For Less Work, Choose Groundcovers

Mark Peterson

The clear benefit of using groundcovers instead of grass is less of everything — less water, less fertilizer, less pesticides and less mowing.

Tired of mowing, weeding, feeding and watering the lawn over, and over, and over again? It may be time to forget turf and move on to something that’s drought hardy, water efficient and environmentally friendly: groundcovers.

Groundcovers are spreading or mounding plants that cover most or all of the soil surface. These can be simply evergreen or provide seasonal flowers. Most are specific to sun or shade, but some are adaptable to both extremes. The clear benefit of using groundcovers instead of grass is less of everything — less water, less fertilizer, fewer pesticides, and less mowing.

That said, I do have one pet peeve with a commonly used groundcover: Asiatic jasmine. Landscape crews string trim this plant weekly. Not cut, mind you, but rip and shred and tear the leaves and vines. Please stop. If you feel the need to trim something weekly, go back to grass. But this is a groundcover. That means trimming only four to six times a year if that.

Here are some examples of great groundcovers, separated by light requirements.


English ivy – the classic and still great groundcover for the shade. I prefer the small, variegated variety. Fortunately, not invasive here as in the Pacific Northwest.

Dwarf Mexican petunia, aka ‘Katy’ – the small perennial with the violet or pink flowers is a common groundcover in south central Texas. I find it does best in small, confined beds. The parent, Mexican petunia, is invasive.

Mondo or Monkey grass – this comes in ‘standard’ and ‘dwarf’ versions, but don’t let the names fool you. This evergreen “grass” grows to be four to six inches tall. No mowing, no fertilizer, no pesticide.

Monkey Grass

Ajuga – this low growing perennial with blue or purple flowers is perfect for pervious patios and borders along paths. In my opinion, it’s not deer-resistant so use only in fenced areas or in the city.

Carpet Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Purple oxalis – my all-time favorite shade perennial that can be used as a groundcover. Features purple foliage and pink flowers, and the only maintenance required is pruning once every five years.

Purple Oxalis


Skullcap – there are three different species with pink, blue, and purple flowers; used very successfully at SAWS headquarters.

Pink Skullcap

Santolina – an extremely drought tolerant plant that comes in green and gray varieties, both with yellow flowers.

Green Santolina

Prostrate rosemary – a virtually indestructible perennial that also can be used in the kitchen. The only way to kill it is by watering it, so just don’t.


Creeping germander – a very low growing perennial with purple flowers; excellent for those hot and dry row areas along the street.

Damianita – my favorite native perennial is attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, but not deer. No water, fertilizer, or pruning required. Just plant, establish and walk away.

Sun or Shade

Leadwort, aka dwarf plumbago – this native to western China is a fantastic cobalt blue-flowered plant that tolerates both sun and shade


Purple heart – a classic and still one of the best, this one is also virtually indestructible.

Purple Heart

Texas sedge – SAWS Conservation personnel are excited about this native in the landscape. This is “out-of-the-box” thinking and we have seen a few and hope for more examples in San Antonio.

Sedge Groundcover

These are just few examples of groundcovers. Check our plant database for more ideas! Opportunities abound for replacing that tiresome, water sucking grass. Consider expanding your landscape plant palette by removing the grass monoculture.

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