There is no doubt that grassy turf plays an important role in most residential landscapes. It provides a soft textured area in contrast with coarser textured larger plants. It connects areas of the yard, uniting the elements of the landscape into a whole. It makes a wonderful soft carpet on which to walk and play.
However, groundcovers other than lawn grass can do many of these same things. Plants such as pachysandra, English ivy, and vinca are green too--and not just in the summer. They offer a variety of textures in a low maintenance environment. They, too, serve as effective visual links between a handsome grouping of shrubs, the front walk and the facade of the house. They offer effective erosion control on steep banks and, as a bonus, crawl up and over unsightly landscape features such as old stumps, utility boxes and crumbled walls.
Groundcovers can also soften property boundaries and reduce weeds on undeveloped or remote areas on the property. Planted around trees and shrubs, they serve to reduce the lawn size and simulaneously protect trees and shrubs from damage by the lawn mower or weed whacker. A large circle of mulched ground cover such as pachysandra planted around the tree trunk requires watering only during very serious droughts. This measure also eliminates that ugly "surface root" problem that messes up the appearance of so many properties where trees sit in the middle of turf.
If this is the time that you are going to renovate the lawn, its soil and grass, maybe this is an opportune time to install some patches of groundcover.
Almost any low growing plant can function as a groundcover. There are groundcovers that are appropriate for shade, others for sun. Some provide mainly foliage, while others offer flowers too. Almost any plant that is relatively low-growing and that spreads to form a mat to cover the soil can be used as a groundcover to replace turf.
Woody, shrub-like plants such as creeping juniper, wintercreeper, certain cotoneasters, barberry and rosemary varieties serve this landscape purpose. Perennial flowering plants such as various types of phlox, sedums, bellflowers, geraniums, lily of the valley and hosta and numerous flowering annuals are also useful. Some groundcover plants even resemble grass--lilyturf, mondo grass, ribbon and dwarf blue fescue ornamental grasses are examples.
This said, however, there are three plants that are, hands down, the most versatile and easiest to grow groundcovers. For non-gardening homeowners whose experience with plants is limited these are fail safe. You can hardly go wrong with pachysandra, ivy, and vinca (aka periwinkle or myrtle). They are attractive, usually evergreen, and virtually care free. In addition, in most parts of the country they require little or no watering, a significant advantage over lawn grass.