Seeking groundcover

Asked February 23, 2014, 9:24 PM EST

I'm hoping to find a suitable groundcover for my small yard. I have a list of requirements to fulfill that I hope isn't impossible!

  • full sun for a few hours and partial shade for the rest of the day
  • stand up against dog urine
  • non toxic to pets
  • won't overgrow paths
  • 4 inches or less in height - no mowing
  • attracting butterflies is a plus but shouldn't be super attractive to bees

Fairfax County Virginia sustainable gardening and landscaping groundcovers horticulture

1 Response

Thank you for your question regarding groundcover selections for your yard. Unfortunately, the list of plants that meet most of your criteria is very small.

Pachysandra is one plant that may fill most of your requirements but it will spread into paths and probably won’t attract butterflies. Liriope is another choice. Some varieties won’t spread quickly and some stay within the 4” height you specify. Although the ASPCA website does not list liriope as toxic to pets, some websites indicate the berries it forms in late summer may be toxic if eaten in quantity.

Dog urine will burn just about any plant if it’s not washed off soon after the pet visits.


This publication from Virginia Tech lists quite a few groundcovers that do well in our area. I suggest reading through it and see which ones may meet the most important of your expectations.

Some that spread into paths can be stopped by burying a barrier in the ground at the edge of the path. Others may grow over the top of the barrier.

Also keep in mind that full sun in the afternoon is much more intense than morning sun. You didn’t say when the area is in full sun but some of your decision will depend on when the sun is on the garden area.


Let me know if you have further questions about this topic by using the reply feature within this email. And thanks for using Ask an Expert.