Xeriscaping: Ground Cover Plants
by J.E. Klett and C.R. Wilson1 (1/09)
- 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|
|4-8||White||Spring||Toothed, gray leaves|
|2-4||Yellow||Summer||Woolly, gray foliage in low mats|
|1-2||White to pink||Late spring to early summer||Persistent gray-green foliage in dense mats; excellent for rocky slopes|
|6-15||Yellow||Late summer||Blooms not showy, silver gray fringed foliage, woody stems|
Blue grama grass
|12-18||Tan||Summer to fall||Clump-forming native, sow seed to form solid cover, shade intolerant|
|6-12||Red||Summer to fall||Vigorous trailing stems, Plant Select®|
|6-8||White||Spring to summer||Gray foliage, aggressive spreader|
|8-12||Violet-blue||Late summer to fall||Shiny green leaves, purplish fall leaf color|
|1-6||Red, yellow, white, fuchsia||Spring to fall||Succulent leaves|
|4-6||Pink with white centers||Summer to fall||Cushion growth form, requires dry soil in winters, Plant Select®|
|D. ‘John Proffit’
|2-4||Fuchsia||Spring to fall||Durable, leaves turn purple in winter, Plant Select®|
|D. ‘Kelaidis’ PP#13,876
|2-4||Salmon-pink||Spring to fall||Vigorous, compact habit, Plant Select®|
|1-2||Yellow||Early to mid summer||Light green, compact foliage turns purplish in winter|
LAVENDER ICE TM
|2-3||Lavender||Spring to fall||Foliage turns purple in winter, Plant Select®|
|4-6||Yellow||Late spring to summer||Aggressive creeper, inedible red fruit|
|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®|
Blue fescue grass
|6-15||Tan||Summer||Bunch grass producing tufts of blue-gray foliage|
|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|
|12-18||Bright green foliage on horizontal branches|
|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|
|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®|
|‘Mersea Yellow’||6-8||Yellow||Summer||Needle-like leaves|
|6||Red, white, lavender||Spring||Moss-like foliage|
Himalayan border jewel
|2-4||Yellow||Late spring to early summer||Low mat, aggressive|
|8-10||Dark blue||Spring to early summe||Silvery white foliage, slow spreading, Plant Select®|
|2-4||Yellow||Early summer||Bright green evergreen leaves|
|4-6||Orange to yellow||Late summer||Toothed, glossy dark green leaves|
|2-4||Rose red||Mid summer||Red edged foliage turns solid red in fall|
‘Helene von Stein’ lamb’s ears
|8-10||Not important||Not important||Large leaves, rarely flowers|
|1-4||Pink||Spring to early summer||Fragrant, evergreen foliage|
|1-2||Pink||Spring to early summer||Woolly-gray foliage turns purplish in winter, sparse flowers|
|3-6||Pink to purple||Late spring||Mint-like fragrance|
|Thymus x citriodorus
|6-12||Pink||Early summer||Lemon scented foliage|
Valley lavender ®
|3-6||Purple||Summer||Flowers held above plant with deeply cut leaves, Plant Select®|
Crystal River ® veronica
|2-4||Blue||Spring to early summer||Evergreen, fast growing, vigorous, Plant Select®|
|1-2||Blue||Late spring to early summer||Dark green leaves, evergreen, Plant Select®|
|1-2||Blue||Early summer||Gray foliage, evergreen in mild winters, tolerates part shade|
Orange Carpet ®
|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|
|4-6||Pink||Spring||Evergreen, red berries, native|
|12-18||Not important||Not important||Glossy dark green leaves turn purple in winter|
Creeping Oregon grape
|6-18||Yellow||Spring||Evergreen holly-like foliage turns reddish in fall, native|
|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, August 11, 2014