Photo: Saxon Holt
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Green Carpet That's Not Grass

Less-lawn solution: If you crave the open look of a lush lawn, low-growing groundcovers may be your best alternative. TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook warns that many low-growing groundcovers are sold as small plants, and establishing them over a large area can be costly. So he often uses higher-growing groundcovers along the edges or creates a patchwork quilt that mixes high-growing types (such as sweet woodruff, or Galium odoratum, and ferns) with low growers. He favors bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) on sandy sites and junipers in sunny spots; where it's okay for plants to die back in winter, he often plants hostas.

Foot-traffic-friendly groundcovers that compete well with weeds and stay relatively short without mowing include mat-forming creeping thyme, grasslike blue sedge (Carex glauca), and mounding moss phlox (a good choice on hillsides where mowing is difficult). The Plant Info section at Stepables includes a feature to help you find suitable species according to the amount of foot traffic they will get (and accounts for sun and water needs, as well). With a little searching, you can find a spreading groundcover that gives you the kind of green space that appeals to your sense of style, makes fewer demands on your time—and is easier on the earth.
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