Even the most vibrant gardens and lush lawns have difficult areas that pose a challenge. They can be bare spots that grass won’t grow on, weeds that creep up on shaded areas, and soil that’s beginning to erode. One way to make the most of the effort and energy you’ve put into your landscape is by incorporating ground covers.
Groundcovers are plants that are low-growing and fast-growing. That means they can spread quickly in a certain area to form a type of covering. If you’ve ever looked at your garden and felt like a big rug tossed under the plants will solve the aesthetics, what you really need is the perfect ground cover plants.
Grass might be the most common ground cover, but it won’t really thrive in many locations. The best plants will thrive even in conditions where no other plants will grow like rocky soils or full shade areas.
If you are wondering whether your garden needs some cover plants, you can check if you have the following problems:
Do you have steep slopes? You can control soil erosion with ground cover plants.
Do you have shady areas under trees and shrubs? Some plants require more nutrients, that if placed under trees will end up competing rather than thriving together. The right ground cover plants won’t need much sun and much nutrients.
Do you have extremely wet or dry locations? Say goodbye to a brown lawn.
If you have one or all of these issues, ground covers are the way to go for you. But before you go and drastically improve your lawn, make sure you have these factors considered.
In This Article
Ground covers are designed to exist for many years, but without proper soil preparation, ground cover plants can wither and die. Because they are planted in the same spot, a little bit of effort to prepare the soil goes a long way for the health of the plant.
You also need to clear out areas that are prone to perennial weed growth. Low-growing plants cannot compete against weeds that have established on the soil.
Conducting a soil test is always the best move for healthy growth. It will help you determine the best fertilizer to use. But even without it, you can opt to use a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Mix this into the soil for up to 6 to 8 inches in depth.
When and How To Plant
The beauty of ground cover plants is that they can be sowed or planted at any time of the year. I suggest, however, that you take full advantage of the fall planting season. These are the days when the temperature is lower thus reducing watering requirements. Plants can establish a stronger root system before the heat of the summer comes in. While it’s not impossible for groundcovers to thrive on summer planting, you will need to provide frequent watering for the plants to survive.
For plant spacing, don’t just consider the plant size, but also look at the rate of growth and the plant’s habit. You’ll need to find out if the plant can completely cover the ground at the right time before any weeds take over. Spacing too closely to each other is a waste of your resources, and you’ll discover soon enough, that it is unnecessary. The best tip I’ve found so far is planting groundcovers with the use of a cardboard triangle. Yes! Little arts and crafts will do the trick.
Use the cardboard template to ensure that you’ve got proper spacing. Simply set the triangle cardboard on the soil, at each corner of its corners, plant a ground cover. And then, repeat this process, moving the triangle to the next space until you’ve got a whole area planted.
Caring for Ground Covers
After planting groundcovers, it’s a best practice to add a 2-inch layer of mulch. This will reduce weed competition and keep the soil moisture consistent. Most groundcovers spread by their stems (underground runners), so loose mulch is advised to allow the plants to perforate the soil. I personally use shredded bark, because plastic mulch just won’t do.
Placing coarse netting on slopes also helps hold the plants until they are established. A complete fertilizer like the 12-4-8 will help speed up the coverage you desire. Most ground covers have a spread of 2 feet.
Some kinds of groundcovers will benefit from the occasional shearing. You can cut the dead branches out and remove damaged branches during early spring. New growth will cover the areas you’ve pruned. But avoid doing this during summer or fall. They will not have enough time to harden before the harsh cold season of winter. Some plants also benefit from thinning their green foliage. This can improve air circulation.
8 Groundcover Plants For Your Garden
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
We start this list with one of the most beautiful ground covers. In spring, you get to enjoy the blooms of lavender, white, purple, pink flowers. They not only bloom pastel-colored flowers but they also give this wonderful fragrance. You’ll want to decorate your slope with this beauty.
I’ve seen many others use this ground cover to define the borders of garden paths. Others place this along the top of a retaining wall. This way, you can really enjoy its beauty. Her blooms last for weeks, and after, you can enjoy evergreen, needle-like foliage.
Height: 3 to 6 inches.
Light: Thrives in Full Sun
Growing Conditions: This is a low-growing plant and it grows at a moderate rate. It grows best in well-drained soil. Practice light shearing after the flowering season.
