I want to replace our grass in the front yard. We have plans for a wildflower garden, possibly some small shrubs, and near the front I’d like to have a low ‘grassy’ area that we can sit and play on, near the sidewalk. This is an east facing property and the ground would be partial shade, I think. I see a few options but I’m lost in them. Which plant would you recommend? A landscaper said Vinca, but when I looked that up I saw it was invasive and spreads easily to neighbours’ lawns. I’d like something easy to control, even if it takes longer to settle in. I saw wildflowerfarm.ca sells indigenous slow growing grass mixes… which would mean less mowing, though not no-mow, still a good option. I really like creeping thyme… but I get the impression it won’t take the traffic. And clover, I read, can’t be grown on its own? So, any recommendations? We’ve laid down a lasagna compost over our existing sod this fall so it’ll be ready in the spring.
Planting ground cover serves numerous purposes including weed control, erosion prevention as well as preventing invasive species and troublesome weeds from invading your garden. Groundcovers can grow in a variety of forms and sizes and may be grasses, vines, perennials or shrubs
When purchasing ground cover for your garden consider the specie’s sunlight requirements and its ability to spread. Comparing these variables to your garden design will prevent improper placement or overbuying. It generally takes ground cover 2 or 3 years to become fully established; during which time it should be regularly monitored and appropriately tended.
The following information is from one of our earlier posts and pertains directly to your question:
“You don’t mention whether you are looking for plants that will grow in dry or moist shade. The following are some groundcovers you might wish to consider:
Galium odoratum, (sweet woodruff,) is another creeping perennial suitable for shaded woodland conditions: its glossy emerald green leaves and scented white star-shaped flowers make an attractive carpet. It is less tolerant of dry conditions.
Creeping wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, is another evergreen perennial that requires regular moisture, will tolerate shade and moist acidic soil. Plants form a low, spreading mat of rounded, glossy green leaves. The foliage turns bronze in the winter. This plant is slow to spread.
Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger) is another possible candidate. Asarum is generally slow to get established but once they take hold they will spread by rhizomes just below the soil surface to create a beautiful ground cover. For Gingers to thrive, they should be planted in moist, humus rich, slightly acidic, well-drained soil.
Some groundcovers to consider for dry shade are barrenwort (Epimedium), geranium (Geranium macrorhizum), and Japanese spurge (Pachysandra)
You may wish to read this Lawn Alternatives guide that the Toronto Master Gardeners has published for additional ideas. https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/gardeningguides/lawn-alternatives-and-organic-care-of-groundcovers-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/
As well, check out our gardening Guide on Broadleaf Evergreen Groundcovers for a list of suggestions. https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/gardeningguides/broadleaf-evergreen-groundcovers-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/
You may also wish to consider the following ground covers:
Creeping speedwell (Veronica repens) : This is a low-growing ground cover plant that only reaches a height of 1 – 2 inches. In the spring and early summer Veronica repens, Creeping Speedwell is adorned with masses of soft, light blue flowers. Plant in full sun to light shade. Will tolerate light foot traffic.
Prostrate speedwell (Veronica prostrata): Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Avoid wet, poorly drained soils. Plants may be sheared after flowering to revitalize and to encourage new foliage growth.
Good Luck with your project.