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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5 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2020

As the year draws to an end, we reflect on many things, from the pandemic, to the election, to working from home. 2020 will be a year we won’t easily forget.  It will also be remembered as a year when people reconnected with nature, spending more time outdoors.  Or a year when we found more creative ways to volunteer and give back: sewing masks, virtual fundraisers for great causes, or even sharing a roll of toilet paper with the neighbors. 2020 hasn’t been the easiest year, but there was a lot of hope and positive messages being shared.  Remember all those painted rocks on the pathways?

We want to share some of this year’s highlights from our department. Below are the top 5 most read articles published on The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department Blog in 2020.  Maybe you missed this content the first time around or it’s been months and you would like a refresher. Either way, these top-rated reads are worth a review.

1. Heat Loving Perennials

Many people took advantage of being home this year to work on their gardens.  Maybe you started a vegetable garden, a pollinator garden or just enjoyed getting your hands dirty and being outside. But for anyone who has experienced a Houston summer, you know that the heat can be brutal, especially for your more delicate plants. Instead of watching your plants wilt or running up the water bill, select native plants that thrive in harsh conditions. 

Click the image to view the #1 blog of 2020

2. Venomous Snakes

Texas is home to over 105 different species of snakes. That may send shivers down your spine, but it doesn’t have to: snakes are one of nature’s most misunderstood creatures, posing little danger and playing a vital ecological role including control of pests. Only 3 venomous species reside in our area. If you’re concerned about interactions, take a moment to review our May Creature Feature.

Click the image to view the #2 blog of 2020

3. A Guide to Community Service While Social Distancing

Many community events were reformatted in 2020, including The Township’s annual Earth Day GreenUp.  With the traditional event no longer an option, many residents reached out asking how to participate in volunteer efforts throughout the community while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Luckily, any day is a good day to pick up litter. If your family wants to help keep our community clean while enjoying the outdoors, this guide is worth a read.

Click the image to view the #3 blog of 2020

4. Recycling Dilemma #1005: Take-Out Containers

Restaurants were hit hard in 2020 and many of our favorite places were quick to adjust. From curbside pick up to new delivery options, take-out has become one of the safest ways to satisfy our cravings. But, many are left wondering what to do with all the packaging. We’re here to help, with a simple-to-follow guide for all you take-out connoisseurs.

Click the image to view the #4 blog of 2020

5. Recycling Dilemma #1006 – Online Shopping

Staying home means more shopping online. Avoiding crowds while getting a great deal is just a click away. In 2020 more of us than ever turned to online retailers for everything from paper towels to TVs, and with it came an abundance of packaging in all shapes and sizes: cardboard, packing peanuts, air pillows, Styrofoam and more. We help you solve this recycling dilemma in this quick read.

Click the image to view the #5 blog of 2020

That’s it! Our top 5 most viewed articles for 2020. Check back weekly for new articles and hot topics in 2021. 

The internet is a big place to navigate. If you get lost or distracted easily, sign up to receive a weekly email with the latest from The Woodlands Township Environmental Services. Simply click the button below, enter your email address and be sure to look for a confirmation email.  Once you confirm, you’ll hear from us weekly, or until you decide otherwise.  However you want to manage your subscription, we will be here, creating new content for you to enjoy.

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

Earn cash by gardening

That’s not a misprint. Thanks to our sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N., and Project PolliNation, cash awards will be given to the three village associations with the most points earned in the Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. First place will be awarded $750, second place $500 and third place $250. These funds support village association scholarship programs. Simply put, your garden can grow money.  

Since the Village Challenge began in June 2020, residents have reached out to learn more about the program. We’re answering your most asked questions below. 

What is the Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge?  

This community challenge, created by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department, encourages residents to support pollinators by providing food, shelter and a space free of harmful chemicals. Residents register their garden and share actions they’ve taken to provide a habitat for bees, butterflies, moths and more.   

Just like the Water-Wise and Recycling Village Challenges, residents earn points which equal cash for scholarships. Registrations submitted June 1 through December 1, 2020 earn a point for the village where the garden is located.  

