Ground Cover Alternatives to Grass
LESLIE: Well, lawns, they are so beautiful when they’re thick and lush and green. But keeping them that way is a lot of work.
TOM: If you’re ready to throw in the towel, hard grass is not the only plant that can deliver a lush, green look. Groundcovers are another good option. Here to talk us through those options is Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor for This Old House.
ROGER: So you’ve given up on your grass, huh?
TOM: Well, I tell you what, in some places, it seems like the grass has given up on us, especially if we’ve got a real shady place where you just can’t get it to grow. Is it OK to kind of give up and then you look to a groundcover plant as an option?
ROGER: We’re not giving up; we’re doing the wise move and we’re using something that will fit in that area rather than fighting it. It’s a smart thing to do.
TOM: So kind of going with the flow then.
ROGER: Go with what’s there if it helps you.
LESLIE: I have to tell you, I saw on an Elle Décor magazine a few years back, they talked about a moss garden: an intentional moss lawn. And it was gorgeous. It really was so beautiful and lush. What do you need to do that?
ROGER: Well, practically nothing. Moss is very good at growing on its own. It doesn’t really have a root system and it loves shade, so that’s where you’re going to put it. And you can go out and collect it in the woods. You can order it online and just push the Buy button.
LESLIE: Do you just sit it down on top of the dirt and walk away?
ROGER: Yeah. I’d loosen the soil up a little bit and then just set it in place. But it really doesn’t need a lot of water and it doesn’t need a lot of fertilizer.
TOM: Yeah, that’s really interesting.
TOM: And I guess that’s good for the shady yards and also where you have acidic soil.
Now, let’s talk about groundcovers. First of all, define a groundcover for those that are not familiar with that type of plant.
ROGER: It’s literally – it’s pretty aptly named. It’s something that covers a lot of ground for us.
TOM: It basically just grows flat on the ground and it’s not grass.
ROGER: Right. And it doesn’t have the maintenance of what a grass needs, either.
TOM: So how about clover? That’s a great groundcover, right?
ROGER: It is. And a lot of people don’t like to see it in the lawn. I love to see it in the lawn. It does a bunch of different things. It’s very attractive for bees. And also, it’s a nitrogen fixer, which means it takes nitrogen and fixes it in the root system. So it’s putting nitrogen into the ground.
TOM: So why would you want something that’s attractive to bees?
ROGER: Oh, I love having bees around the garden. In fact, I’ve been setting up a lot of beehives for my clients. And we just got done collecting the honey at a few of them.
LESLIE: Oh, wow. That’s really great.
TOM: That’s really interesting. Is there any maintenance associated with clover or groundcover like that?
ROGER: You know, it’s tough as nails. When it gets established, maybe cut it once or twice a year but that’s about it.
LESLIE: Gosh, that sounds really great. Is there an optimal time of year to plant a groundcover as opposed to when you might seed for a lawn?
ROGER: It depends. If you’re doing it by seed, obviously, in the spring is the best time, once the ground warms up a little bit, to get it in and get it growing. If you’re doing plugs or containers, you can do groundcovers almost any time of year.
TOM: Now, if you don’t want to use clover, are there other options for groundcovers?
ROGER: Actually, there’s more groundcovers than you could ever imagine in your life, in everything we talked about, from ferns to Vinca to anything exotic, low-growing we can play with.
ROGER: Yep. Sedges is another one. It almost looks like grass and it’s a pretty tough plant.
LESLIE: And what if you’re just over the whole green-growing nature thing? Can I go with a patio?
ROGER: Patio or stone?
LESLIE: Stone. Patio. What can I do?
TOM: But don’t forget to water it.
LESLIE: I’m like, “Can I just do that?”
ROGER: No, we actually have people who have stone gardens, where they weave in big rocks and little rocks and things like that. The only thing when you do that, I would suggest, is to put a weed barrier down before you put the stones down, to keep any weeds from coming up.
And also, be prepared to do a little bit of touch-up spring, because you’re going to get weeds that come in between the stones.
TOM: Now, if you’re going to plant a groundcover, do you plant that much the same as if you were planting a lawn?
ROGER: A little shallower because the roots of a groundcover never go down as deep as a lawn does. So you don’t really need it that deep. But you do want to loosen up the soil and prepare it. You only get one chance to prepare the soil, so always take time and do that before you plant anything.
TOM: Great advice, great options. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
ROGER: My pleasure.
LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you on PBS by Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating.