6 Ground Covers To Replace Turf Grass

Lawns! We love them and we hate them. Turf grass remains the largest irrigated crop in the U.S., covering approximately 49,000 square miles – that’s larger than the state of Pennsylvania! Some view a green lawn as essential to being a good neighbor or even an indication of financial success. Many of us, well, we just like the way they look.

Yet, the popularity of lawns has been trending downward across the nation for years, understandably. An attractive lawn requires work – lots of it. Mowing, edging, maintaining equipment, fighting brown spots and weeds, adding fertilizers, regular watering, and on and on. These are the constant trials of the grass farmer.

Lawns need a lot of water. Outdoor water use accounts for

up to 30% of total household use.

If you’re part of the crowd that wants to get off the hamster wheel of time and money BUT you still love coming home to an attractive green space, consider replacing your turf grass with native groundcover.  

Just what is a groundcover? They’re low-lying plants that creep and spread. They cover small to large sections of ground with minimal maintenance and come in a spectrum of shapes and sizes. Whatever your taste, neat and trim or something more “natural,” tall or short, busy or manicured, green or colorful, you can find a native groundcover to meet your needs.

Going with groundcover will save you a ton of maintenance time, water, chemicals, and money. The added bonus: while lawns offer almost zero environmental value, native groundcovers provide a host of benefits for pollinators and other wildlife. Who wouldn’t like to see more butterflies out their window?! 

If you’re ready to say good-bye to turf grass, check out these native, perennial groundcovers and find the best fit for your yard.  


Sun Loving Groundcover

Frogfruit Phyla incisa 

  • Height: 3-6 inches 
  • Bloom Time: May through October 
  • Color: White flowers. Semi-evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Tolerates most soils and drainage; Low water use 
  • Attracts: Butterflies and is the larval host plant for Phaon Crescentspot, Buckeye and White Peacock butterflies 
  • Tolerates drought and flooding. Avoid mowing until after flowering season 
Photo by Thomas L. Muller

Silver Ponyfoot Dichondra argentea 

  • Height: 3-4 inches 
  • Bloom Time: May through August 
  • Color: Silver-gray semi-evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Well-drained soil; Low water use 
  • Attracts: Butterflies and bees use for food and shelter 
  • Can spread rapidly under constant irrigation.  
Photo by Joseph A. Marcus

Prairie Verbena  Glandularia bipinnatifida 

  • Height: 6-12 inches 
  • Bloom Time: March through December 
  • Color: Pink and purple flowers; Semi-evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Well-drained soil; Low water use 
  • Attracts: Butterflies  
  • Cut back to encourage re-bloom and denser growth. 
Photo by Norman G. Flaigg

Shade Tolerant Groundcover

Horseherb Calyptocarpus vialis 

  • Height: 6-12 inches 
  • Bloom Time: March through November 
  • Color: Yellow flowers; Semi-evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade, Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Well-drained sand, loam or clay soil; Low to medium water use 
  • Attracts: Small butterflies 
  • Tolerates mowing 
Photo by Melody Lytle

Partridgeberry  Mitchella repens 

  • Height: 1-2 inches 
  • Bloom Time: May through October 
  • Color: White, pink and purple flowers; Red berries; Evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade 
  • Soil Condition: Dry to moist soil; Low to medium water use 
  • Attracts: Birds and small mammals enjoy the small red berries 
  • Best for low traffic/undisturbed locations. Avoid mowing. 
Photo by Alan Cressler

Wild Petunia Ruellia nudiflora 

  • Height: 1-2 feet 
  • Bloom Time: April through October 
  • Color: Purple flowers; Leaves will fall off at the end of growing season 
  • Light Requirement: Shade, Part Shade, Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Sandy soil; Low to medium water use 
  • Attracts: Butterflies and is a larval host plant for Common Buckeye, Cuban Crescentspot, Malachite and White Peacock butterflies 
  • Tolerates mowing 
Photo by Sally and Andy Wasowski

Concerned about keeping native plants looking tidy? Keep edges maintained and occasionally trim or mow depending on the groundcover selected and you will have an aesthetically pleasing lawn with little effort. 

Still unsure? The Woodlands Residential Development Standards encourages the use of native plants. As stated: 

D. Front Yard Landscaping  

Forty percent of the front yard (excluding the portion covered by driveway and walkways) must be trees, shrubbery, flowers, mulch or plants other than turf or grass. No trees, shrubbery, plants or vegetation may be removed that would result in the grassed area exceeding 60 percent of the front yard. 

F. Native Plants 

The use of native plant materials with an understanding of the functional and aesthetic properties of each plant category is essential in the achievement of a sense of continuity and consistency in The Woodlands landscape concept. Whenever possible, new plantings should make use of ground covers in lieu of grass. 

