Our back yard in Pueblo, Colorado, slopes down to the Pueblo River. We pay to have the lawn mowed, but we seldom use the area. We'd like to create terraces instead, with one 12 x 12' brick area for a lawn swing and chairs. Is there a ground cover we could use that will take some foot traffic and won't cost much for water and maintenance?
Frank W. ~ Pueblo, Colorado
Hi Frank, I think that any type of ground cover that you can walk on such as grass is going to require mowing and if there is a drought in the summer, you may not have to mow very often, but the grass is probably going to turn brown and be a little unsightly.
I would recommend going with some sort of ground cover and a stairway down the terraced area to the Pueblo River. The stairway could be as simple as just some stepping stones through the ground cover or you could build a stairway out of treated deck lumber. I'm not sure how deep and steep the area is where you plan to use the terraces, but if you make the terraces each about 8 inches tall, you'd be creating a stairway that would probably just need a slate or paver walkway.
Pueblo, Colorado is considered a 5-B growing zone and there are a lot of different ground covers that should do well in that area. I would think that you are going to want something that grows pretty close to the ground with maybe a maximum height of about 12 inches as anything higher might start looking like you have a hay field behind your home.
Two ground covers that I've had good luck with myself are Junipers and Myrtle. There are a lot of different types of juniper ground covers; the one I use the most is Blue Rug Juniper as it only grows to about 6 inches tall, has a nice dark greenish/blue color, and spreads fairly quickly. Another good thing about it in your area is that it's pretty drought resistant so after the initial watering after planting, you should have a substantial water savings over having grass planted on the terraces. Because of the Junipers spreading tendencies you'll probably have to trim it back from your stairway or walkway every year.
Periwinkle Myrtle also spreads quickly and only grows to around 6 to 8 inches tall. It gets a pretty blue flower on it during the summer and it, like the juniper, remains green all winter. When you're starting it out you have to plant it a little closer together than the junipers, myrtle should be planted about 10 to 12 inches apart so that it grows together quickly, junipers you can get away with planting 2 to 3 feet apart.
A couple of others you may want to consider are Creeping Thyme and Soapwort as they both grow pretty close to the ground and spread rather quickly. Just about any ground cover you plant shouldn't take much water after the plants take hold so you should start noticing a pretty good water savings from not having to water the grass in your backyard. I'm sure many of the landscape contractors around Pueblo, Colorado have experience with ground covers so you might want to ask for some suggestions from them for your terraces.