no. 7.400

Ground Cover Plants

by J.E. Klett and R.A. Cox1 (1/09)

Quick Facts...

  • Ground covers help link together ornamental plants.
  • Plants that are low-growing (generally less than 24 inches) and spread easily are suitable ground cover plants.
  • Ideally, a ground cover should be dense enough to inhibit weeds.
  • Build walkways through areas intended for foot traffic before planting a ground cover.
  • Incorporate compost or another good quality organic material into soils before planting.
  • Use ground covers to prevent soil erosion, as a design element, or where grass is not practical.

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, however, grow so fast they can become invasive.

A ground cover should be sufficiently dense to inhibit competition from weeds. If the ground cover will be used to prevent soil erosion on a steep slope, it should have a vigorous growth habit and extensive root system.

Considerations

Control existing weeds before planting ground covers. Weeds may reduce the attractiveness of the ground cover or compete with it for resources such as water and nutrients. No one species of ground cover plant works for every landscape situation. Consider the following factors before selecting a ground cover for a specific situation:

  • To maintain design balance, select lower-growing ground covers for smaller areas and taller ones for larger areas or steep slopes.
  • The amount of sun versus shade and the exposure to winter sun and winds are important considerations in selecting a ground cover.
  • Most ground covers will not tolerate excessive foot traffic. If foot traffic is anticipated, install a walkway through the area before planting the ground cover.
  • Improve soils with good quality organic matter before planting. Incorporate 2 to 4 cubic yards of compost or other organic materials into each 1,000 square foot area.

Maintenance

All ground cover plantings require maintenance, some more than others. This contradicts the common perception that ground covers are “no-maintenance plants.” Lawns also are considered ground covers, but may require more maintenance than some other ground cover choices.

Evergreen ground covers, such as creeping juniper, require little care. Ground covers that develop flowers and fruit often require more maintenance to keep them attractive. Weeds may become a significant maintenance problem in a ground cover planting if not managed properly.

Table 1: Selected ground covers for hot, dry, sunny exposures.

Plant Name Type Flower Color Bloom Time Remarks
Small areas under 50 sq. ft.
Achillea ageratifolia
Greek yarrow
Herbaceous White June-Aug. Short (2-3 in.) and spreading; gray-green foliage.
Achillea tomentosa
Woolly yarrow
Herbaceous Yellow June-Aug. Poor soil; woolly foliage; spreading.
Anacyclus pyrethrum depressus
Mount Atlas daisy
Herbaceous White April-May White daisies with red undersides; silvery foliage.
Antennaria dioica
Pussytoes
Herbaceous White to pink May-June Native; silver gray, mat-like foliage; unique flowers.
Arabis caucasica
Rockcress
Herbaceous,
evergreen
White
to pink
April-May Soft, gray, spreading foliage.
Arenaria montana
Mountain sandwort
Herbaceous White May-June Covered in flowers; trailing habit.
Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’
Silver mound sage
Herbaceous Unimportant
--
Mounded, feathery, aromatic, silver-gray foliage.
Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’
Silver brocade sage
Herbaceous Unimportant
--
Finely-cut, velvety silver foliage; mat forming.
Aurinia saxatilis (Alyssum saxatile)
Basket-of-gold
Herbaceous Yellow April-May Shear after bloom.
Coreopsis auriculata
Dwarf coreopsis
Herbaceous Orange, yellow June-Sept. Stoloniferous mats of slender leaves.
Penstemon pinifolius
Pineleaf penstemon
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Reddish-
orange, yellow
June-Sept. Needle-like, evergreen foliage.
Saponaria ocymoides
Rock soapwort
Herbaceous Pink May-July Shear after bloom.
Sedum acre
Goldmoss sedum
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Yellow May-June Low growing; succulent, dark green leaves.
Sedum kamschaticum
Kamschatka sedum
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Orange,
yellow
July-Aug. Scalloped, succulent, green leaves.
Sedum spurium
Sedum, stonecrop
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Red July-Aug. Succulent leaves; commonly sold varieties are ‘Dragon’s Blood’ and ‘Tricolor.’
Sempervivum spp.
Houseleek, hen and chicks
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Unimportant
--
Succulent, evergreen leaves in rosettes.
Stachys byzantina
Lamb’s ear
Herbaceous Purple June-July Furry, gray leaves resemble a lamb’s ear.
Tanacetum densum amani
Partridge feather
Herbaceous Yellow May-Jun Finely-cut, silvery-white foliage.
Thymus praecox
Creeping thyme
Herbaceous Pink, red, white June-July Low growing, evergreen foliage.
Verbena bipinnatifida
Native verbena
Herbaceous Purple May-Sept. Deeply-cut foliage; sprawling stems.
Verbena canadensis
Verbena
Herbaceous Purple July-Sept. Vigorous groundcover; common variety ‘Homestead Purple.’
Zauschneria californica latifolia
Hummingbird flower
Herbaceous Red, orange Aug.-Oct. Gray-green leaves; good for attracting hummingbirds.
Large areas - greater than 50 sq. ft.
Artemisia frigida
Fringed sage
Herbaceous Yellow Aug- Sept. Fringed, silvery-gray foliage; good for naturalized areas.
Callirhoe involucrata
Poppy mallow, winecups
Herbaceous Reddish-purple June-Aug. Trailing stems with saucer-like flowers; Plant Select®.
Cerastium tomentosum
Snow-in-summer
Herbaceous White May-June Aggressive; shear after bloom.
Delosperma cooperi
Purple ice plant
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Purple June-frost Succulent foliage turns reddish in winter.
Delosperma nubigenum
Yellow ice plant
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Yellow May-June Succulent foliage turns reddish in winter.
Fragaria vesca
Strawberry
Herbaceous White, pink May-June Native strawberry; small edible berries.
Juniperus x media
Spreading juniper
Woody, evergreen Unimportant
--
Several low-growing varieties including ‘Armstrong’ and ‘Holbert.’
Juniperus horizontalis
Creeping juniper
Woody,
evergreen
Unimportant
--
Several low-growing varieties including ‘Bar Harbor,’ ‘Blue Chip,’ ‘Prince of Wales’ and ‘Wiltonii.’
Juniperus sabina
Savin juniper
Woody,
evergreen
Unimportant
--
Several low-growing varieties including ‘Broadmoor,’ ‘Buffalo,’ and ‘Scandia.’
Oenothera speciosa
Mexican evening primrose
Herbaceous Pink June-Oct. Spreads quickly, may become invasive.
Polygonum aubertii
Silver lace vine

Woody, Herbaceous

White July-Sept. Aggressive vine usable as ground cover.
Polygonum cuspidatum ‘Compactum’
Japanese fleece flower
Woody, Herbaceous Pink Aug.-Sept. Aggressive; thick, green leaves with red veins; red fall color; excellent ground cover for dry areas.
Potentilla neumanniana
Creeping cinquefoil
Herbaceous Yellow May-Aug. Bright green foliage; spreads quickly.
Prunus besseyi
'Pawnee Buttes®'
Pawnee Buttes® sandcherry
Woody White April-May Same species as native sandcherry but with a low, spreading habit; orange/red fall color; Plant Select®.
Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’
Fragrant sumac
Woody Yellow March-April Vibrant orange-red fall color; very drought tolerant.
Rosa x ‘Sea Foam
Sea Foam rose
Woody White June-Aug. Double-white blooms; trailing groundcover or over walls.
 
