Grass and Ground Cover Atlanta – What to Choose for Your Home

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Beautiful landscape with grass, groundcover and hardscape
Front view of home with lush lawn and ground cover
Project by King Landscaping and MOSAIC Design/Build

Thanks to Atlanta’s (mostly) hospitable climate, residents can enjoy the great outdoors for most of the year. As such, they usually choose landscaping that can be enjoyed year-round.  This means more weeks and months of traffic. More wear, more tear. So it’s even more crucial that Atlantans educate themselves on which grasses or groundcovers are ornamental and attractive, yet still hardy.

The Popular Kids

By far, the most prevalent choices for grass in the metro Atlanta area are fescue and zoysia with some bermudagrass thrown in. “Their popularity comes from their suitability for our climate and providing durable lawn options,” says Meredith Jedlicka of Plants Creative Landscapes. “Zoysia and bermudagrass are the most recommended because of their lower water requirements.”

Lush, colorful landscape with sod, flows and water feature
Project by King Landscaping

A growing selection of zoysia varieties means more options for homeowners to personalize their yards. “Emerald zoysia is a fine-textured form that’s been around for a long time,” says Hillary Thompson of Super-Sod. “Newer types of zoysia include Zenith—a medium-textured type—and the brand new Leisure Time zoysia, which is medium-fine in texture.” Zeon, St. Augustine, Raleigh and Floratam are other types of zoysia.

For those looking at groundcovers, Mondo grass, Creeping thyme, Creeping Jenny, Blue star creeper, Creeping phlox and Pachysandra are just some of the many options that hold up well in the Atlanta area. Others include Vinca vine, Asiatic jasmine, Wintercreeper and Liriope. These are popular because they spread quickly and help choke out weeds.

 Mondo grass, Creeping thyme, Creeping Jenny, Blue star creeper, Creeping phlox, Liriope, Wintercreeper, Asiatic jasmine, Vinca vine and Pachysandra
Clockwise from top left: Mondo grass, Creeping thyme, Creeping Jenny, Blue star creeper, Creeping phlox, Liriope, Wintercreeper, Asiatic jasmine, Vinca vine and Pachysandra

Money Matters
Of course, for many homeowners the choice of grass and/or groundcover comes down to budget. Because every yard is different—square footage varies, landscape is not universal, prep work differs—there is no exact price for purchasing and installing grass and/or groundcovers. Add in different costs for different breeds, and the expense can change dramatically yet again.

Todd Guilmette of Unique Environmental Landscapes says Zeon zoysia is usually the most expensive type of grass, based on availability. Bermudagrass and fescue are second most expensive options. On average, homeowners should expect to pay between $1.50 and $2.25 per square foot for the most popular grass choices.

Price ranges also differ for groundcovers based on type, quantity and size of plant when installed. Asiatic jasmine is fairly inexpensive compared to other groundcovers, with Mondo grass also a pretty affordable choice. Jedlicka says a broad range would be $1.25 for a smaller plant and up to $8 for a larger plant. 

What do you need? Grass, groundcover or hardscape?

See finished landscape project and landscape design plan illustration below

Lush landscape with flowers, shrubs and sod
Project by King Landscaping

Outdoor retreat with kitchen, pool & spa and seating area

Sketch showing best place for grass, groundcover or hardscape
Project by King Landscaping

Planning is key! Before you pick up even one seed packet, consider major factors like sun vs. shade, level vs. slope, what kind of traffic this area gets and more.
So put your planning cap on and use the handy illustration above (key listed below) from Eric King to start strategizing!

1. GROUNDCOVER, PERENNIALS: Groundcover and perennials provide color, stablize slope and are low enought so they do not block the view.
2. HARDSCAPE: The patio in the form of concrete pavers holds up best to constant use and is ideal for high traffic. It is the hub for entertainment with the pool, outdoor kitchen and seating areas.
3. LAWN: Holds up to occasional foot traffic and breaks up the outdated “concrete doughnut” look of surrounding pools with hardscapes.
4. GROUNDCOVER, PERENNIALS: Groundcover and perennials add a splash of color to steep slope and create separation between back and side yard.
5. GROUNDCOVER: Groundcover keeps hammock out of lawn mower path and its low size keeps views open.
6. LAWN: Lawn produces soft play space for pets and people.
7. SHRUBS: Shrubs provide screening from neighbor and soften tall “brick wall” of house.

Traffic Report
Another consideration for homeowners when choosing grass and groundcovers is how well the plants will hold up to daily wear and tear. This includes foot traffic, shade, drought, winter temps and so on. “Zoysia is very durable for kid and pet traffic,” says Mark Erbesfield, of PaverStone Construction and Greenmark Landscaping. Zoysia, a “warm season” turf, will go dormant and turn brown during the winter season.

Zoysia also has the ability to repair itself because the species spreads moderately via aboveground stolons and belowground rhizomes. Bermuda shares this trait, as well as going into dormancy for the winter. However, bermudagrass has the tendency to spread more than zoysia, so it could stray beyond the borders the homeowner prefers.

Fescue, on the other hand, contradicts zoysia and bermuda. Unlike zoysia and bermuda, fescue handles the shade well and stays green year-round. However, its love of cooler temps can lead to problems during Atlanta’s hot summers. “During the hottest months, fescue lawns tend to die back in sunny areas and develop bare spots in heavily traveled spots,” Jedlicka says. “Due to its clump-like nature, it does not aptly fill back in on its own, requiring yearly core aeration and overseeding in the fall to fill back in patches lost to the summer heat.”

Among groundcovers, Blue star creeper handles foot traffic well, plus holds up in full sun with some shade. Guilmette also suggests Creeping phlox if homeowners have full sun with light foot traffic. If the landscape receives partial sun and shade, he recommends Mondo grass or Creeping Jenny. In fact, as a spreading groundcover, Dwarf Mondo grass makes a great steppable groundcover ideal for pathways and in between stepping-stones, Jedlicka says. “Dwarf Mondo grass is also used as a lawn substitute, providing an evergreen lawn that does not require mowing or ongoing fertilization,” she says.

Maintaining Appearances

Like all landscape elements, grass and groundcovers require a certain amount of maintenance to keep them healthy and looking good. Once established, maintaining a lawn with zoysia, bermuda or fescue is fairly routine. “I suggest cutting most grasses about one inch, two inches for fescue,” says Mark Schisler of Legacy Landscapes Inc. “I also suggest a good slow-release fertilize twice a year with iron.” In addition, he said bermuda requires only .5 inches of water per week, with zoysia needing about one inch of water per week. ”Most homeowners overwater,” he says. “Definitely install a rain sensor on your irrigation system so it won’t come on after a rain.”

Fescue, though, does require more maintenance than the others. This is because it needs more frequent watering during the summer months as well as chemical treatments and fertilization to keep it healthy. Jedlicka says, “Fescue is prone to fungal problems, so it is recommended that preventative treatments are made to prevent infection because, once infected, it declines quickly.” 

The maintenance of groundcovers generally consists of regular weeding to preserve a clean appearance and pruning to stop the spread into other plants or outside the desired area.

Having a landscape that you not only love but also enjoy depends on choosing the most appropriate grass and/or groundcover. With some research, you are sure to find one that best suits both your needs and your budget. 


RESOURCES

NG Turf  |  ngturf.com
King Landscaping  |  KingLandscapingATL.com
Legacy Landscapes Inc.  |  LegacyLandscapes.com
PaverStone Construction & Greenmark Landscaping  |  Paverstone.com
Plants Creative Landscapes  |  Plants-Creative-Landscapes.com
Super-Sod  |  SuperSod.com
Unique Environmental Landscapes  |  Unique-Environmental.com

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