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Groundcovers in Garden Design

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Groundcovers are low growing trailing or clumping plants, usually evergreen, that quickly join together to form a dense layer of leaves. Flowering groundcovers can be grouped together to form a sea of color.

In design groundcover plants are often used to fill the foreground of a design. Planted as a mass groundcover plants cause a space to appear larger. Mixed groundcovers can create a tapestry-like plane of different textures

Groundcovers are also practical. They can be used on slopes to stem erosion. They can be used anywhere to block light from the soil and thus prevent weeds from germinating.

Here are ways you can use groundcovers in your garden:

Groundcovers for beds and borders

  • Use groundcover plants along the edge of flower beds and borders; they can serve as a plant transition from a walkway or drive to larger perennials or shrubs.
  • Choose flowering groundcovers to add foreground color to a flower bed design.
  • Choose non-flowering evergreen groundcovers as a background for flowering annuals, perennials and shrubs.
Perennial Santa Barbara daisy, Erigeron, suited for a hot location
Perennial Santa Barbara daisy, Erigeron, suited for a hot location

Groundcovers for hot, sunny areas

  • Many low growing groundcovers tolerate full sun and are drought tolerant. These groundcovers are native to hot regions—deserts, rocky places, and beaches; they cover the ground like a mat and conserve soil moisture.

List of groundcovers for hot, sunny areas:

Common NameBotanical NameZones
ArtemisiaArtemisia stelleriana3-9
Basket-of-goldAurinia saxatilis4-8
Bath’s pinkDianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Bath’s Pink’4-9
Bearberry cotoneasterCotoneaster dammeri5-9
Blue starAmsonia tabermaemontana3-9
Bog rosemaryAndromeda polifolia2-6
CatmintNepeta x faassenii4-8
Dwarf blue fescueFestuca glauca4-9
Evergreen candytuftIberis semperevirens4-8
GermanderTeucrium prostratum4-9
Ice plant, hardyDelosperma nubigenum6-9
Hens and chicksSemervivum tectorum4-10
Junipers, low typesJuniperus spp.Varies
Lily turfLiriope muscari7-10
Mountain sandwortArenaria montana3-6
Phlox, mossPhlox subulata2-9
Prostrate RosemaryRosmarinus officinalis ‘Irene’7-10
Rock roseHelianthemum nummularium5-8
Santa Barbara daisyErigeron karvinskianus7-10
Sea thriftArmeria maritima3-8
Sedum, dragon’s bloodSedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’3-8
Spring cinquefoilPotentilla neumannii4-8
StonecropSedum spectabile3-10
Thyme, creeping typesThymus spp.5-9
Veronica, low typesVeronica spp.Varies
Wall rockcressArabis caucasica3-7
Perennial groundcover on a slope
Perennial sweet woodruff, Galium, groundcover on a slope

Groundcovers for slopes

  • Many groundcovers are creeping plants; they spread via stolons or rhizomes–roots that run along or just under the soil. These plants are well-suited for slopes because the creeping roots reproduce new plants as they spread; the roots or each plant grab and hold the soil.
  • Many creeping groundcovers also flower. Flowering groundcovers can add color to a slope that otherwise might be of little interest.

List of groundcovers for slopes:

Common NameBotanical NameZones
Basket-of-goldAurinia saxatilis4-8
Blanket flowerGaillardia x grandiflora2-9
Candytuft, evergreenIberis sempervirens4-8
Coralberry, prostrate ChenaultSymphoicarpos x chenaultii4-7
Cotoneaster, bearberryCotoneaster dammeri5-9
Freeway daisyOsteopermum fruticosum8-10
Hens and chicksSempervivum tectorum4-10
Ice plant, hardyDelosperma nubigenum6-9
Ivy, EnglishHedera helix5-9
Jasmine, AsiaticTrachelospermum asiaticum7-10
Juniper, Andorra compactJuniperus horizontalis ‘Plumosa Compacta’3-9
Juniper, Bar HarborJuniperus horizontalis ‘Bar Harbor’3-9
Juniper, Blue ChipJuniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’3-9
Juniper, Blue Pacific shoreJuniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacifica’5-9
Juniper, Blue RugJuniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’3-9
LilyturfLiriope muscari7-10
Mondo grassOphiopogon japonicus7-9
Phlox, mossPhlox subulata2-9
Pink, Bath’sDianthus gratianopolitanus4-9
Rose, Alba MeidilandRoas ‘Alba Meidiland’4-8
Sedum, goldmossSedum acre4-9
Spurge, cypressEuphorbia cyparissias4-8
Strawberry, alpineFragaria vesco3-9
Verbena, mossVerbena pulchella8-10
Vinca, little leafVinca minor4-8
Pachysandra and hostas in shade

Groundcovers for shade

  • Many groundcovers are also shade lovers; they grow best where there is little sun.
  • Groundcovers for shade are commonly native to forested regions; they are well-adapted to little light and some can tolerate constantly moist soil.
  • Groundcovers for shade that flower can add sparks of light and color to otherwise shadowy planting areas.

List of groundcovers for shade:

Common NameBotanical NameZones
Archangel, yellowLamiostrum galeobdolon3-9
Blue-eyed MaryOmphalodes verna5-9
Bog rosemaryAndromeda polifolia2-6
BunchberryCornus canadensis2-7
Christmas rose; Lenten roseHelleborus niger4-9
Coralberry, prostrate ChenaultSymphoricarpos x chenaultii4-7
Cotoneaster, bearberryCotoneaster dammeri5-9
Foam flower, AlleghenyTiarella cordifolia4-9
Forget-me-notMyosotis scorpiodes3-8
GoldenstarChusogonum virginianum5-8
HostaHosta spp.3-8
Italian arumArum italicum6-10
Ivy, EnglishHedera helix5-9
Lily-of-the-valleyConvallaria majalis2-9
PachysandraPachysandra terminalis4-10
Phlox, creepingPhlox stolonifera2-8
Snow-on-the-mountainAegopodium podagraria3-9
Strawberry, AlpineFragaria vesca3-9
Sweet woodruffGalium odoratum4-8
VincaVinca minor, Vinca major4-8
WintergreenGaultheria procumbens3-8
Low-growing shrubs cover the ground along a walkway
Low-growing shrubs including junipers and spurge cover the ground along a walkway

Shrubs as groundcovers

  • Low-growing shrubs, especially ones that have spreading habits, can be used as groundcovers. A shrub is a commonly low-growing plant that has a woody stem or multiple stems.
  • Shrubby groundcovers are long-staying in the garden, more so than low ground perennial groundcovers.

List of shrubs to use as groundcovers

Common NameBotanical NameZones
BearberryArctostaphylos uva-ursi2-7
Blackberry, prostrateRubus pentalobus7-9
Blueberry, lowbushVaccinium angustifolium4-9
BunchberryCornus canadensis2-7
CandytuftIberis sempervirens4-8
Cotoneaster, bearberryCotoneaster, dammeri6-9
Cotoneaster, cranberryCotoneaster apiculata5-8
Euonymus, wintercreeperEuonymous fortunei4-8
HeathErica carnea5-7
HeatherCalluna vulgaris3-8
HoneysuckleLonicera pileata5-9
Japanese spurgePachysandra terminalis4-8
Junipers, low spreadingJuniperus spp.3-9
LantanaLantana spp.8-10
Mahonia, creepingMahonia repens5-8
Purple-leaf winter creeperEunoymous fortunei ‘Coloratus’5-9
Roses, low spreadingRosa spp.Varies
St. JohnswortHypericum calycinum5-9

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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