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Wednesday - March 19, 2008

From: Pittsburgh, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Turf
Title: Low-growing lawn substitute for Pennsylvania
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Hello Mr. Smarty Plants Please help. We are moving to an old farm house in Western Pennsylvania with several acres of lawn. Our plan is to return much of the land to wildlife friendly meadows and woods, however we do intend to keep some part of the property "lawn-like". I don't enjoy mowing and certainly don't like/want to mow several acres. What do you recommend as a low growing, easy care lawn substitute that can fare well in both sun and shade? Ideally, we would like to plant a quick spreading native species that sustains wildlife. So far I'm leaning toward white clover. What do you think? Thanks very much!


First of all, white clover (Trifolium repens) is a native of Europe, North Africa, and West Asia and is not native to North America so we definitely wouldn't recommend it.

Sedges look a lot like grass, but have the advantage of not growing very tall so that they do not need to be mowed. You can read about having a sedge lawn in John Greenlee's Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape. Here are several sedges that grow in Pennsylvania:

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge) sun, part shade, shade

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) sun, part shade, shade

Carex texensis (Texas sedge) sun, part shade

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a good article by Claire Sawyers, Native Groundcovers—Low-Growing Herbaceous Plants for Sun and Shade Gardens, with suggestions of species that grow in Pennsylvania. Here are a few picks from her article:

Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny-spurge) part shade

Phlox stolonifera (creeping phlox) sun, part shade, shade

Tiarella cordifolia (heartleaf foamflower) shade

Heuchera americana (American alumroot) sun, part shade, shade

Sibbaldiopsis tridentata (shrubby fivefingers) sun

Chrysogonum virginianum (green and gold) part shade

Low woody groundcover:

Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry) part shade, shade


Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) sun, part shade

Dryopteris cristata (crested woodfern) sun, part shade, shade

You might consider mixing the ground covers depending on their tolerance for shade or sun.

Carex blanda

Carex pensylvanica

Carex texensis

Pachysandra procumbens

Phlox stolonifera

Tiarella cordifolia

Heuchera americana

Chrysogonum virginianum

Gaultheria procumbens

Polystichum acrostichoides

Dryopteris cristata




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