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All About Ground Cover Plants

Landscaping expert Jenn Nawada explains how ground cover plants are a creative alternative to rocks and mulch, and then tells us about some of her favorite varieties.

In this video, Ask This Old House landscaping expert Jenn Nawada explains how ground cover plants are a creative alternative to rocks and mulch, and then tells us about some of her favorite varieties.

Types of Ground Cover Plants

Dry Shade

bishop’s hat groundcover iStock

Bishop’s hat (shown): Heart-shaped leaves form dense mounds 6 to 9 inches high, with delicate sprays of small flowers in spring. Zones 4–8.

Lily turf: Grass-like foliage 8 to 18 inches high sports spikes of purple flowers in late summer. Zones 4–10.

Sweet woodruff: Whorled foliage grows 8 to 12 inches tall; fragrant white flowers in spring. Zones 4–8.

Pachysandra: Extremely low maintenance and spreads rapidly; thrives in shady areas and is impartial to soil types; small white flowers in spring.

Full Sun

cranesbill groundcover iStock

Cranesbill (shown): Bushy foliage grows up to 12 inches tall. Pink blooms in late spring attract butterflies. Zones 4–8.

Brazilian dwarf morning glory ‘Blue Daze:’ Mounding foliage 9 to 18 inches high produces purple blooms all summer long. Zones 8–11.

Bearberry: Shiny evergreen leaves; birds love its red berries. Zones 2–6.

Juniper Procumbens: An extremely durable evergreen; Prefers full sun; Can grow over walls and rocks and will grow together as a large, dense mat; Deer and drought tolerant

Shady Hillside

Pennsylvania sedge groundcover Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

Pennsylvania sedge (shown): Wavy mounds of long, grass-like leaves grow 6 to 12 inches high. Zones 4–8.

Alpine geranium: Dense foliage, 3 to 6 inches high, displays pink blooms from April to October. Needs rocky, well-drained soil. Zones 7–10.

Dwarf mondo grass: Tight, 4- to 6-inch-high evergreen clumps grow up to 12 inches across. Zones 6–10.

Microbiota: Soft, feathery evergreen foliage; Rugged and drought-tolerant; Does well in sun, partial shade, and shade; Only grows about a foot tall

Moist Shade

bunchberry groundcover iStock

Bunchberry (shown): Lush, whorled foliage 6 to 12 inches tall. White blooms attract butterflies; red berries in fall. Zones 2–7.

Foam flower: Glossy, lobed foliage grows 9 to 12 inches high; sprays of white flowers in May. Zones 3–8.

American barrenwort: The heart-shaped leaves grow 9 to 18 inches high. Zones 5–9.

Liriope Spicata: Soft ground cover; Has runners that travel and create a soft, dense mat; Comes in variegated varieties for extra pops of color; Good for naturalized settings

High Heat & Drought

‘dragon’s blood’ stonecrop groundcover iStock

‘Dragon’s Blood’ stonecrop (shown): This deer-resistant sedum grows 4 to 6 inches tall; deep-red, star-shaped flowers appear in midsummer. Zones 3–9.

Lamb’s ear: Thick, velvety leaves grow 12 to 18 inches tall. Zones 4–7.

‘Angelina’ stonecrop: Spiky, gray-green foliage about 4 inches tall has yellow blooms. Zones 5–8.

Sedum John Creech: Grows 1 to 2 inches high; Creates a thick mat of succulent foliage; Small pink flowers in the middle of summer; Ideal for stone walls and walkways as it can take the heat of the stone

Steppable

blue star creeper groundcover Alamy

Blue star creeper (shown): Forms a dense 2- to 4-inch-high mat with light-blue spring flowers. Zones 5–9.

Hairy rupturewort: Overlapping stems with tiny leaves reach about 2 inches high. Zones 2–9.

Creeping thyme: Stems bearing tiny, aromatic leaves reach 2 to 6 inches high, with purple flowers from May to September. Zones 4–9.

Find your area’s plant hardiness zone

Resources

Expert assistance with the video segment was provided by Stonegate Gardens.

Thanks to: Missouri Botanical Garden