Even if you aren’t ready to replace your entire lawn, consider the benefits of replacing part of your lawn. Be rewarded with a yard that attracts pollinators and birds, saves you water, time and money. 


Many native plants qualify for a native plant rebate from Woodlands Water Agency. If you are a Woodlands resident and live in Montgomery County, be sure to check out the complete list of rebates available here. 


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 


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Fantastic Fungi! Feed, Fix, Fight

While breaking down old tree limbs is their most visible job, fungi do far more than just decompose. They form vital associations with plants, supporting most of the green world as we know it. They’re employed at toxic waste sites to sequester heavy metals. And they even engage in biowarfare, helping to protect crops and turf. Fungi are antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. And many are tasty and nutritious, to boot! Here’s a taste of their superpowers: 

Feeding trees and plants

Only 10% of the estimated 5 million species of fungi produce mushrooms, but many more are important nutrient cyclers, turning detritus into soluble forms for living plants. Move a stick or log, and you’ll notice fuzzy, cobwebby threads stretching everywhere – that’s mycelium, a network of fungal threads that are the foundation of the food web, supporting other soil microbes like bacteria and invertebrates. The kin (called mycorrhizae) form a synergistic relationship with 95% or more of all plant species. The mycorrhizae gather nutrients from far beyond the grasp of plant roots; in turn, plants release surplus sugars from photosynthesis to support the fungal symbiotes. 

Remediating pollutants

Mycoremediation – using fungi to help break down environmental contaminants – is particularly effective at removing heavy metals such as copper, lead, mercury, arsenic, and nickel from contaminated soils. Mutagens and carcinogens, these metals contaminate food and water supplies, threatening the health of animals and humans, alike. Certain fungi also play a role in degrading pesticides, pharmaceutical wastes and even petroleum products.

Fighting pests

A fungus as a pesticide? Yes! First discovered in a cinnamon tree in Honduras, Muscodor albus produces a mixture of volatile organic compounds that kill a wide range of fungal and bacterial pathogens. Early tests indicate it could replace methyl bromide fumigation as a means to control soil-borne plant diseases. You can’t see it but they’re fighting the good fight deep below your feet. That’s why it’s not recommended to treat those stray mushrooms that pop up in your lawn – applying fungicides to the lawn kills these beneficial fungi too.  Consider that a single cubic inch of soil can have more than 8 miles of mycelium, a network that creates microenvironments for beneficial bacteria, flagellates and protists. Avoiding lawn chemicals protects the important balance of predators and pests that healthy soil provides.  


Did you miss the Walk in the Woods online presentation in February?  Watch the recording and join mycophile and Texas Master Naturalist Teri MacArthur as she shares The Weird and Wonderful World of Mushrooms.


Discover More! 

Paul Stamets Fantastic Fungi “Mush Room” of resources. Listen to his Ted Talk on the 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World

iNaturalist Mushrooms of Texas https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/mushrooms-of-texas 

North American Mycological Association has an extensive list of recommended books https://namyco.org/refbooks.php. While you are there check out their stunning photography contests.


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Backyard Composting Week

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, food waste accounts for nearly 24% of all landfill material, consuming space and producing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s up to 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Much of this waste could be easily composted instead. From leftovers to kitchen scraps, composting is a great way to manage food waste, quickly turning it from problem to resource, right in your own backyard.   

This week The Woodlands Township’s Environmental Services Department brings you resources for starting or enhancing your backyard composting. Wherever you are on your home composting journey, these handy resources will help. 

Beginner Composter 

Composting 101

Learn to compost in only 15 minutes. This video walks you through the process, from beginning to end.  Easy-to-follow instructions and great visuals will have you composting in no time.   

Backyard Composting Guide

Keep this comprehensive, step-by-step brochure handy as you design, build and manage your compost pile. You’ll find yourself enjoying nutrient rich compost in as little as three months.

Benefits of Using Compost and Mulch

On the fence about starting your own composting bin? This compelling resource, which covers the multitude of ecological, economic and sustainability benefits of composting, will leave you convinced and inspired.

Experienced Composter 

Soil Food Web Compost and Compost Tea 

Have you been composting for a while? Looking to take it to the next level? Dr. Elaine Ingham’s video explores microbes, compost tea, humic acid, and new temperature and humidity reading techniques.  

Composting with Worms:  Seven Easy Steps

Vermicomposting is a great option for composting at home, especially if you’re lacking yard space. Use worms to breakdown your food waste and yard trimmings – explained in seven easy steps. 

