When Grass won’t grow – Try one of these three Turf alternative groundcovers

July 11, 2022

proven winners creeping thyme for grass replacement - by rochelle greayer

We’ve had two straight weeks of rain and constant drizzle and I still can’t get that grass to take root.

Stick a fork in it. I’m done. I need a grass alternative.

That grass isn’t the nice easy stuff that grows just about anywhere else in my garden. In those areas, all I need to do is spread a little seed. That grass (pronounced through the gritted teeth of frustration) is the culmination of a few years of trying every gimmick, variety, and installation method the turf grass the industry offers. And still, I look out upon a couple of weedy tufts and dust.

proven winners ajuga reptans burgundy glow - replacing grass with rochelle greayer

I’m not sure why that grass  won’t grow. Certainly a variety of factors are at play (soil, slope, moisture, exposure, pine needles, etc) but I’ve finally decided to quit.  As I become the ever-more seasoned gardener, I’ve learned that not only can you not win in a battle with mother nature, but often, the best way forward is to find a mutually agreeable third-party solution.  I think of it as garden diplomacy.  My desire is for a lush ground cover (grass). She (mother nature) doesn’t agree – so we must find an alternative.

proven winners lamium - replacing grass with rochelle greayer

Three tough grass alternatives

I have decided to take a cue from what I see working. I’m hoping that these three grass alternatives are options that thrive in a way the original grass does not.

Elfin Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) a tiny leaved turf option –

A few years back, I visited a B&B way up north in Vermont (probably zone 3) and it was only when I went out for a walk that I noticed the huge expanse of what appeared to be a turf ‘lawn‘ wasn’t actually lawn at all… it was thyme! It was green and lush and it smelled heavenly. This thyme lawn was easily an acre and in expanse. Thyme can thrive in large and very intense areas.

Burgundy Glow Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) a series of colorful leafy grass lawn alternatives   

Elsewhere in my garden a patch of ajuga has infiltrated the grass and along with the dandelions it creates a thick lovely cover. It is beautiful with grass-height purple flowers when un-mowed.  The bees love it. It is equally nice when mowed – to my mind is every bit as attractive as grass and is a great grass replacement.  There are a wide variety of ajuga plants that range in leaf color and flower color. Mostly. the leaves range from variegated, to green to near black and the flowers in shades of blue, purple, white and pink. The ‘Burgundy glow’ variety has a variegation in the leaves that crosses from green to white to pink and I think it will be beautiful with the Thyme and Dead Nettle.

Ghost Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum) a deep shade grass alternative.

I have some glorious clumps of taller Lamium that are thriving in an even more inhospitable area of my garden.  They are real performers and great addition to a collection of spring bloomers.  This is a bit of an experiment (I admit) but I read that Lamium responds well to mowing. I am thinking that I can enjoy its blooms early and then mow and enjoy it is silvery green leaves for the rest of the season.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Other posts you might be interested in:

I’m curious if anyone else has opted to replace turf with a different ground cover.  What did you use and how did it work for you? I’d love a more few ideas! 

REgister now!

A Free Master Class



  1. Rachelle says:

    Under a shady pine tree I went with hostas and a pagoda dogwood.

  2. Marcio says:

    Olá, parabéns pelo Blog!
    Sou da empresa Gramas Paraiso, conte conosco para informações sobre mudas de grama e serviços em geral:

    Um grande abraço!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Does Your Garden Need a Makeover?

Learn my 7-step system to design and build a stunning garden anywhere in the world.


Join my Free Class!

Understand the 5 mistakes everyone makes when creating a garden. (Save yourself time, money, & headaches and get much better results!)

See how to work directly with me (but at a DIY price!) to
design and create your own gorgeous garden.