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
For gardens with more canopies, and deep shade, this enchanting beauty is the answer. With small white flowers that bloom in spring, this groundcover thrives in the heavy shade with rich, loamy soil. Don’t let its daintiness fool you, the sweet Woodruff is tough and can take a little foot traffic. If the leaves are crushed or mown, it releases a lovely fragrance.
Height: Up to 12 inches tall.
Light: Full shade or part sun
Growing Conditions: This requires no feeding. You can harvest the white flowers for their aromatic properties. But this is an invasive plant, water only in times of prolonged drought.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
When you want a splash of color on your garden paths or want unconventional lawn grass, the creeping thyme or wild thyme is the ground cover to go. This is one of our favorite low-growing plants going up to no more than four inches. It can endure foot traffic, withstand full sun, and best of all, it’s drought tolerant. That’s why it’s an amazing alternative to grasses. Plant the creeping thyme between stepping stones of your garden path or have them grow in your rock gardens.
Height: Up to 4 inches.
Light: Moderate climates, but can withstand full sun.
Growing Conditions: With proper care, the wild thyme can last up to five to six years. Can control weed growth and is a natural deer repellent. Prefers moist, well-drained, lightly textured soils. Avoid root drowning.
Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium Maculatum)
The spotted dead nettle plant’s claim to fame is that it can grow in diversely different climates from zones 3 to a recorded zone 10. These ground covers are evergreen perennials in warm regions. In other areas they are more likely to be semi-evergreen, herbaceous plants. The variegated foliage alone adds impact to your garden, but this plant also blooms with white flowers, pink flowers, and purple flowers.
Height: 6 to 8 inches.
Light: Thrives in full shade to partial shade
Growing Conditions: Dead nettle is a low maintenance ground cover, and can tolerate shady areas with dry soil. If you plant it in an area with more sun, it will need more water. If you cannot work more compost into the soil, manure tea is one other option for fertilizing.
Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
At first look, this low-growing evergreen perennial may look like grass. but on closer inspection, you’ll find it more interesting than that. The leaves are narrower, and the foliage comes in different shades of green, some kinds are variegated. In the summer, spikes of lilac or white flowers appear, adding visual interest to your border edges, sidewalks, and driveways.
Height: up to 1 foot
Light: Full sun to part shade
Growing Conditions: Place them in well-drained, moist soil. They are nearly indestructible as some would describe. These are low-maintenance ground covers that can tolerate tough situations, even in sunny locations.
Creeping juniper (Juniper horizontalis)
We love a ground cover plant that’s multi-functional and the creeping juniper checks all the right boxes. It’s a low-growing ground cover, it’s absolutely low maintenance, and it releases a pleasant aroma. Their foliage ranges from green leaves, blue-green leaves, to gold leaves, depending on the variety. During wintertime, the colors deepen, giving you year-round visuals.
Perhaps what I adore the most about the creeping juniper is that it is drought tolerant. It’s so sturdy and adaptable that it can be planted on rocky or poor soil, and it can control erosion.
Height: 3 inches tall to 6 inches
Light: Full Sun to part shade.
Growing Conditions: There’s no need to prune back the creeping juniper. It is drought tolerant and deer resistant. But avoid poor drainage and full shade.
Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
Another beautiful woodland ground cover plant that gives you evergreen foliage throughout the year. The Pachysandra or Japanese spurge thrives in full shade. In early spring, enjoy sweet-scented small white flowers that are short-lived. You can plant these under shade trees, canopied gardens, or north-facing slopes. They are effective in stopping weeds from taking over.
Zones: 5 – 9
Height: 6 to 12 inches
Light: Full shade to part shade
Growing Conditions: The pachysandra prefers moist, fertile, slightly acidic, and organic soil.
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
The Ajuga varieties are capable of blooming flower spikes of different colors – blue flowers, pink flowers, lavender flowers, or white flowers. You’ll find them all bloom in late spring through early summer. But the leaves alone are reason enough to plant this ground cover. Enjoy foliage of glossy green, maroon, bronze, purple, pink, or white.
Height: 3 to 9 inches
Light: Full shade to Full sun
Growing Conditions: Cut back to the ground or mow after the plant flowers fade. You can remove the stems and clean up the appearance. This will also encourage fresher foliage. Tends to be invasive.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the fastest-growing ground cover plant?
If you really need to cover that empty space, suppress the weed, or control erosion ASAP, these ground covers on our list are fast-growing:
What is the best low-maintenance ground cover?
There are factors to determine the best ground cover for your garden. But unanimously, these are widely considered the best low-maintenance ground cover plants: