. Not to mention, they will also be beneficial to pollinators and your local ecosystem.

cold hardy ground cover

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drought tolerant ground cover

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17 Hardy & Drought Tolerant Ground Cover Plants

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