no. 7.230

Xeriscaping: Ground Cover Plants

by J.E. Klett and C.R. Wilson1 (1/09)

Quick Facts...

  • Plants that are low-growing (generally less than 24 inches) and spread easily are suitable ground cover plants.
  • Suitable places for xeric ground covers include dry slopes, landscape medians, parking strips, traffic islands and street rights-of-way.
  • Consider ground covers on hot, dry, south and west exposures as well as for dense, dry shade.
  • Improve soils before planting ground covers.
  • Ideally, a ground cover should grow dense enough or be mulched to inhibit weeds

Ground cover plants are appealing for their variety of ornamental features that add interest to landscapes. They provide a variety of textures and colors, help to reduce soil erosion and can function as a transition between landscape spaces. They offer alternatives to turfgrasses in some situations.

A ground cover should spread by itself. Species that produce rhizomes or stolons or that spread by offsets or tip layering are good choices for ground covers. Ideally, they will develop rapidly into a dense cover. Some grow so fast they can become invasive.

Ground covers also can enhance the beauty of shrub borders and break up the monotony of mulched areas. Xeric ground cover plants may be the answer for difficult landscape areas that are difficult to mow or water, require extra maintenance or are less suitable for turfgrass such as:

  • landscaped medians, parking strips, traffic islands and rights-of-way along streets;
  • steep slopes that are impractical in lawns or a mowing hazard;
  • hot, dry areas on south and west exposures;
  • deeply shaded areas beneath trees or shrubs, along north sides of walls and fences, between buildings and in front of low windows.

Soils and Exposure

The key to successful ground cover establishment is good soil preparation. Some ground covers spread by offshoots or runners and are more apt to fill in quickly where the soil has good aeration and drainage. Improve soils with good quality organic matter before planting. Incorporate 3 to 5 cubic yards of compost or other organic soil amendment into 1000 square feet of area.

Pay attention to exposure. Tables 1 and 2 indicate ground cover plants for sun or shade as well as bloom characteristics and useful comments.

Weed Control and Maintenance

Prior to planting ground covers, make sure that existing weeds are hoed, pulled or killed with an herbicide. Perennial weeds can be especially troublesome later if not eliminated prior to planting. Glyphosate herbicide controls many weeds if applied a few weeks prior to planting. This herbicide does not leave a harmful soil residue, allowing planting in treated areas 10 to 14 days after spraying. Follow label directions when using

Weeds can be discouraged by using weed barrier fabrics, anchoring with U-shaped wire pins. Plant through slits cut into the barrier. Apply mulch on top of the fabric. Avoid the use of solid sheet plastic as a weed barrier.

All ground covers require maintenance, some more than others. Ground covers that develop flowers and fruit often require more maintenance than evergreen ground covers

