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 Design Elements Your Yard Might Be Missing

Welcome! Come on a design journey with us to turn your landscape into an inviting sanctuary that fits your goals and doesn’t take all weekend to maintain. This is Part One of a series to make your space your favorite place in The Woodlands. Let’s get started. 

Great design pairs what you want to do in your yard within the constraints of the space you are dealing with, without it feeling forced or out of place. Here are 5 design elements that help everything flow and really deliver the wow-factor.

Purposeful Paths

Are you looking to infuse some character or intriguing elements into your landscape? Would you like it to seem larger? How about improving flow and tying separate spaces together? Consider installing a path.  

Purposeful paths can provide an important foundation for your landscape design. As you consider their potential role, ask yourself: What areas get the most use? Could underused areas be transformed into a destination, boosting their appeal? And note where you have to maintain access to easements, that big green box in the back corner or other rights of way for utilities – these routes could be incorporated into pathways. Think about how people could wander through the space. Meandering paths that reveal new views help make use of the full depth and width of your lot – making it seem larger.

Installing paths is fun, but they can also be disruptive. Make life easier by tackling them before you start building and planting your beds. Bonus points for paths that allow water to percolate through. This helps to manage rainfall and provides tree roots with better access to moisture. Think decomposed granite, pavers, woodchips, or an artful mosaic.  

Rooms with a View 

Which window do you look out from the most? Is it an inspiring sight? For many, it’s the kitchen sink or a favorite reading chair. How could you enhance the experience by bringing the outside in? Note any sightlines that need screening, and opportunities to borrow a view from farther vistas. A beautiful glazed pot, stunning statue, or dramatic pop of color could make doing the dishes that much more pleasant.

Places to Plant the Rain 

Rainwater is a mineral-rich drench for the landscape. Harness this abundant, free resource by directing downspouts to plantings that rely on a good soaking to set deep roots and lush growth.  Our area is gifted with 50 inches of rain a year, but often we are too eager to direct it off our properties, allowing soils to quickly dry out. During the next cloudburst, get out in the yard with muckboots and an umbrella for a practical education about stormwater on your site. Do you have an area that stays wet for more than 3 days? This could become a rain garden. Where is water eroding the soil? This is an opportunity to slow down the flow with some well-placed rocks or a slight change in slope. Don’t let this valuable resource run away; encourage it to spread out and sink into the ground.  

Better yet, save some water for the sunny days ahead with a rain barrel.  Easy to install, Ivy rain barrels qualify for a rebate from Woodlands Water and proceeds support The Woodlands GREEN scholarship program. Order online and pick up at Environmental Services. Stay tuned for an entire post devoted to harvesting and managing rainwater; until then get inspired by Brad Lancaster.  

Grow Up! 

There are so many creative ways to use vertical space in the garden – vines on trellises immediately come to mind. But a quick search will reveal all kinds of possibilities: wall planters, obelisks, re-purposed pallets, yard art, plant towers, plant pockets, nested gutters, the list goes on. Growing up and even over has the benefit of creating a sense of enclosure around outdoor spaces that leads to a big “reveal” on the other side. This interplay of intimacy and openness adds a little drama to a space instead of seeing everything at once.

Solar Reality Check 

Finally, it’s time to take an honest look at the sun in your yard. We’ve all been there – brought home a beautiful, sun-loving plant at the nursery and watched it struggle in the place we want to put it. Or lamented ferns frying in some unexpected late-afternoon sun.  

Note the way the light moves over the landscape throughout the season as trees leaf out and the sun’s angle changes. Pictures or video can be great references for when the shadows are long but the memory is short. The plants you have may already give some indication of sun and shade. Having problems growing grass under the trees? Our St. Augustine struggles if given less than 6 hours of direct sun, leading to bare patches which invite weeds. Save yourself the heartache and use a shade-loving ground cover for lush, low-maintenance alternative. 

Other sun-lovers are vegetable gardens and most fruit trees. If one of these is a priority, then you may find yourself planting a lemon in the front yard, or putting veggies in pots on the deck to get these plants the light they need. Being realistic about the amount of sun each area gets will help steer you towards a successful plant pallet for that space. 

You still have plenty of options for shadier spots. Veggie gardeners will want to focus on crops grown for their roots and shoots over fruits, which take much more time in the sun to develop and ripen. If flowers and shrubs are more to your liking, there are plenty o great options that thrive under the tall canopy of the Pineywoods. Check out the table below for some surefire options.

