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Is there a plant that fits these characteristics?

  1. Is edible
  2. Is hardy (grows with little maintenance)
  3. Can be mowed to 6 inches (like grass) .
  4. Makes an attractive ground cover.

The reason I ask is that I would like to have a ground cover that resembles a lawn from a distance, but is edible. This is for a home I have in a rural area of North Carolina.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I think your best bet would be to use a mix of various edible "weeds". The great thing about using weeds is that they're typically easy to come by and hard to kill!

  • If you aren't prejudiced against dandelions, they fit all of your criteria.
  • Clover
  • Barley, if you're interested in the juice. (Wheat and other grains may work too.)
  • Stinging nettles, if you don't need to walk barefoot. They'll tolerate some mowing, but continuous close mowing will eventually kill them. (If you let it go to 6" they'd probably be ok.)
  • Lamb's quarter (goosefoot), though I usually see this more in my garden than in my lawn -- I'm not sure how well they'd do in lawn or how well they'd tolerate mowing.
  • Plantain
  • Purslane

If I was going to do this, I'd probably plant a base of clover -- it will maintain the green appearance of lawn the best. Then add the rest to the lawn. Dandelion, plantain, lamb's quarter, and nettle seeds will probably be easy to find. These are all either perennial or easily self-seeding. Barley would be kind of a hassle since it's an annual you'd have to replant every year.

I might also add a lawn border -- it would be easy to add many edibles that are also attractive. Nasturtium and calendula are nice looking edible flowers. Lettuce adds some greenery and looks interesting when it bolts. Amaranth has edible greens and seeds. There are tons of possibilities here.

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2  
Adding to the border recommendations, I've used rainbow chard (a mix of colored-stem varieties of chard) and strawberries in my borders. –  Niall C. Oct 16 '11 at 21:39

There are likely many edible plants that are mowable to six inches and hardy in your zone. Here are a few with edible foliage:

This has edible fruit:

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You could try the Scurvy Grass Sorrell (Oxalis enneaphylla) - not related to the common scurvy grass in the northern hemisphere.

It tastes really nice, and is very hardy (growing successfully all across the Falkland Islands). It looks nice as ground cover too.

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Violets (Viola) instantly come to mind, they meet your definition of "hearty" and prefer some shade, though they also prefer constant moisture...

English daisy (Bellis perennis) and Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are another couple of possibilities, but they prefer a location that is more toward full-sun, therefore they may struggle somewhat in "mostly partial shade".

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) is another option that will tolerate some shade, not sure how edible the leaves are, but they are used in (herbal) teas.

Q. Does the chosen ground cover need to be able to stand up to foot traffic?

Q. Location in the landscape: Full-sun, partial-shade or full-shade?

Q. Water requirements: Able to survive via rainfall only or will irrigation be provided during warm, dry spells?

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According to one site the hardiness zone is 2010 "7b: 5F to 10F". Regarding foot traffic, I am open minded... I mean to say it would be a plus, but not expected. Little to no irrigation. It's mostly partial shade. –  John R Oct 16 '11 at 15:46
    
According to plantmaps.com, "USDA Zone 7a 0°F to 5°F" –  John R Oct 16 '11 at 15:54
    
How about something where the 'leafy' part is edible. Any thoughts? Thanks! –  John R Oct 16 '11 at 16:04
    
@JohnR Certain Violet cultivars have edible leaves. –  Mike Perry Oct 16 '11 at 16:15

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