The Challenge is part of the Plant for Pollinators Program, which supports Township-wide efforts to support and increase our pollinator populations. On-going efforts include distribution of milkweed to the public, installation of pollinator gardens in parks and schools, and educational outreach. 

I’m not a fan of insects. Why would I want to attract them to my yard? 

Pollinator gardens attract bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, and even hummingbirds. These beneficial insects go to work in your garden pollinating flowers, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Did you know that we rely on pollinators for roughly one third of the food that we eat? Our natural environment is even more reliant on their services.  

Maybe you’re having trouble with nuisance insects in your yard. Pollinator gardening can help. The native plants you add will attract birds and bats to control those unwanted pests. They’ll increase your biodiversity so that no single pest takes over. And, you’ll love the year-round flowers. 

I’ve never gardened before. Where do I start? 

We suggest starting with the Plant for Pollinators Garden Registration Form.  Each section (Shelter, Nectar Plants, Host Plants, Water Source) highlights essential elements for a pollinator garden. You likely have many of these in your yard already. For example, a loblolly pine tree is a host plant for elfin butterflies. Your wooden fence provides covered space for a caterpillar to form a chrysalis. Bare ground serves as a nesting site for native bees. And your fountain, provided its chemical-free, is an excellent source of water.  

Determine how much space you want to dedicate to your garden, how much sun that area receives and how what the soil is like. Is it sandy, full of clay or a mix of both? Does it stay moist or dry quickly? This is all important information to lead you to your next step – plant selection. 

To attract a specific pollinator to your yard, find out what plants they need or are most drawn to. Monarch butterflies enjoy nectar from many plants but only lay their eggs on milkweed. The color red attracts hummingbirds and bees are drawn to a variety of flowers, especially blue, purple, white and yellow.  

 Make a list and then head out to a local garden center or nursery.  A few things to keep in mind:  

  • Plant flowers in groups. Pollinators are drawn to bunches of flowering plants; much easier than  searching through the garden for a single plant.   
  • Provide flowering plants for each season. Some pollinators do migrate, so you may only see them once or twice a year as they pass through. However, there are plenty of pollinators that will visit year-round in search of food. As flowers die back in spring, add plants that will bloom throughout the summer, and so on. 

Start simple. Do you have plants that provide pollen and nectar? Does your yard provide shelter and water? Is your garden safe from harsh chemicals? Great! Sounds like you’ve started a pollinator garden.   

I live in an apartment or condo. How can I help pollinators?  

Good news! While bigger is better, small spaces can still provide value for pollinators. Container gardens work well on balconies and patios, especially if they are complemented by a nearby water source and wild native vegetation like oak trees and beautyberry. And they count towards the Village Challenge, too – don’t forget to register!  

I registered my garden before June 1, 2020. Do I need to register it again? 

No need to register again. While the Village Challenge officially kicked off on June 1, 2020, nearly 40 residents had already registered their gardens. Those registrations have been counted towards the 2020 Village Challenge. However, if you’ve made improvements to your pollinator garden since you registered, we would love to hear about it. Send us an email, or better yet, share a photo with us at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

As of August 1, more than 100 residents have registered their pollinator gardens as part of the village challenge. Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer

How do I register my garden 

There are two options. You can submit your registration online, or you can download the form here and then send your completed registration to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.  Be sure to submit your garden registration by December 1, 2020 to be included in this year’s Village Challenge.   

So, register today, earn a point for your village and support pollinators. There are cash prizes on the line along with bragging rights for your village. Most importantly, you’ll be rewarded with a garden buzzing with activity you can enjoy year-round.   

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

Native Plant Focus: Heat Loving Perennials

Imagine a garden in full bloom. Every color you can think of exists as a delicate flower, their sweet scent drifting on a slight breeze. Bees and butterflies visit daily. Hummingbirds stop by in the evening. And that bit of rain last week means you don’t have to water for a few more days. You have a thriving, low maintenance garden and it’s the middle of summer in Texas. Sound impossible?  Not when you add native, heat-tolerant perennials to your garden. Check out this list of five plants that are low maintenance, attract wildlife and bloom all summer long.  

1. Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides)

  • Hearty perennial. Deciduous shrub. 
  • Height of 3-6′ and spread up to 5’ wide. 
  • Flower: red, orange and yellow tubular flowers in dense, rounded clusters. 
  • Produces round, fleshy, dark blue to black fruits. Berries are toxic to humans and most mammals. 
  • Bloom Time: April – October 
  • Water Use: Low 
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: Well-drained soils 
  • Maintenance: Low. Prune down to ground in winter to control spread. 
  • Use Wildlife: Attracts bees and birds, including hummingbirds and butterflies. Deer resistant. 

2. Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea) 

  • Tender perennial that reseeds easily. 
  • Height of 1-3′ and spread up to 2’ wide 
  • Flower: Florescent red tubular flowers 
  • Bloom Time: February – October 
  • Water Use: Medium 
  • Light Requirement: Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: sandy to gravelly soil 
  • Maintenance: Low. Deadhead and trim periodically to create bushier shape. 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Deer resistant. 

3. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

  • Bushy perennial 
  • Height of 2′ and spread up to 2’ wide 
  • Flower: large clusters of bright orange flowers 
  • Bloom Time: May – September 
  • Water Use:  Low 
  • Light Requirement:  Full sun 
  • Soil Description: well-drained, sandy soil 
  • Maintenance: Medium. May attract aphids, which you can leave for ladybugs to eat or spray off by blasting the plant with a high pressure stream of water. 
  • Use Wildlife: Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Larval host for Grey Hairstreak, Monarch and Queen butterflies. Deer resistant. 
     

4. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

  • A shrubby, well branched plant. 
  • Height of 2-5′ and spread up to 2-3’ wide. 
  • Flower: Lavender flowers with domed, purplish-brown, spiny centers. 
  • Bloom Time: April – September 
  • Water Use: Medium 
  • Light Requirement: Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: well-drained, sandy or richer soils 
  • Maintenance: Low 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Dead flower heads left standing in winter will attract birds who feed on the remaining seeds. 
     

5. Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis) 

  • Upright, herbaceous perennial that exudes a milky sap when cut. Can cause skin irritation. 
  • Height of 2′ and spread up to 2’ wide. 
  • Flower: white clusters of flowers. Some may have a pink, purple or greenish tint in the center of the flower. 
  • Bloom Time: April – September 
  • Water Use: Low 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Description: well-drained soil.  Does well in poor to rich soil conditions. 
  • Maintenance: Low 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts butterflies. Larval host plant for Monarch and Queen butterflies. Deer resistant. 
     
Photo courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, credit: Sandy Smith

These five featured plants are perfect for Texas summers. Native plants, like these, not only add beauty to a garden but require less water, fertilizer and pesticides because they evolved to survive in these tough conditions. Consider adding a few to the garden this summer. Be sure to keep them well-watered until they have established deep roots. You’ll soon be rewarded with a low maintenance garden full of blooms.

These 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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New Village Challenge

Residents are encouraged to support pollinators by registering their garden or yard in the newest Village Challenge. The Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge aims to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and how habitat creation can support pollinator populations. Many pollinators, including monarch butterflies, have seen a significant decline in the last few decades due to overuse of pesticides and herbicides and loss of habitat. Take action today to protect bees, butterflies, moths and many more pollinators.  

Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo Credit: Andy
Native plants provide food and shelter in a small backyard garden
Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer
The pollinator perimeter at the Veggie Village garden, located at the Alden Bridge Sports Complex, provides a variety of native and adapted plants for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to enjoy
Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer
This well designed front yard blooms year round, inviting many pollinators to visit

Registered gardens provide the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical free zone. The garden registration form highlights the many ways you can help pollinators, like offering nectar-producing plants for every season, leaving bare ground for burrowing insects and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. The form is a great guide for those looking to start a pollinator garden offering many options including native plant lists, shelter ideas and water sources. 

Registrations received from June 1, 2020 through December 1, 2020 will count towards the 2020 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your Village Association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. and Project PolliNation, will contribute scholarship money to the three Village Associations with the most points. When you register your garden, you will receive a Plant for Pollinators window cling in appreciation. Find the garden registration form at www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/plantforpollinators.

Check out these past articles to learn more about local pollinators:

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