Perhaps you’d like to bring more shade into your landscape. Trees and umbrellas are standard go-to’s for creating a hot summer oasis. But have you considered some well-placed vines and trellises (grow up!), pergolas with slatted roofs or sling canopies? Shade sails can also be hung as the heat ramps up and are easily adjusted as sun angles change throughout the season. Retractable awnings are a larger investment but they’ll shelter you from the rain, too.  

Check out Alexandra from The Middle-Sized Garden as she tackles a difficult shady corner of her yard. Even though she gardens in the UK, the way she comes to her decision is a wonderful exercise in assessing design options.  

Design is an iterative, incremental process. Start with what you want, what you have, and identify your major constraints. Often it is through design challenges that we find our most creative successes. 

Up next… 

Stay tuned for Part Two where we get into some of the “right ways” to garden in the context of where we live – the humid south – to help you make the best choices for a successful, easy oasis.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Can your freeze damaged plants recover?

Were your plants damaged by the winter storm? If you’re unsure where to begin in the recovery process, we can help. Before you dig, cut, prune or chop let these local experts guide you through the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri.  


Many resources have become available in the last week. We’ve included a short list of archived videos and articles below.  If you are looking for a live seminar on plant recovery, register today for the March 10 presentation by Bob Dailey, Texas Master Gardener. 


Bookmark these timeless articles and refer back for quick tips on plant care over the next few months.  

Houston Botanic Garden  

A quick read to get you started on your plant recovery process. The biggest take away: Patience is key. 

Urban Harvest  

This article starts with step one: triage.  Learn what to look for, identify what needs to be removed and what indicates your plant has survived.  Read about specific approaches to your citrus, vegetables and fruits. 

9 Rules for Horticultural Freeze Recovery 

Notable author and host of Houston’s GardenLine radio, Randy shares his expertise on how to approach a post-freeze cleanup.  The advice doesn’t stop with these 9 rules. Listen to archived radio shows for more tips or call in for a Q&A during a live broadcast. 


Backyard Winter Storm Recovery Webinar with Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab  

A roundtable of lawn and garden experts answer the tough questions including: what does turf grass need after a freeze, how to be patient with your palms and how much to prune your shrubs.  

Will They Survive the Winter Blast?  

Aggie Horticulture dives into what impact Winter Storm Uri had across the state of Texas. This video reviews all the factors that made this storm especially damaging including the freezing temperatures, the duration of low temperatures, the wind and precipitation. Speakers walk around the garden and review best care practices for a variety of plants you may find in your landscape. 


Now that you know how to care for your freeze-damaged plants, have you given any thought on how to be better prepared for the next winter storm?   

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension has a detailed article on Protecting Landscapes and Horticultural Crops from Frosts and Freezes.   Weather is unpredictable, but by educating ourselves we can be better prepared for future freezes.  

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

Woodlands Landscaping Solutions Online Learning – Day 5

Creating a Healthy and Beautiful Lawn 

 Selecting the Perfect Turf 

For a healthy and beautiful lawn, start by selecting the right turf grass for your home. Whether you’re looking for low maintenance, durability (can it hold up to the weekly family flag football game?) or you just need something that will grow in a little shade, there is a turf grass for you. 


Put the Care into Lawn Care 

This video builds off of the lessons from ‘Selecting the Perfect Turf’. Get a refresher on common types of turf and then dive into proper maintenance techniques, efficient water methods, and simple and effective fertilizer and pesticide applications. 


Weed ‘Em and Reap – Weeds and Watering 

This class makes sense of two of the most challenging issues many homeowners face. If you’re having trouble controlling unwanted plants in your lawn and landscape or if you’re confused about when to water and when to wait, we’re here to help. Learn the best approach to managing weeds effectively without the overuse of chemicals and your time so you can reap the rewards of a green environment. Thistle be a great class for sure!


How to Identify Sod Webworm in Your Lawn 

Landscape entomologist, Doug Caldwell investigates a summertime insect outbreak that has appeared on a South Florida lawn.  Many homeowners have reported witnessing sod webworms wreaking havoc on their St. Augustine lawns this summer. This video can help you identify the insect, its signs and symptoms, as well as provide options for treatment and prevention. 


