Last fall I reported receiving 10 different ground covers from Stepables to try out as lawn replacement, so it's about time to reveal how they've performed.
- Some look good but have barely spread at all (Muehlenbeckia Creeping Wire Vine, Sedum Baby Tears).
- Some look so-so and have barely spread at all (Archer's Gold Thyme, White Creeping and Red Creeping Thyme).
- The best performers (Herniaria Green Carpet and Bressingham thyme) have spread or grown by 4-6 inches in every direction.
Potentilla Nana spreads well but isn't dense enough to prevent run-off on my hillside, and may not be evergreen. (The website says it's evergreen in "temperate climates," which presumably is a misstatement because that would mean everywhere between the tropics and the Poles.)
- Two died almost immediately (Azorella Emerald Cushion and Leptinella Platt's Black).
THE COST FACTOR
Replacing very small lawns with low creeping perennials seems entirely doable, but most lawns are large enough to require a sizable budget to cover the damn thing within a year – and even that timeline would test the patience of many homeowners. On hillsides where erosion prevention is key, lawn-replacement plants must either fill in extremely quickly or be packed tightly.
Now the Stepables price tag ranges from $9.50 each for 6 to $5.50 each for 72 of them. Their growth rates range from 2-4" a year for "slow" to 8-12 inches a year for "fast," according to their website, but my test plants didn't grow nearly that fast, even with a little feeding. So question number one is: How many of them does it really take to fill up a space?
We gardeners are naturally reluctant to invest big bucks in plants unless we know they'll thrive where we plant them. So before shelling out $1-2,000 to replace your lawn with thyme, for example, I suggest experimenting with a few for a year and making the bulk purchase based on the results.
There's nothing like replacing lawn to make you appreciate how cheap lawn really is, which is why to cover both my front and back former lawns I've resorted mainly to using weeds, but another option for the budget-conscious is to use giveaways. Because the very plants you need to fill up large spaces spread vigorously, gardeners generally have lots of it to give away. Examples are sedum acre, creeping Jenny and Mazus, all of which can take a bit of foot traffic, though not children- or dog-type wear and tear.
THE DISTANCE FACTOR
Here's another objection to Stepables I've seen and heard: Why not buy local? It's cheaper, the plants will probably perform better, et cetera. I DO know of a Virginia grower that supplies plants for Stepables, so their plants may be more local than we assume from the fact that it's a national company (out of Oregon). And when the Stepables home office sent me my samples I have to say they were packed awfully well.
Stepables seem to be everywhere in nurseries nowadays, so has anybody else tried them? And how'd they work out for you?