13 Best Native Lawn Alternatives for Your Landscape

Lawns do have their benefits, but there are also downsides to consider, from environmental impact to water usage and – of course – mowing. Gardening expert Madison Moulton lists 13 native groundcovers you can use to replace patches of lawn, saving you time and helping the environment in one go.

native lawn alternatives


Although lawns hold a special place in many gardeners’ hearts, there is no denying that they can be frustratingly high maintenance.

Keeping lawns lush and green requires loads of resources and time that we don’t all have, especially if you have a large backyard. Few people want to spend their precious garden time mowing when they could be tending to other plants.

Lawns are also not great for the environment, considering their high water usage and lack of biodiversity for local wildlife. Replacing your lawn not only benefits you, but all the pollinators in your area at the same time.

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance and easy-to-establish lawn replacement, native species are the go-to. These 13 species are great options for gardeners across the United States.

American Alum Root

Close-up of Heuchera americana in a sunny garden. Heuchera americana, also known as American alumroot, presents a striking appearance with its low-growing, clumping habit and distinctive foliage. The leaves are heart-shaped, with deeply lobed edges, and they come in a wide range of colors including shades of green, purple, red, bronze, and silver. The foliage features intricate veining patterns that add texture and visual interest.
This is a native option for shady areas with compact leaves and tall flower stalks.

If you need a native lawn alternative to fill a shady spot under trees where other plants struggle to grow, try American alum root. This Heuchera species, Heuchera americana, is native to the Eastern United States and forms adorable mounds of lush green leaves that remain under 12 inches.

Although this species can replace areas of patchy lawn, it’s best to avoid sections of your garden that receive any foot traffic. That’s because while the leaves remain compact, the flower stalks are quite tall (up to three feet), towering over the leaves and making any thoroughfare difficult. These appear in summer and can attract some pollinators, making them worth the space sacrifice.

This ground cover is tough, tolerating poor quality soils and lack of moisture well once established. The leaves remain green throughout spring and summer, taking on autumn hues once fall arrives.


Close-up of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in a sunny garden. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, commonly known as bearberry, presents a low-growing, spreading habit with dense, evergreen foliage. The leaves are small, leathery, and elliptical in shape, with a glossy dark green color on top and a lighter green or white underside. The plant produces small, round red berries.
This is a Northern US groundcover with edible berries for wildlife and landscaping.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is commonly known as bearberry, a snack enjoyed by bears across the Northern United States. The berries aren’t often eaten by humans, but they do make a lovely, quick-growing native lawn alternative in sunny areas.

Bearberry is a creeping shrub that remains under one foot tall, with glossy green leaves and attractive pinkish-white flowers. These flowers transform into eye-catching red berries in fall as the foliage turns from green to golden brown.

As this groundcover is native to the north, it thrives in cooler climates from USDA Zones two to six. It spreads relatively slowly via rhizomes, so it may take a while to fill in any empty patches of soil.

Common Blue Violet

Close-up of a flowering Viola sororia plant in a garden. Viola sororia, commonly known as the common blue violet, presents a charming appearance with its low-growing habit and heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are dark green and slightly glossy, with prominent veins and scalloped edges. The plant produces clusters of delicate, five-petaled flowers of deep purple colors. The flowers feature a distinctive lower petal adorned with dark veins, adding to their visual appeal.
Embrace common blue violet for a natural lawn alternative with charm.

Most gardeners spend their time trying to get rid of common blue violet (Viola sororia) in their existing lawn, not planting it. This native flower is sometimes considered a weed – and a tricky one to get rid of. But what if you stopped battling this pretty ground cover and decided to embrace it as a native lawn alternative instead?

Common blue violet spreads rapidly and tends to take over areas, but that is the goal of a lawn replacement, after all. The flowers are adorable and attract a range of pollinators that bring more activity to your garden. It is also the host plant of more than 20 species of fritillary butterfly.

If you don’t want to replace your lawn completely, consider leaving Viola sororia to grow naturally, creating a blend of the two. It may seem strange at first, but when the blossoms appear in spring, you’re bound to fall in love with them.

Creeping Juniper

Close-up of Juniperus horizontalis in a flowerbed. Juniperus horizontalis, commonly known as creeping juniper or ground juniper, presents a distinctive appearance with its low-growing, spreading habit. The plant features dense, scale-like foliage arranged in overlapping clusters along prostrate stems, giving it a compact and carpet-like form. The foliage varies in color from deep green to blue-green.
Choose creeping juniper for erosion-resistant lawn replacement in full sun.

To replace your lawn in a sloped area, creeping juniper is ideal. Juniperus horizontalis, native to the northern United States and Canada, is impressively tough, tolerating almost any conditions you can throw at it. Hot summers, poor soil, or freezing snow don’t trouble this plant.

