Groundcovers: lawn alternatives

A healthy, easy care lawn can be made something other than grass. Many groundcovers are hardier and better adapted to our climate than traditional turf grasses. A mix of grasses and groundcovers will make your lawn more resistant pest infestations or disease outbreaks because not all species will be affected. Groundcovers can also reduce or eliminate the need for mowing or watering once established.

Groundcovers come in a variety of colours and textures, with blooms that create a beautiful lawn. Groundcovers such as clover work well in high foot traffic areas; others are well suited to areas that are difficult to grow traditional turfgrass on, such as steep banks or sandy slopes.

Full sun

Bearberry, Arcrostaphy species

An evergreen that grows 1 to 4 inches high with white to pinkish flowers in the spring, red fruit in the fall.
  • prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade
  • well-drained, acidic light-textured soil
  • will tolerate salt spray

Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis

White petals with a yellow centre. Grows to a height of 6 inches and spreads 6 to 12 inches.
  • refers full sun but will tolerate light shade
  • refers well drained soil
  • romantic foliage that is resilient to heavy foot traffic

Creeping Potentilla, Potentilla reptans

A low growing mat (4-4 inches tall) with small yellow flowers in spring.
  • drought tolerant
  • will survive in a variety of soils
  • will tolerate some shade

Hens & Chicks, Sempevernium species

A creeping groundcover that grows about 2 inches tall and 5-7 inches with a flower. Flower colour varies with cultivar.
  • great groundcover for sandy soils
  • extremely drought tolerant
  • can grow on rocks with only a bit of soil

Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’
A non-flowering evergreen shrub that rows 6-18 inches tall, with a spread of 4 to 6 feet.
  • tolerates dry soils
  • blue to green to yellow foliage; depending on species or cultivar

Prickly Pear, Opuntia humifusa

Yellow-orange flowers in early summer. An evergreen cactus that forms a mat and grows 5-10 inches tall.
  • very drought tolerant
  • only cactus native to Ontario
  • tolerates many soils
  • contains prickles which can injure if walked on or picked up

Scotch Moss, Sagina subluata

scotch moss
A very low growing plant (1-2 inches) with small white flowers early to mid-summer.
  • evergreen mat forming perennial
  • prefers moist soils
  • can tolerate some shade
  • tolerates medium traffic
  • bright green foliage
  • perfect for filling in cracks between walkways or in rock gardens

Sea Thrift, Armeria maritima

A semi-evergreen with [ink flowers in the spring. Sea Thrift is 4 inches tall without flowers, and up to 12 inches when it flowers.
  • salt tolerant
  • semi-evergreen foliage
  • drought tolerant and can thrive in a variety of soils
  • can tolerate light traffic
  • deadheading can lead to re-blooming

Thyme, thymus species

Flower type and colour varies with species and cultivars. Its form is a dense creeping mat, 3 to 6 inches.
  • prefers well-drained light textured soil with low fertility, and will tolerate organic and clay soils if well-drained
  • aromatic foliage that can withstand moderate foot traffic
  • attracts beneficial insects

Partial shade to full sun

Barren Strawberry (Native), Waldsteinia fragarioides

barren strawberry
A slow spreading mat with white/yellow flowers that grows 3 to 6 inches tall. Spread: 6 to 12 inches.
  • spring blooming
  • tolerates a wide range of soils

Birdsfoot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus

A low growing plant (3-5 inches) with yellow flowers mid to late summer.
  • low maintenance
  • prefers poor-drained, fertile soil
  • attracts beneficial insects
  • resilient to heavy foot traffic, and dog urine
  • especially effective as a grass alternative, seed is inexpensive to buy

Creeping, Bearberry, Rockspray Cotoneaster,
Cotoneaster adpressus, dammeri and horizontalis

creeping bearberry
An evergreen shrub with white or pink flowers in spring and dark red fruit in fall. Grows 1-1.5 feet tall, with a spread of 4-8 feet.
  • prefers moist well-drained soil but will tolerate a range of
  • conditions; effective in rock gardens and low banks
  • dark green leaves; bronzy to purplish in the fall

Geranium, Geranium maculatum

Grows from 6-12 inches tall, with pink to purple flowers spring to early summer.
  • fast grower
  • grows well in shade
  • good pollinator plant

Sedum, Sedum species

A low, creeping mat that grows 3-18 inches tall and flowers ranging from spring to fall. The flowers and flowering time vary with cultivar.
  • slow growing
  • does well in poor soil
  • variety of different coloured foliage, flowers and flowering times

White Dutch Clover, Trifolium repens

A low plant, about 3 inches tall, with white or pink flowers early to late summer.
  • low maintenance
  • prefers poor-drained, fertile soil
  • attracts beneficial insects
  • resilient to heavy foot traffic, and dog urine
  • especially effective as a grass alternative

Partial shade to full shade

Bishop’s Hat, Epimedium x youngianum

bishops hat
A slow spreading groundcover that grows 12-18 inches tall with a spread of 12-18 inches. Light pinkish white flowers in spring.
  • showy flower and good fall foliage

Bunchberry, Cornus Canadensis (native)

A creeping perennial that grows 3-6 inches tall with white flowers in the spring, red berries in the fall and red fall foliage.
  • all season interest groundcover that will grow in full shade
  • prefers moist soils
  • very rare and a great conversation piece (it is also known as creeping dogwood)

Foam Flower, Tiarella cordifolia (native)

White flowers in the spring. 3-5 inches tall without flowers, 5-10 inches tall with flowers.
  • great mat forming perennial for the shade
  • spreads quickly
  • flowers appear to be floating above the foliage

Japanese Spurge, Pachysandra terminalis

Grows 6-10 inches tall with white flowers in the spring.
  • fast spreading and think mat forming perennial
  • can become invasive unless contained

Lungwort, Pulmonaria officinalis

Blueish-purple flowers in early spring. Grows 4-6 inches tall; 10 inches with flower.
  • spotted foliage
  • grows well in moist soils in full shade
  • moderately fast growing

Partridge Berry, Mitchella repens (native)

A mat spreading 6-12 inches that grows 1-3 inches tall with white flowers and red berries.
  • broadleaf evergreen
  • organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils
  • drought tolerant once established

Polypody Fern, Polypodium virginianum (native)

Non-flowering, 10-15 inches tall.
  • evergreen fern
  • grows well near cedars and in rocky areas
  • prefers well-drained, moist, humus, somewhat infertile soils

Sedge Species, Carex species

Flower colour varies with cultivar. Grows 6-8 inches tall with a spread of 6-18 inches.
  • prefers moist, rich soils which do not dry out
  • drought tolerant once established

Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum

White flowers in spring. Grows to a height of 8-12 inches, with a spreading mat 10-18 inches.
  • aromatic perennial
  • prefers average, medium to wet, well-drained soils
  • blooms late spring to early summer

Wild Violet

A spreading perennial that grows 4-6 inches tall with purple flower in the spring.
  • drought tolerant ground cover that spreads quite quickly
  • great in a contained space
  • has an invasive growth habit and can take over a space quickly

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens (native)

Grows 4-6 inches tall with a spread of 6-12 inches. White flowers.
  • broadleaf evergreen
  • prefers organically rich, evenly moist, acidic, well-drained soils
  • drought tolerant once established