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Rethinking Lawns -- Part 4: Groundcovers

Life without turfgrass can be both beautiful and surprisingly easy to maintain …. Just ask the designers and crews at Embassy Landscape Group who have created landscapes that are attractive, painless to care for and environmentally friendly. Utilizing a wide range of native and introduced plants, ground covers, shrubs and trees, Embassy’s design staff are able to create no-mow front yards that not only suit your style, but also work well with the existing environmental conditions.
















Dan Nelson, Senior Designer at Embassy, firmly believes that unity is an essential element of an appealing and harmonious landscape design. Although separate areas of the space may have specific functions or even evoke different emotions, they all need to work together to create a pleasing, coherent design.



In a traditional lawn, turfgrass often provides unity as it forms a continuous carpet connecting the space. A no-mow yard, one without turfgrass, must rely on other means to link the areas together. Features such as pathways, walls or meandering creek beds can be used to unite the yard, as can the deliberate use of plant materials.




Using ground cover, especially those that are native, is an effective way to create unity in a landscape design while contributing to the health of the environment. To help you begin your search for groundcovers (especially if you are thinking about a no-mow yard design), we have included a listing of some the top choices for the Midwest.




Natives are preceded by an asterisk.




  • *Aromatic aster – (Aster oblongifolius)  vigorous growth; 18 – 24 inches; vigorous growth habit; silvery blue blooms in fall; rich in nectar



  • *Purple poppy mallow – (Callirhoe involucrata)  under 12 inches in height but up to 4 foot spread; thrives in hot, dry rocky areas; vigorous growth; purple flowers in midsummer




  • *Creeping junipers –  (Juniperous horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’) 12 inches tall with possible 5 foot spread; heat and drought resistance; females produce berries, males produce cones




  • *Prairie dropseed – (Sporobolus heterolepis) 18 to 24 inch clumps with late summer blooms on foliage up to 30 – 40 inches; effective in mass plantings



  • *Canada anemone –  (Anemone canadensis) 12 to 18 inches tall;  thrives in dappled sun with most, rich soils; white blooms in late spring; good filler plant




  • Moss stonecrop – (Sedum acre) 3 to 4 inches; tolerates both dry conditions and medium moisture in well-drained soils; yellow blooms throughout the summer



Sun to Partial Shade



  • *Wild strawberry – (Fragaria virginiana) 4 to 7 inches tall; spreads by runners in rich, moist soil; growth stronger in spring and fall; small red fruit has intense flavor

  • *Squaw weed  – (Packera aurea) 6 to 12 inches tall; average moisture spreads rapidly; yellow blooms in spring; foliage may remain evergreen during milder winters



  • Bloody cranesbill -(Geranium sanguineum) 9 to 18 inches tall; prefers average moist soil, but tolerates drought; pinkish-red blooms in May and June with red foliage in the fall; easily cut to maintain shape



  • *Stonecrop/Three-leaved stonecrop – (Sedum ternatum) 3 to 6 inches; tough plants that spread easily; prefers a moist, well-drained soil but will tolerate drought; varieties bloom spring through summer




  • *Little bluestem – ( Schizachyrium scoparium) 2 to 4 feet tall; grows well in a variety of sunlight, soil types and moisture levels; purplish blooms in late summer with silver-tinged seed heads and orange fall foliage







  • *Wild ginger – (Asarum canadense) 6 to 12 inches; spreads slowly in moist to wet but well-drained soil; diminutive purple blooms in spring; fragrant foliage



  • *Wild geranium –  (Geranium maculatum) 18 to 24 inches; grows best in moist soil but will tolerate poor soil; may go dormant during drought; violet-pink blooms in spring




  • Hosta – (Family: Asparagaceae) variable heights and colors; bloom colors and times varies by species; rich, moist soil; soils should never dry out completely



  • Ferns – (Family: Pteridaceae) variable heights and colors; preferred soil conditions depend on variety  (Some varieties native)



  • *Crested Iris – (Iris cristata) 6 to 9 inches (dwarf 3 – 6); very rapid growth rate by rhizomes; forms dense colonies in moist, well-drained soils but also does well in rocky soils; blue blooms in April



  • *Foam flower – (Tiarella cordifolia) 9 to 12 inches; grows easily by runners in rich, moist, well-drained soil; does not tolerate wet feet in winter; white or pink blooms in late spring; foliage remains semi-evergreen during winter