Growing well in rocky areas, creeping juniper is often used on slopes to prevent soil erosion. However, they can be used to replace any lawn areas with full sun exposure, although they don’t respond well to heavy traffic.

There are several cultivars to choose from with slightly different hues, suitable for any area of your backyard. ‘Wiltonii’ is one of the most popular, also known as blue rug juniper for the blueish-green color of the foliage.

Creeping Phlox

Close-up of a blooming Creeping phlox in a sunny garden. Creeping phlox, also known as Phlox subulata, presents a stunning appearance with its low-growing, mat-forming habit. The plant features dense clusters of small, five-petaled flowers. The flowers come in various shades of pink and purple.
Opt for low-maintenance creeping phlox as a colorful lawn replacement.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) is the perfect lawn replacement for those looking for a pop of color and a garden full of pollinators. This native plant found across the US sticks low to the ground and spreads well, requiring little maintenance to look its best.

In spring and summer, green creeping phlox transforms into carpets of color. While a single flower color does make a statement, combining various colors in patches will transform your lawn from an empty space into a standout feature.

If you want a carpet of blooms so thick you can barely see the leaves, full sun is essential. Creeping phlox can also grow in partial shade, but spreading will be slower, and you’ll get far fewer flowers overall.

Dwarf Crested Iris

Close-up of Dwarf Crested Iris blooming in a garden. The Dwarf Crested Iris, or Iris cristata, is characterized by its delicate and diminutive stature. Its slender, lance-shaped leaves grow in dense clumps, creating a lush ground cover effect. It produces charming flowers with distinctive crested petals in shades of lavender, adorned with intricate veining patterns.
Consider this native plan for a compact and flowering lawn replacement.

Iris cristata, commonly known as dwarf crested iris, is a native lawn alternative from the eastern US. Growing in woodland habitats, this is another lawn replacement option for shady gardens or areas under dense trees. Blooms appearing in early spring are a great signal to the start of the flowering season.

Dwarf crested iris isn’t a one-to-one lawn replacement in the sense that it can’t handle any foot traffic. However, the plants do remain incredibly compact, sticking under 10 inches tall. They also spread naturally to form a flowering groundcover that looks wonderful in woodland or rocky gardens.

While the real highlight of these plants is the flowers, the strappy green leaves also provide interest when the flowers die back. Look out for slugs and snails in cooler weather, as they love to feed on this tasty foliage.

Green and Gold

Close-up of Green and Gold blooming in a sunny garden. Green and Gold, also known as Chrysogonum virginianum, is a charming ground cover plant renowned for its striking appearance. It features low-growing, spreading mats of heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges, showing a vibrant green hue. The plant produces delicate, star-shaped flowers with bright yellow petals.
Choose green and gold for a low-growing and speedy lawn alternative.

Another woodland staple is green and gold, the common name for Chrysogonum virginianum. Found in woodland habitats from Pennsylvania to Florida, green and gold sports bright green leaves and adorable yellow flowers – hence the common name.

This species sticks low to the ground (around two inches tall) and spreads via rhizomes to form a compact mat ideal as a native lawn alternative. They spread quite quickly, suitable for impatient gardeners who don’t want to wait for empty spaces to fill out once their lawn is removed.

As they are accustomed to woodland conditions, it’s best to avoid full sun unless you’re happy to water far more often. Part shade to full shade is best, with part shade giving you a better chance of strong flowering.

Lance Selfheal

Close-up of blooming Lance selfheal in a sunny garden. It features lance-shaped leaves arranged along sturdy stems. The foliage is dark green and slightly toothed, providing a lush backdrop for the plant's striking flowers. The plant produces dense spikes of small, tubular flowers in shades of violet.
Opt for a ground cover that spreads quickly, offering low-maintenance lawn replacement.

Prunella vulgaris ssp lanceolata, commonly known as lance selfheal or mountain selfheal, has a long list of wonderful uses. The flowers attract butterflies and native bees, and the strong roots provide effective soil erosion control in sloped areas. This species is also well known for its medicinal benefits throughout history, giving it its common name.

Staying low and spreading quickly, lance selfheal has all the characteristics of an ideal native lawn alternative. It doesn’t require much attention to stay green and tolerates foot traffic well. You can also mow to keep the plants short, which doesn’t affect flowering.

Lance selfheal is another plant often labeled a weed for its rapid spread and ability to take over areas. This is a benefit when replacing lawns, but you may need to manage growth if the plant spreads to other parts of your garden.


Close-up of a Partridgeberry in a sunny garden. Partridgeberry, also known as Mitchella repens, is a charming evergreen ground cover with a trailing habit. It features pairs of glossy, dark green leaves that grow opposite each other along slender stems, forming dense mats on the forest floor.
This native ground cover with glossy red berries thrives in woodland shade.

