In many cases, turf grass can be impractical and expensive. On slopes, mowing turf can be a nightmare and it can also require a lot of money in irrigation setup and replacement costs if planted in an area with unsuitable conditions (e.g. too much sun, too much shade, too much sea spray, too much heat, frost, etc.). However, there are many types of groundcovers that can conquer these issues. What's even better is that groundcovers require very little maintenance, which makes them great for places that can be hard to maintain like steep terrains. Let's take a look at what types of groundcovers you can plant in place of turf grass.
It may seem a bit of a staple in Southern California, but Ice Plant, which is a group of several species of plants of the Aizoaceae family, is popular for a reason. It not only works great on slopes, but is also low maintenance. Ice plant, which hails from Southern Africa, is not only able to survive in the full sun and hot weather of Southern California, it provides flowers in a variety of bright fluorescent colors like purple, pink, yellow, orange and red.
There are several types of Ice Plant which do well on slopes such as Disneyland Ice Plant (Delosperma alba), Rosea Ice Plant (Drosanthemum floribundum), and other species in the Lampranthus genus, like Trailing Ice Plant (L. spectabilis) which can have pink, red, yellow, or lavender flowers. Red Apple Ice Plant (Aptenia cordifolia), as the name suggests, has bright red flowers, grows rapidly and is good for large areas.
Another good groundcover which also hails from Southern Africa that is also drought tolerant is the Gazania. These, too, have beautiful flowers, which range in color from golden, yellow, orange, white, burgundy or sunburst. Clumping Gazanias are great if you're looking for a low ground cover, but if you're planting in a large area, consider the Trailing Gazania, which spreads with a height of about 6-10 inches.
If you're looking to add some green, but are a bit “burned out” on Ice Plant, consider planting some ivy as groundcover. Although you can use these beautiful evergreen vines to cover walls, fences and trellises, English Ivy (Hedera helix) can grow horizontally to provide good ground coverage. Other Ivies to consider would be Algerian Ivy (H. canariensis) which has more widely spaced leaves on their stems than English Ivy, and the Needle Point Ivy (H. helix digitata) which has small, delicate, sharp-pointed leaves.
If you're looking to add some plants that will provide you with an olfactory experience, consider adding Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), which not only has a unique fragrance, but also produces beautiful white pinwheel-shaped blossoms. It will require some trimming to keep its shape, however. Trailing Rosemary, like the Star Jasmine is fragrant, but is also drought-resistant, though it should be pruned periodically to prevent it from becoming woody.
Grasses and Grass-Like Plants
If you're looking for ornamental grasses, consider planting Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca) or Korean Grass (Zoysia sp.). While Blue Fescue grows in tufts and can form turfs in dry or sandy soils, Korean Grass tends to spread slowly, though fairly deep rooted, and should be mowed to 1-2 inch height. Another grass look-alike to consider, which is actually a member of the lily family, is Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonica) which grows 2-12 inch long blades that resemble turf grass.
Flagstone, Paver or Stepping Stone Fillers
Lastly, if you're looking for a type of groundcover as a filler between flagstones, consider planting Green Carpet (Herniaria glabra) or Elfin Thyme (Thymus serpyllum). Although Green Carpet it drought tolerant, Elfin Thyme produces a dense mat for artistically outlaying the spaces between flagstones with a glossy green hue. Wooly Thyme (T. lanuginosis) also forms a flat to undulating mat about 2-3 feet wide, making it better for wider spaces, like between stepping stones.