Perhaps your backyard has a bit of a pesky bald spot you’ve been looking to cover. Or maybe you’re just in the mood to shake things up in the greenery department. Either way, if you’re in the market for new landscaping ideas this season, allow us to suggest an oft-used but occasionally overlooked form of flora: ground cover plants!
Ground cover plants consist of low-growing flowers and greenery that sprawl, or crawl, across the ground. Typically only a few inches in height, they often form a dense “cover” of the soil below to help protect it. Many are low-maintenance enough to even walk on, which means you won’t have to worry about occasionally dragging your hose across the blooms, or be constantly wary of wandering children stepping off your footpaths.
Why use ground cover plants? They’re helpful in a variety of ways. Low-growing perennial flowers are great for adding color, preventing pesky weeds, and avoiding erosion. Added bonus: Options exist for both full sun and shade perennials, so you’re sure to find something that works for your space. Just don’t forget to consult the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map before making your final selects.
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener with very specific requirements or a novice just starting to grow your green thumb, you’ve come to the right place to start planning the base of your landscape. Our picks for the best ground cover plants include a variety of colors of textures, making them proven winners for small backyards and English gardens alike. (We’ve also included a few fast-growing options for good measure.) So how low can you grow? Find out by incorporating one of these wonderful ground cover plants into your outdoor space.
“For a perennial garden, flowering thyme is such a nice addition because it’s both ornamental and edible,” says Tara Nolan, author of Gardening Your Front Yard. “Plus, even in the winter—assuming it’s not covered in snow—you can grab a few sprigs of thyme to enjoy in your kitchen.” Perhaps in a fancy lemonade!
White alyssum is a great way to fill in the areas of your garden that aren’t already populated by plants and flowers. Its heat and drought hardiness make it an obvious choice for tons of different climates.
Sedum ‘Dragon’s Blood’
This incredibly hardy plant features a lovely red color—hence the name “Dragon’s Blood.”
“It really does provide year-round interest,” says Nolan. “Even when there’s some snow, you might be able to see the little rosettes. It’s just a really pretty option in any season.”
Delosperma (“Ice Plant”)
This low-growing plant features succulent, spreading leaves, and striking flowers that open in the sunshine and close when it’s shadier. “‘Firespinner’ is one of the lovelier varieties,” says Nolan. “It’s this really beautiful blend of orange, fuschia, and white colors.”
Black Mondo Grass
Black foliage might not be your first choice, but when you see how beautiful this grass is, you might change your mind. “If you plant a lime green foliage around it, that not only makes the black grass pop; the green foliage also looks even brighter,” says Nolan. “It’s also an evergreen perennial, which means it’ll have visual interest in the winter as well.”
Hens and Chicks
The Latin name, sempervivum means “live forever,” which should give you a sense of how these tough, drought-resistant plants hold up. Their common name refers to the way the hen-like plant grows tiny rosettes around its main plant—like a hen caring for baby chicks.
Commonly known as lilyturf, all four species of these grass-like blooms are perennials. The towering purple buds make an appearance starting in the late summer and into the fall.
Lily of the Valley
Consider this one of the easier perennial ground covers, namely because it can bloom in partial shade with moist soil. Bonus: it’s also one of the sweetest-smelling.
Known as Lamium maculatum, this perennial plant is deer- and rabbit-resistant and boasts a lengthy bloom time: from mid-spring to early summer.
These blooming beauties come in a variety of colors—white, purples, blues, and pinks—and won’t grow taller than six inches.
A cousin to mint that’s also called woolly hedgenettle, you’ll enjoy this plant’s lush, silvery leaves year-round. The purple flowers that bloom come spring are also pretty.
This variety of Viola sororia is moderately fast-growing and sports freckled purple flowers in mid-spring. When combined with shade-loving mosses, it creates a woodland effect.
Tiny pale-mauve blossoms appear in summer on the mint-scented herb Mentha requienii. Ideal for shade, it can also handle some afternoon sun and is easily divided.
Miniature Brass Buttons
The moisture-loving Leptinella gruveri can withstand some morning light. It’s an aggressive grower with tiny, pale fernlike leaves and small green-gold flowers in mid-spring.
A variety of the moderately spreading Dianthus gratianopolitanus, featuring blue-green foliage and clove-scented pink flowers. It requires relatively little water.
The abundant purple flowers of Mazus reptans, also known as creeping blue, bloom in mid-spring and remain through early summer. This drought-tolerant plant can also be grown in full sun.
Blue Star Creeper
Easy-to-grow blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) produces pale-blue flowers that last from spring through early fall. It spreads quickly in filtered light but can also take full sun.
Sedum ‘Baby Tears’
The teardrop-shaped, variegated leaves on this drought-tolerant succulent (Sedum album) turned red in autumn. The spikes of white flowers that burst forth each summer are a bonus.
Scented Chamaemelum nobile thrives in hot, dry conditions. Cut stems back to two inches from the ground after the plant blooms to maintain its compact form.
The herb Thymus pseudolanuginosus, also called mother of thyme grows into a sturdy, scented carpet of fuzzy gray-green leaves that becomes dotted with miniature light-pink flowers each summer.
Also known as Breckland Thyme, this low-growing plant is great for walkways, as it tolerates pedestrian traffic and the leaves, when disturbed, release herbal or lemon scents.
Dwarf impatiens flank this pathway planted with Soleirolia soleirolii.