Mitchella repens is named partridgeberry after the glossy red berries beloved by birds and small animals. The deep green leaves spread to form a dense carpet just two inches high. This species is native to several states across the US and into Canada, growing best in USDA Zones three to eight.

Like a few other natives on this list, partridgeberry is found in woodland habitats and appreciates partial shade throughout the day. It’s also best to keep them away from foot traffic or any busy areas as the roots don’t appreciate being disturbed.

This is the ideal lawn replacement for supporting local wildlife, attracting many birds to your garden once the berries appear. For strong flowering and fruiting, it’s best to plant in an area with naturally moist soil to stop the roots from drying out too much.

Pennsylvania Sedge

Potted containers of pennsylvania sedge in a nursery setting display the soft, flowing grasses.
Choose this slow-spreading grass that is ideal for wildlife cover.

Have you ever seen those lush grass lawns that look super soft and inviting, cascading over each other and moving with the wind? That was probably Carex pensylvanica, commonly known as Pennsylvania sedge.

This native lawn alternative does spread, albeit slowly, through rhizomes growing below the soil. They grow around eight inches in height, providing some cover for wildlife and acting as a host plant for butterflies. As soft and inviting as it looks from afar, it’s best to avoid walking on this grass as it doesn’t handle traffic well.

Pennsylvania sedge grows best in part shade, but it can handle a little more direct sun if you live in a milder climate and give it plenty of moisture. In the right conditions, this grass will flower in May each year.

Texas Frogfruit

Close-up of a flowering Phyla nodiflora plant in a sunny garden. Phyla nodiflora, commonly known as frogfruit or turkey tangle fogfruit, is a charming herbaceous perennial with a low-growing, spreading habit. It features small, rounded leaves arranged opposite each other along creeping stems, forming dense mats of lush foliage. Phyla nodiflora produces clusters of tiny, white flowers with a yellow center, creating a delicate and airy appearance.
Opt for frogfruit as a versatile and low-maintenance groundcover with adorable flowers.

Phyla nodiflora has one of the most adorable common names out there – frogfruit. It produces adorable flowers to match, appearing above bright green leaves around six inches tall. These leaves often develop a purple or red hue in fall and winter that offers some contrast from the other groundcovers on this list.

There are so many reasons to grow frogfruit, from quick growth to pollinator support. While it looks good in beds and containers, where this plant really shines is as a groundcover, spreading quickly and requiring little to no maintenance once established.

For masses of flowers, it’s best to plant in full sun positions. However, this plant is versatile, growing well in partially shady areas, too. If you have a large patch of lawn to replace, frogfruit should be your go-to.

Wild Ginger

Close-up of Wild ginger in a sunny garden. It features heart-shaped leaves that emerge from creeping rhizomes, forming lush ground cover. The leaves are a deep, glossy green and have prominent veins.
Choose wild ginger for lush ground cover in full shade areas.

Wild ginger is a lush perennial native to the Eastern and Southern parts of North America. Scientifically Asarum canadense is not part of the same genus as true ginger, but the roots do have a gingery flavor, and the leaves have a very subtle gingery scent.

While many of the groundcovers on this list have small leaves closely packed together, wild ginger leaves are wide, completely covering the soil below. The plants grow about eight inches tall and also produce flowers, although they hang downwards and largely remain hidden by the leaves.

This lush species will grow happily in full shade, ideal for planting under trees to replace sun-loving lawns. Avoid planting in sunny spots (especially in warmer climates), as excess sunlight can scorch the large leaves.

Yellow Woodsorrel

Close-up of blooming Oxalis stricta in a sunny garden. It features trifoliate leaves composed of three heart-shaped leaflets that are bright green. The foliage emerges from thin, wiry stems that spread outward, forming dense mats of lush greenery. Oxalis stricta produces small, yellow, five-petaled flowers that rise above the foliage on slender stalks.
Consider embracing yellow woodsorrel as a lawn replacement for resilience.

The last entry on this list is one that will probably make a few gardeners angry – yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta). But before you protest, consider the benefits of leaving this so-called ‘weed’ to replace areas of lawn in your garden.

Yellow woodsorrel is native to the Eastern United States and has long been used for its medicinal benefits. The plant is also edible and has a sharp flavor, hence its other common name, sourgrass. The cute yellow flowers pop up around the middle of spring and continue to bloom into fall.

Also, consider how tough this plant is to get rid of once it settles in. Rather than struggling to remove it, embracing it may be a far better use of your time and energy in the garden.

Final Thoughts

If you’re tired of mowing or want to bring some pollinators back to your backyard, try one of these tough and easy-to-grow native lawn replacements.

Close-up of blooming ornamental grass for shade - Sisyrinchium. This perennial herb forms tufts of slender, iris-like leaves that are grass-like in appearance. The foliage provides an emerald-green backdrop to the star-shaped flowers that bloom in purple. Each flower has a distinctive yellow center.

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