Beyond the turf – videos to beautify your yard 

Made for the Shade 

Many native and adapted plants thrive in shady conditions. This video offers a variety of plants from groundcovers to small trees that can add beauty and color to those areas in your yard that don’t receive full sun.  


 Plants Combos and Companions 

Companion planting is the art of growing plants in proximity to each other because of their ability to enhance or complement each other.  Learn from Dr. Becky Bowling on how to select plants that offer year-round color and texture with this beginner-friendly landscape design class. Give your yard function and purpose through plant combinations and companions. 


Additional Resources: 

That wraps up our week-long online program.  We hope you learned something new and are ready to improve your landscape.  

These videos will remain archived on The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Blog. Access for a refresher on your favorite topics any time. 

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

Woodlands Landscaping Solutions Online Learning: Day 3

Build a Successful Landscape from Ground Up 

Today’s online programming will help you find easier, more effective and more sustainable ways to enhance your landscape. Learn about plant selection, improving soil health and pest control best practices (many common plant problems, like insects and disease, can be easily resolved once the cause is identified).  

Set-up for Success: The 3 S’s 

 Right Plant Right Place, UMN Extension Part 1  

While set in Minnesota, Extension Educator Julie Weisenhorn gives a great overview of how to choose the perfect plant for that empty spot in your yard or garden – whether it’s for your entryway or anywhere else. Putting the right plant in the right place is the foundation of any successful garden. Learn how to assess soil, sun, space and other factors in this handy how-to video on one of the fundamental aspects of garden design.  

Bottom line: Avoid most plant problems with this one concept (8:44)

Extra credit: The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder allows you to plug all your requirements into their database to find the perfect match for you from their list of Pineywood natives (which they call the South Central Plains).


Feed the Soil Microbiome 

Building Microbe-Rich Living Compost Part 1 

Making and applying microbe-rich compost is one of the most valuable things you can do for your soil. Understand principles and practices of home-scale composting to insure a rodent-free and biologically active compost pile. A great resource whether you’re just beginning to compost or are experienced and looking to make your compost even better.  

Cultivating Connections: Soil Redemption Song 

Michael Phillips takes you on a deep dive into the microscopic communities beneath our feet and our crops. He talks about the fungal network as a pathway to bringing resilience to gardens and landscapes.  Michael Phillip, who’s latest book, “Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together to Create Dynamic Soils,” explores the science of symbiotic fungi and sets the stage for practical applications across the landscape. 


Encourage Nature’s Pest Control 

Managing Garden Insects Begins with a Question: Friend or Foe? 

Learning “what is it?” is the first step in determining if an insect is a useful garden partner, a minor player, or potentially a bigger problem. Your garden may have over 1000 different insects! Most are actually harmless or provide beneficial functions like pollination and predation. Learn to recognize and protect nature’s pest control at various stages in their lifecycle, along with pests associated with chewing, discoloration, distortion, and die back.  

Bottom line: Every. Single. Gardener. Needs to know this info! (18:04) 

Farmscaping for Pollinators & Predatory Insects 

Learn about the dynamic interactions between plants, pollinator and predator insects that will help you create a buzz of biodiversity and balance in your niche of the local ecosystem. Discover key plants that add biodiversity and beauty to your garden through a conversation with Pat Battle from Living Web Farms. Watch the first 31 mins for a new approach to farming that works for the home garden too, then follow Pat and his class on a delightful tour through the farmscape.  

Bottom line: Good for gardeners who want to “level-up” on biodiversity (1:24:04) 

Building A Host Environment for Beneficial Insects  

Build it and they will come! Bring it all together with elements you can add to any garden that encourage self-sustaining populations of nature’s natural pest control featuring the story of momma hoverfly, and why its OK to have aphids!

Bonus: If you are considering purchasing and releasing lady beetles, check out Lady Beetles for Aphid Control by Oklahoma Gardening host Kim Toscano. 

Pesticide Safety 

Backyard Farmer – Pesticide Safety 

Sometimes a problem requires a chemical solution – whether its naturally derived like neem or a broad-spectrum pyrethroid. University of Nebraska Extension Pesticide Education Coordinator Larry Schulze gives us tips on active ingredients, reading and following pesticide labels and using these chemicals safely around our homes. 

Bottom line: Important information for all who use pesticides – the label is the law (5:58)

Additional Resources:  

Join us tomorrow for more online programming as we explore How To Attract Wildlife To Your Yard. 

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