Compost Bins for Sale

The Woodlands Township offers high quality compost bins that set up in seconds for only $50; retail price is $150-$200. Call The Woodlands Township at 281-210-3800 to purchase and arrange for pickup. 

Looking for more composting resources?  Check out the November resources we pulled together on Backyard Composting here.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Don’t Fear the Fungus

Some are scary or downright disgusting when you first encounter them. Is that dog vomit? No, it might be an aptly named slime mold, Fuligo septica. Technically not a fungus, this protist appears suddenly, much like a lawn mushroom, and disappears almost as fast. If you knew the gargantuan effort it takes to assemble this many single-celled organism you might just leave them be to finish out their lifecycle.   

While fungi come in a wondrous assortment of colors and forms, the vast majority are not only beneficial but necessary. They’re also beautiful! Consider the delicate banded Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), the lacey petticoat of bridal veil stinkhorn, or the artists’ favorite, Amanita muscaria

Situation Normal 

Mushrooms in your lawn is not a sign of something wrong! They’re simply the visible part of a much larger network of underground mycelium, breaking down dead and decaying organic matter. Look around – is there a stump nearby? 99% of fungus won’t harm a living tree; they’re there to help with decomposing dead or dying wood, along with leaves, wood chips, branches, and fallen fruit. Mushrooms are a good sign! They’re proof the soil is alive, diverse, and rich in nutrients – the foundation of a healthy lawn and landscape. 

What to Do 

Resist the urge to treat it and grab your phone instead. Easy-to-use apps such as iNaturalist or Google Lens will help you identify which mushroom is flourishing in your flower bed. iNaturalist will even help you filter by location to see what others are seeing nearby. 

Fungicides are not recommended. The mushrooms typically aren’t causing damage and the chemicals are largely ineffective since the bulk of the mushroom exists belowground – think multiple square feet. It’s that extensive network of hyphae throughout the soil that comprises the true fungus from which the fruiting bodies – mushroom caps – arise. They’re a natural part of spring and fall when moisture abounds and temperatures cool. As weather conditions become unfavorable mushrooms retreat on their own, often as quickly as they appeared. You can discourage mushrooms by watering less frequently and pruning to reduce shade. 

Treatment 

If you really want them gone – perhaps you have a toddler or dog that puts everything in their mouth, here’s how: 

  • Cut or pull or mow the fruiting bodies to limit the number of spores and therefore future mushrooms. The rest of the fungal mycelia will persist underground until conditions return for another round of fruiting – likely not for a while.  
  • When trees are removed, the roots persist and begin to decompose with the help of insects, bacteria and fungi. The only way to permanently stop the continual upcropping of mushrooms is to dig out the soil containing the decaying matter, 12 to 18 inches deep and 2 feet outside the mushroom cluster. If that seems like a lot of work, leave the mushroom power houses there. When they’ve done their job of devouring all that underground material, it – and the mushrooms above – will disappear for good. 
  • Take care to wash hands thoroughly after handling mushrooms, as even some edible types can cause irritation. 

Mushrooms are a good sign. Delight in their ephemeral presence next time they make an appearance in your yard. Most are no “truffle” at all. 

Discover More! 

iNaturalist Mushrooms of Texas 

North American Mycological Association has an extensive list of recommended books. While you are there check out their stunning photography contests. 

All about dog vomit slime mold 

Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

It’s Backyard Composting Week!

Composting is natural recycling. Put your yard trimmings and kitchen scraps to work by creating nutrient rich homemade compost in your own back yard. This week the Environmental Services Department is focusing on backyard composting. Whether you are new to composting or have been doing it for years, we’ve got some great tips and resources to help you out.  

Benefits of Composting  

Learn how composting can add value to your home landscape. 

Composting During COVID-19 Fact Sheet 

Home composting is safe even in the current COVID-19 situation.  Find out more from the US Composting Council. 


Beginning Composter  

If you are thinking about composting but haven’t started yet, these resources are just for you. Need a quick start “how to compost” guide? In just a few minutes, National Geographic will teach you how to begin composting at home.

Click the photo above to watch the National Geographic Green Guide

Remember the essentials of composting by using this easy one-page guide from Texas A&M. 


Already Composting   

Learn how to enhance your composting skills with this informative webinar from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. 

Texas A&M’s “do it yourself” guide offers more information on backyard composting. 


Experienced Composter  

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance offers detailed home composting information in this 1.5-hour webinar. 

Compost Bins for Sale

To help you get started with backyard composting, The Woodlands Township is offering high quality collapsible compost bins for only $50. If purchased online, these bins retail for $150-$200. Call The Woodlands Township 281-210-3800, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to purchase.  Bin pick up is available by appointment.  Happy Composting! 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov