With the expense and maintenance of turf grass, it isn't very practical to plant turf, especially in difficult to maintain places like slopes or in areas with unfavorable conditions like too much shade, too much sun, or varying temperatures. Perhaps the biggest bane of having turf grass in Southern California is that it uses a lot of precious water. However, there are lots of groundcover alternatives you can plant to replace that turf and save some green...in your wallet, that is.
Sure, it may be a bit overdone, but Ice Plant is popular in Southern California for good reason: it's practical. Not only does Ice Plant provide groundcover on sloped terrains where it is a nightmare to mow a lawn on, it is drought-tolerant, as well. Don't forget that is sports some brilliantly fluorescent flowers in a variety of colors ranging from purple, pink, yellow and even red. You can try any Ice Plant from the Lampranthus genus, but notable Ice Plants include the Rosea Ice Plant (Drosanthemum floribundum), the Trailing Ice Plant (L. spectabilis), the Disneyland Ice Plant (Delosperma alba), and the Red Apple Ice Plant (Aptenia cordifolia).
Other Drought-Tolerant Plants
If Ice Plant isn't your thing, you can get another South African native, the Gazania. It comes in a variety of colors, too, like yellow, golden, orange, sunburst, burgundy and white. For large areas, try planting some Trailing Gazania, but if you're looking for a lower plant, go with the Clumping Gazania. For an alternate succulent groundcover, or if you're looking for something for a green roof, try planting a Sedum like the S. anglican, S. comfusum, S. brevifolium, S. guatamalense, and S. spurium species.
If you're looking for groundcover that doubles as aromatherapy, try planting some drought-resistant Trailing Rosemary (). You'll want to prune it occasionally to keep it from being woody, but if you're looking for some really unique fragrance, there's no beating the sweet aroma of a Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), which only needs trimming to keep its shape. Check out your local nursery for a great selection and great deals on these beauties. You might even catch a sale for palm trees while you're there.
However, if you're looking for something that looks like grass, without still being turf grass, why not plant some Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca) or some Korean Grass (Zoysia sp.)? Though Korean Grass looks best when mowed to a 1-2 inch height, its roots will grow deeply. For another grass-alternative, go with Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonica), which actually isn't a grass at all, but actually a member of the lily family. It resembles grass with its 2-12 inch long blades.
If you're looking for a groundcover that doubles as a climber, try planting some Ivy. Although Ivies have a reputation for being used to cover walls, fences and trellises, you can also use it as groundcover. English Ivy (Hedera helix) grows horizontally, but if you're looking for a more delicate looking plant, try going with the Needle Point Ivy (H. helix digitata) which has small, sharp pointed leaves. The Algerian Ivy (H. canariensis) resembles the English except that its leaves are more widely spaced on their stems.