Table 1: Xeric ground cover plants for full sun

Plant Name Height (in) Flower Color Bloom time Remarks
Achillea serbica
Serbian yarrow
4-8 White Spring Toothed, gray leaves
Achillea tomentosa
Woolly yarrow
2-4 Yellow Summer Woolly, gray foliage in low mats
Antennaria dioica
Pussytoes
1-2 White to pink Late spring to early summer Persistent gray-green foliage in dense mats; excellent for rocky slopes
Artemisia frigida
Fringed sage
6-15 Yellow Late summer Blooms not showy, silver gray fringed foliage, woody stems
Bouteloua gracilis
Blue grama grass
12-18 Tan Summer to fall Clump-forming native, sow seed to form solid cover, shade intolerant
Callirhoe involucrata
Prairie winecups
6-12 Red Summer to fall Vigorous trailing stems, Plant Select®
Cerastium tomentosum
Snow-in-summer
6-8 White Spring to summer Gray foliage, aggressive spreader
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
Plumbago
8-12 Violet-blue Late summer to fall Shiny green leaves, purplish fall leaf color
Delosperma sp.
Iceplant
1-6 Red, yellow, white, fuchsia Spring to fall Succulent leaves
D. floribundum
‘Starburst
4-6 Pink with white centers Summer to fall Cushion growth form, requires dry soil in winters, Plant Select®
D. ‘John Proffit’
Table Mountain
2-4 Fuchsia Spring to fall Durable, leaves turn purple in winter, Plant Select®
D. ‘Kelaidis’ PP#13,876
Mesa Verde
2-4 Salmon-pink Spring to fall Vigorous, compact habit, Plant Select®
D. nubigenum
Hardy Yellow
1-2 Yellow Early to mid summer Light green, compact foliage turns purplish in winter
D. ‘Psfave’
LAVENDER ICE TM
2-3 Lavender Spring to fall Foliage turns purple in winter, Plant Select®
Duchesnia indica
Mock strawberry
4-6 Yellow Late spring to summer Aggressive creeper, inedible red fruit
Eriogonum umbellatum
Sulfur flower
3-6 Yellow Early to mid summer Flower stalk 8 inches, foliage in a low mat, reddish in winter, native
E. umbellatum v. aureum ‘Psdowns’ Kannah Creek buckwheat 6-12 Yellow Summer Foliage turns reddish in winter, Plant Select®
Festuca glauca
Blue fescue grass
6-15 Tan Summer Bunch grass producing tufts of blue-gray foliage
Juniperus horizontalis
Creeping juniper
2-24     Evergreen, several foliage colors
‘Bar Harbor' 8-10     Gray-blue foliage, purplish winter color
‘Blue Chip’ 8-10     Silver-blue foliage, purple in winter
‘Icee Blue’ 2-4     Compact silver-blue foliage turns purplish in winter
‘Hughes’ 12-24     Silvery blue foliage turns light purple in winter, distinct radial branching
‘Prince of Wales’ 4-6     Ground hugging foliage turns plum in winter
‘Wiltonii’ (‘Blue Rug’) 4-6     Very low, silver-blue; purplish winter tinge
Juniperus sabina
‘Buffalo
12-18     Bright green foliage on horizontal branches
Marrubium rotundifolium
Silverheels horehound
4-6     Silver-fringed rounded foliage, Plant Select®
Nepeta Psfike PP#18,904
Little Trudy® catmint
8-10 Lavender Spring to fall Silvery foliage, low compact habit
Penstemon caespitosus
Mat penstemon
1-4 Blue Early summer Speading carpet-like growth habit
Penstemon linarioides var. coloradoensis
Silverton® bluemat penstemon
8-12 Lavender Late spring to early summer Evergreen silver foliage, Plant Select®
Penstemon pinifolius
Pineleaf penstemon
6-10 Red-orange Summer Needle-like leaves
‘Mersea Yellow’ 6-8 Yellow Summer Needle-like leaves
Phlox subulata
Creeping phlox
6 Red, white, lavender Spring Moss-like foliage
Persicaria affinis
Himalayan border jewel
8-12 Pink Summer Aggressive creeper
Potentilla neumanniana
Creeping potentilla
2-4 Yellow Late spring to early summer Low mat, aggressive
Salvia daghestanica
Platinum sage
8-10 Dark blue Spring to early summe Silvery white foliage, slow spreading, Plant Select®
Sedum acre
Goldmoss sedum
2-4 Yellow Early summer Bright green evergreen leaves
Sedum kamtschaticum
Kamschatka stonecrop
4-6 Orange to yellow Late summer Toothed, glossy dark green leaves
Sedum spurium
‘Dragon’s Blood’
2-4 Rose red Mid summer Red edged foliage turns solid red in fall
Stachys byzantina
‘Helene von Stein’ lamb’s ears
8-10 Not important Not important Large leaves, rarely flowers
Thymus praecox
Creeping thyme
1-4 Pink Spring to early summer Fragrant, evergreen foliage
Thymus praecox
‘Pseudolanuginosus’
Woolly thyme
1-2 Pink Spring to early summer Woolly-gray foliage turns purplish in winter, sparse flowers
Thymus serpyllum
Mother-of-thyme
3-6 Pink to purple Late spring Mint-like fragrance
Thymus x citriodorus
Lemon thyme
6-12 Pink Early summer Lemon scented foliage
Verbena bipinnatifida
Valley lavender ®
plains verben
3-6 Purple Summer Flowers held above plant with deeply cut leaves, Plant Select®
Veronica ‘Reavis’
Crystal River ® veronica
2-4 Blue Spring to early summer Evergreen, fast growing, vigorous, Plant Select®
Veronica liwanensis
Turkish veronica
1-2 Blue Late spring to early summer Dark green leaves, evergreen, Plant Select®
Veronica pectinata
Woolly veronica
1-2 Blue Early summer Gray foliage, evergreen in mild winters, tolerates part shade
Zauschneria garrettii
Orange Carpet ®
California fuchsia
4-8 Orange Late summer Tubular flowers, cascades over walls, attracts hummingbirds, Plant Select®

Table 2: Xeric ground cover plants for part shade to shade

Plant Name Height (in) Flower Color Bloom time Remarks
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Kinnikinnick
4-6 Pink Spring Evergreen, red berries, native
Euonymus fortunei
‘Coloratus’ Wintercreeper
12-18 Not important Not important Glossy dark green leaves turn purple in winter
Mahonia repens
Creeping Oregon grape
6-18 Yellow Spring Evergreen holly-like foliage turns reddish in fall, native
Vinca minor
Periwinkle
4-6 White or purple Spring Semi-evergreen, dark glossy green leaves

1J.E. Klett, Colorado State University Extension landscape horticulturist and professor, department of horticulture and landscape architecture; and C.R. Wilson, Extension horticulture agent, Denver County. Revised from original fact sheet authored by J.R. Feucht, retired. 3/96. Revised 1/09.

Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.

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Updated Monday, July 21, 2014

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