Replace Lawn with Ground Covers

gold lantanaImagine your front yard entirely filled with blooming color for most of the year. This golden Lantana (Lantana montevidensis ) could be your answer for a drought-tolerant, easy care lawn substitute.  Even better–you can throw your lawn mower away!

A big mistake that people make when they remove a water-guzzling lawn is to simply spread rocks over the bare earth and call it a ‘desert garden’.  What they don’t realize is that the rocks can heat up to 150 degrees (Fahrenheit) in direct sunlight and their air conditioning bills will soar.

For that reason we advocate planting drought tolerant ground covers that will grow and spread out across the rock and keep the temperature down.

One beautiful replacement for your lawn is low-growing, sturdy Lantana (Lantana montevidensis L. selowiana). It grows very fast and blooms almost year ’round. Your local nursery should have young plants in a rainbow of floral colors so you can pick one–or more–to complement the color of your home. For example, a home painted a white or sand color might look great with a front yard densely filled with brilliant yellow blooms. For a home with a pink exterior, consider purple, white or sizzling orange Lantana. There is even a newish variety, called ‘Lemon Swirl’ with variegated yellow-green leaves and bright yellow flowers. Note that the purple and white do not grow quite as vigorouisly as the yellow, gold and varigated varieties. Lantana is very drought tolerant; too much water and fertilizer will result in fewer flowers.

lantana ground cover mixedPlant a mix of colors of low-growing Lantana montevidensis to create a front yard that looks like this for months on end. Be careful that you do NOT install Lantana camara, a shrub that grows to 6 feet tall.


Another xeriscape ground covering shrub is the Acacia redolens, especially the ‘Desert Carpet’ variety. This plant has narrow gray-green leaves, grows to about 2 feet in height and in early spring puts on a dazzling show with puffy yellow ball-shaped flower. An important virtue of this shrub is that a single plant can spread as wide as 15 feet. And talk about drought tolerant–Acacia redolens needs little water beyond what rain falls from the sky.

Drought tolerant perennialsStill another to consider is Creeping Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), a classic in Mediterranean gardens. This photo also shows gray-green Dymondia which forms a dense, flat ground covering mat.  The owners have included an aloe shooting up red blooms, some purple statice, also called sea lavender, and other low growing plants.

For more about replacements in a parking median, go here.

Fast growing Rosemary is beloved by cooks and bees alike. The creeping variety will grow to about 1 foot in height with dark green, fragrant narrow leaves. In early spring bees swarm to its pale purple flowers. Rosemary needs little watering, only light fertilizer and good drainage. (A word of caution: many bees in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas have been Africanized and may be dangerous in a swarm.)

Agaves echiverias, iceplant, golden sedge hot gardensThis front yard combines both a grass and the sturdy succulent ground cover–Iceplant–with a few Agaves for accents.  Maintenance is ultra-easy: once a year the owner cuts back the grass to six inches in height.

No doubt your local nursery will have other suggestions of good ground cover shrubs for your area and how to care for them. Be sure to tell them you want a “low-growing drought tolerant ground cover.”

Replacing your lawn — read this for what NOT to do
Replacing your lawn with perennials
Replacing your lawn with ground covers
Replacing your lawn with ornamental grasses
Replacing your lawn with pavers
Replacing your lawn with mazes and knot gardens
Replacing the lawn in your parking median

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