Lawn maintenance can be boring, so put something colorful in its place.
Asian star jasmine Front Yard
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

The most widely planted ground cover in the world is—to no one's surprise—the lawn. But there are very good reasons why you might want something other than grass to carpet the ground. Maybe you hate mowing and fertilizing. Perhaps you have a big shady area where grass won't grow. Maybe you have a steep slope that's difficult or dangerous to use a lawnmower. Or perhaps you find lawn maintenance boring and wish you could put something colorful in its place. Here are the best options for ground covering—in the sun or the shade. 

Here are suitable candidates for you—sun or shade. In addition to being easy to grow and find, they also root as they spread to hold the soil and don't need a lot of maintenance.

Ground Covers for Sun

Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)
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Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

This shrub is the ideal choice for covering a slope. Growing about three feet tall and up to 10 feet wide, it naturally spills down an incline. Though it loses its leaves in winter, it compensates with evergreen stems. It gets its name from very fragrant, bright yellow flowers that appear in winter. Prune it, if necessary, in spring after it blooms. It grows in USDA Zone six to 10.

Asian star jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum)
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Asian Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum)

Despite its name, which it gets from its creamy-yellow flowers in late spring and early summer, this is not a true jasmine. It is a supremely tough, fast-spreading, evergreen ground that tolerates heat, humidity, and well-drained soils. It grows about six inches high. It will climb if it encounters an obstacle, so keep an eye on that. You'll also have to edge the planting occasionally to keep it in bounds. Plus, deer don't like it.

Moss pink aka creeping phlox (Phlox subulata)
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Moss Pink aka Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Do you want color for spring? Here you go. Spectacular blue, red, pink, or white blooms smother moss pink's needle-like foliage in spring. Plants form spreading, evergreen or semi-evergreen mats of about six inches high. They look great, edging flower beds, spilling over low retaining walls, or filling rock gardens. Cut them back by half after flowering. Good drainage is a must.

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"Six Hills Giant" Catmint (Nepeta Faassenii)

Bearing large amounts of small flowers, a sun-seeking ground covering is this catmint that leaves behind a lemon scent. The plant grows in clumps but spreads, making it suitable for edging beds or spilling over walls. Also, it is attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies so that you might enjoy some new visitors in your garden.

Creeping juniper ground cover
Creeping juniper
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Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

A relatively low-maintenance plant, the creeping juniper spreads as a low-to-the-ground shrub. It is available in dark green, yellow-green, or even blue-green foliage that thrives in moist soil. Plants can be pruned or trimmed when disease occurs to prevent it from spreading.

Ground Covers for Shade

Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
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Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)

For the look of lawn grass, but not the upkeep, mondo is your plant! It forms blankets of deep green, grass-like foliage from six to eight inches tall that stay green year-round. It spreads by underground rhizomes. Sapphire-blue berries appear among the leaves in fall. It tolerates salt, and deer don't eat it. You need to mow it only once a year, in late winter, to remove any winter-damaged foliage.

Carpet bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
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Carpet Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Is it a weed? I don't think so, but it does form a fast-spreading carpet about six inches tall. Leaves can be green, purple, or variegated with pink and white. They're evergreen in most of the South. Spring sees lovely spikes of blue, pink, or white flowers sitting atop the foliage. It's easy to multiply the plants once starting to grow. Carpet bugleweed does best in fertile, well-drained soil with good air circulation—wet soil leads to rot.

Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
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Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)

Spreading by underground rhizomes, Japanese pachysandra forms colonies of handsome, glossy, deep-green foliage that stays green year-round. Leaves cluster at the ends of stems that stand eight to 12 inches tall. Spikes of white flowers appear atop the foliage in summer. It's an excellent choice for planting under trees. Like carpet bugleweed, Japanese pachysandra prefers fertile, well-drained soil. Avoid wetting the foliage with sprinklers, as this promotes disease.

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Hosta (Hosta sp.)

Also known as a plantain lily, the Hosta ground covering appears in variegated greens when planted in a shady garden. In early summer or late spring, it blooms, attracting pollinators. This plant is common among landscapers as it grows slowly and offers a lot of variety because it thrives in most soiling conditions.

Credit: Photo: Lynn Karlin

Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)

This mounding perennial has large scallop-edged leaves and yellow-green flowers appearing in late spring or early summer. Lady's mantle can thrive in partial sunlight but also succeeds primarily in the shade. It grows around six to 12 inches from the ground and should be planted in an area with space to grow.