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Grass won't grow in the shade. Here are 4 alternative groundcovers.

Jan 01, 2024

Ruellia can be trimmed with a string mower.

The usual reason to replace one of the lawn grasses with another type of groundcover is because there is too much shade to support a grass variety. Even the most shade-tolerant grass, St. Augustine, requires more sun to prosper than groundcovers such as Asian jasmine, dwarf Mexican ruellia and monkey grass. Nearly as important a reason to replace grass with one of the listed groundcovers would be to reduce water use and landscape labor. The reduction of labor required in maintaining one of the groundcovers when compared to our traditional grasses include the required frequency of mowing, the importance of fertilization and the necessity of battling plant pests and diseases. Once they are established, the listed groundcovers are easier to care for than lawn grass.

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Asiatic Jasmine is a groundcover option that grows well in the sun or the shade and requires less water than traditional lawn grasses.

Asiatic jasmine: This is an evergreen broadleaf vine that grows in sun or shade to make an attractive groundcover that can be as shallow as 4 inches or as deep as 18 inches. At the lower depths, Asiatic jasmine's height can be maintained by mowing it with a lawn mower about four times per year. At the deeper levels, the jasmine can be maintained with a more elaborate mowing tool or even a string mower. If unattended, the Asiatic jasmine vine may grow into trees or on buildings but it is not as aggressive as vines such as Coral Vine or even English ivy. Asiatic jasmine has small dime sized leaves that are dark green with a waxy surface. The growth rate is moderate. Deer will feed on new growth.

Dwarf ruellia: This also has a moderate growth rate but it relies on individual plants with 4 inch sharp pointed leaves. The plants generally grow to 12 inches tall. They prosper in the shade, but if sun is available, the plants will produce violet, pink or white attractive blooms that provide butterflies and hummingbirds with nectar as part of their groundcover performance. Dwarf ruellia can be trimmed with a string mower.

Monkey (also called mondograss): Monkey grass is available in several forms. It is a slow growing fine grass that grows to 3 to 6 inches tall depending on the selection. It generally does not require mowing.

Liriope: Related to mondograss, liriope is available in selections that grow to 18 inches tall. Liriope is at its most attractive form when it is planted in waves of different height selections.

Grasses can be dug up with a shovel or tilled to be replaced by transplants of the selected groundcover, but the easiest transplanting technique is to spray the actively growing grass that is going to be replaced with Round-up and then plant the transplants into the killed grass that serves as mulch for the new groundcover plants. If the grass being replaced is actively growing when the Round-up is sprayed, the Round-up will end the lawn grass’ growth in two or three days. The Round-up does not work to kill the lawn grass if the grass is dormant.

Asiatic jasmine transplants in 4-inch containers can be planted on 12-inch centers. They will fill the bed in one growing season. Use the same planting density for the ruellia, the monkey grass and liriope if you can obtain 4-inch containers.

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Dwarf ruellia prospers in the shade, but if sun is available, the plants will produce violet, pink or white blooms.

Monkey grass is a popular groundcover.

Liriope is shown in bloom.

Calvin Finch is a retired Texas A&M horticulturist. [email protected]

More Calvin Finch: Asiatic jasmine: Dwarf ruellia: Monkey (also called mondograss): Liriope: