Dependable and Low-maintenance Groundcovers
Dependable and low-maintenance groundcovers are popular, grow in most climates and are readily available in larger garden stores and catalogs. They flourish with minimal care, once their root systems are established.
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans). Give this flowering groundcover full sun in the North, and light shade to full sun in the South. Prefers rich, moist, but well-drained soil. 4-12 inches tall, spread a few feet in ideal conditions. Sending up pretty blue flower spikes, bugleweed comes in many different types with a fascinating number of color variations. Zones 4-9.
Catmint (Nepeta spp). Full sun. These groundcovers thrive in average to sandy well-drained soil. Grows 1-2 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide, depending on the cultivar. Also known as catnip, this aromatic plant blooms with tiny lavender blossoms for weeks. The long stems cascade, making a good groundcover choice. Dislikes humidity. Zones 3-8.
Creeping manzanita (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) Give these groundcovers full sun to medium shade. Prefers infertile, sandy soils. 6-12 inches high, spreads to several feet over time. Also called bearberry or kinnikinick, this plant has attractive glossy leaves and tiny red berries in summer that birds love. Deep russet winter color. Zones 2-7.
Ivy (Hedera spp). Part to full shade. These groundcovers prefer rich, moist but well-drained soil. A few to several inches high, it can spread to as much as 40 feet, covering fences and anything else in its way. Sometimes avoided because they are so vigorous to the point of being invasive, various perennial ivies still can make a good choice in the right conditions. Use this large-scale plant to drape in a large-scale way, such as over the edge of a very high retaining wall, to cover up unattractive concrete, or down the edge of a ravine. Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is a different plant but is grown in the same way. Zones 4-11.
Juniper, low-growing (Juniperus spp). These groundcovers need full sun. Well-drained soil. Height and width vary by cultivar, but the low-growing types that grow just several inches to a foot high and a few feet across, such as ‘Blue Rug’, ‘Bar Harbor’, or ‘Blue Chip’, drape over edges nicely. Excellent for seaside plantings, junipers are tough plants that do well in a variety of conditions, except wet. Check out the deep blue types and the silvery blue types for something a little different. Zones 2-10.
Liriope (Liriope spicata) Light to full shade in the South. Well-drained soil. 8-10 inches tall, colonizes to several feet. Also called monkeygrass, this popular groundcover has deep green, grassy foliage and pretty blue or white flowers. These groundcovers are semi-evergreen in Zones 6-7, fully evergreen farther south. Salt tolerant. Zones 6-9.
Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) Light to full shade, especially in the South. Rich, moist, acidic soil is ideal but tolerates dry shade. 8-10 inches high, indefinite spread. The glossy whirling leaves of pachysandra and its ease of growing have made it a favorite groundcover through much of the country. Evergreen in warmer regions. Zones 3-8.
Periwinkle (Vinca minor) Full sun to full shade, especially in the South. Likes rich, well-drained soil. About 6 inches high, indefinite spread. With small glossy leaves and pretty 1-inch usually lavender flowers, this rapidly spreading groundcover is a favorite for shady spots. Also available in white. Likes hot weather. Zones 4-7.
Purpleleaf wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei ‘Colorata’) Full sun to light shade. Prefers rich, well-drained soil but tolerates a variety of soils. 6-12 inches high and 2-5 feet across. These low-growing groundcovers has attractive emerald-green glossy leaves that turn burgundy in fall. Zones 4-8.
Sedum (Sedum spp). Full sun. Average to sandy, well-drained soil. Groundcover types grow just a few inches tall and spread a few to several feet over time. This succulent comes in many forms. Choose those with tiny leaves and a tight growth habit for best traffic tolerance. Good choices include ‘Dragon’s Blood’, golden stonecrop, blue spruce sedum and the variegated ‘Tricolor.’ Zones 3-10.
Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) Part to full shade. Average to rich well-drained but moist soil. A ground-hugging groundcover that’s a few inches high and several feet wide. Also called Confederate jasmine, this vine has glossy leaves and highly fragrant little white flowers. Zones 8-9.
Thyme (Thymus spp). Full sun. Light, dry, well-drained soil. Groundcover types grow just 1 to a few inches tall and spread to a few feet. Fragrant, tough thyme loves growing in tight spaced between flagstones or tucked in among rocks, but it grows well just about anywhere it has plenty of sun and good drainage. It covers itself with pretty little flowers in pink, blue, purple, or white in spring. Dislikes humidity. Zones 4-10.