Perennial Ground Cover

Perennial Ground Cover can be created from a mix of tightly-knit grasses and flowering plants. If you have low-use, low-foot traffic areas and welcome a non-traditional look, this option offers the maximum ecological impact—though it requires an investment of planning, time, and money, and has higher maintenance needs at first.

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What is Perennial Ground Cover?

With a diverse matrix of native grasses and forbs, perennial ground cover can be adapted to almost any growing condition. It can be low-growing if desired.

Why should I plant Perennial Ground Cover?

Converting lawn into perennial ground cover offers the maximum ecological impact. In theory, you could turn your yard (or any part of it) back into a fragment of the ecosystem it used to be—meadow, prairie, or woodland—and see what sorts of pollinators and wildlife discover your new habitat. You could also choose a more “managed” look, and combine the diverse colors, textures, forms, and habits of native plants with paths, benches, water features, etc., to shape the yard of your dreams. Perennial ground cover involves the removal of turf and calls for higher levels of maintenance while establishing.

Where do you plant Perennial Ground Cover?

Areas of low foot traffic and where a non-traditional look is welcome to make great planting areas. Hillsides, shaded areas, and along the edges of a property or sides of a house or garage are all good candidates for perennial ground cover.

What plants make up Perennial Ground Cover?

Many different plants and plant palettes could be used to create perennial ground cover. Below are a handful of hardy forbs and grasses that could be used together to form an attractive and low-growing ground cover. But don’t stop there! There are hundreds of native plants that could potentially thrive in your yard. Use our plant selector tool to search for plants to fit your light and soil conditions. Talk with a landscape designer about other options or to brainstorm ideas.

Common Name Scientific Name Bloom Height Sun/Shade Soil Native
Calico Aster Symphotrichum lateriflorum white 24″ both mesic Yes
Common Blue Violet Viola sororia purple 4″ both mesic Yes
Creeping Thyme Thymus serpyllum purple 2-4″ sun dry No
Dutch White Clover Trifolium repens white 6-12″ both dry No
Ground Plum Astragalus crassicarpus purple 12″ sun dry to mesic Yes
Lanceleaf Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata yellow 12-24″ sun dry Yes
Prairie Groundsel Packera plattensis yellow 12-16″ sun dry Yes
Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum pink 8″ sun dry to mesic Yes
Pussytoes Antennaria plantaginifolia white 12″ sun dry Yes
Self heal Prunella vulgaris ssp. lanceolata purple 2-12″ both mesic Yes
Sweet White Violet Viola blanda white 6″ shade mesic Yes
Woodland Strawberry Fragaria vesca white 6-10″ shade mesic Yes
Blue Grama Bouteloua gracilis n/a 12″ sun dry Yes
Fine Fescues Festuca sp. n/a 1-8″ both dry Some
Ivory Sedge Carex eburnea n/a 6″ shade dry to mesic Yes
Path Rush Juncus tenuis n/a 6-12″ sun dry to mesic Yes
Pennsylvania Sedge Carex pensylvanica n/a 8″ both dry to mesic Yes
Prairie Junegrass Koeleria macrantha n/a 24″ sun dry Yes
Sideoats Grama Bouteloua curtipendula n/a 24″ sun dry to mesic Yes


How do I create Perennial Ground Cover?

Build from the bottom up

  • To start from a blank slate you must remove existing grass. A large area of bare soil is easily eroded by runoff and provides fertile ground for weeds to easily grow. Herbicides are not recommended because of their impacts on water quality. All methods have pros and cons. Below are alternatives to chemical removal:
    • Sheet mulching uses cardboard to smother the grass.
    • A sod cutter is a non-chemical method that can cleanly remove grass and its roots—but is hard work, and you can lose a lot of organic matter.
    • Solarization is a non-chemical method that covers the area with plastic and using the sun and lack of water to kill the grass. This uses a lot of plastic, takes time, plastic degrades and may release toxins, and is not practical on a large scale.
    • For homeowners, 20% acetic acid or Phydura is an ecologically responsible alternative to glyphosate. It kills all vegetation but leaves roots for stabilization and reseeds easily.
  • Once you’ve removed or killed your previous grass, it’s time to plant your ground cover. Many native plants can be purchased in plugs, which is economical for most homeowner projects. Direct seeding is often made difficult by low germination rates.

How do I maintain my Perennial Ground Cover?

  • Weeding – Especially as the plants establish themselves, you’ll need to be vigilant about pulling weeds. It may require a trained eye to tell the difference between a beneficial plant and one you want to remove. Most herbicides won’t be able to differentiate, either. Once established, your ground cover should be thick and healthy enough to suppress and out-compete most weeds.
  • Watering – As plants sprout and grow in their first year, ensure that they receive at least an inch of water a week. Once established, your ground cover should have roots extensive enough to find water when they need it—if you find that an area in your yard is too dry for the plants you’re trying to grow, look into more drought-tolerant native species.