Table 2: Selected ground covers for sun to part shade
Small areas - greater than 50 ft.
Plant Name Type Flower Color Bloom Time Remarks
Alyssum montanum
Mountain alyssum
Herbaceous Yellow April-May Gray foliage.
Armeria maritima
Sea pink
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Pink, white, purple May-June Grass-like foliage; several varieties.
Aubrieta deltoidea
False rockcress
Herbaceous Purple,
blue, red
May-June Several varieties; mat-like foliage.
Bergenia ‘Winterglut’
Winter glow bergenia
Herbaceous Pink April-May Low, cabbage-like foliage.
Campanula poscharskyana
Adriatic bluebells
Herbaceous Blue May-June Spreads quickly; good for rock gardens.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
Plumbago
Herbaceous Dark blue Aug.-Sept. Attractive green foliage turns red in fall.
Dianthus deltoides
‘Brilliant’ ‘Zing Rose’ Maiden Pink
Herbaceous Red May-June Dark green foliage; mat-like.
Festuca ovina (glauca)
Blue fescue
Herbaceous Unimportant
--
Silvery-blue clump grass.
Geranium cinereum
Cranesbill
Herbaceous Pink, purple May-July Leaves are deeply divided; clump forming
Geranium dalmaticum
Compact rose geranium
Herbaceous Pink May-June Foliage turns red in fall.
Geranium x cantabrigiense
Biokovo cranesbill
Herbaceous Pink, white May-July Foliage turns red in fall.
Gypsophila repens
Creeping baby's breath
Herbaceous White, pink June-July Mat-like.
Heuchera sanguinea
Coral bells
Herbaceous Red, pink,
white
June-Aug. Mounded foliage with taller bell-shaped flowers.
Iberis sempervirens
Candytuft
Herbaceous,
evergreen
White May-June Dark green, mounded foliage.
Persicaria affinis
Himalayan border jewel
Herbaceous Pink Aug.-Sept. Mat-like foliage becomes copper in fall.
Phlox subulata
Creeping phlox
Herbaceous,
evergreen
Pink, white,
lavender
April-May Several varieties; needle-like foliage.
Potentilla nepalensis
‘Miss Willmott'
Miss Willmott cinquefoil
Herbaceous Rose, red June-July Strawberry-like leaves.
Thymus x citriodorus
Lemon thyme
Herbaceous, evergreen Purple June-July Lemon-scented foliage.
Thymus pseudolanuginosus
Woolly thyme
Herbaceous, evergreen Pink, purple June-July Mat-like, woolly-gray foliage; turns purplish in winter; sparse flowers.
Thymus serpyllum
Mother-of-thyme
Herbaceous, evergreen Purple June-July Aromatic foliage; mat-like
Veronica filiformis
Birdseye speedwell
Herbaceous Blue June-Aug. Grows quickly in dry conditions.
Veronica liwanensis
Turkish veronica
Herbaceous Blue May-June Low growing; dark green leaves; Plant Select®.
Veronica pectinata
Woolly veronica
Herbaceous Lavender May-June Low growing; gray foliage; evergreen some winters.
Veronica peduncularis
Speedwell
Herbaceous Blue May-June Commonly sold variety is ‘Georgia Blue’
Veronica prostrata
Prostrate speedwell
Herbaceous Blue to purple May-June Dense mats.
Veronica repens
Creeping speedwell
Herbaceous Blue to purple May-June Dense mats.
Veronica spicata incana
Silver speedwell
Herbaceous Blue May-July Silvery foliage.
Waldsteinia fragarioides
Barren strawberry
Herbaceous, evergreen Yellow April-May Sparse fruit is inedible.
Waldsteinia ternata
Siberian barren strawberry
Herbaceous Yellow April-May Compact growth habit; fruit inedible.
Zauschneria garrettii
'Orange Carpet®'
Orange Carpet®
Hummingbird trumpet
Herbaceous Orange Aug.-Sept. Good for cascading over walls; tubular flowers; Plant Select®.
Large areas - greater than 50 sq. ft.
Campsis radicans
Trumpet vine
Herbaceous Yellow,
orange, red
July-Aug. Can use as vine or ground cover; very aggressive.
Cotoneaster apiculatus
Cranberry cotoneaster
Woody Pink May-June Attractive, red fruit; maroon fall color.
Cotoneaster dammeri
‘Coral Beauty’
Coral Beauty cotoneaster
Woody White, pink May-June Bronze fall color; abundant orange-red fruit.
Cotoneaster horizontalis
Rock cotoneaster
Woody Pink April-May Semi-evergreen; small rounded leaves with fall color.
Duchesnea indica
Mock strawberry
Herbaceous Yellow May Aggressive; bright red, inedible fruit.
Juniperus communis
Common juniper
Woody, evergreen
--
--
Performs best in acidic soils.
Juniperus squamata
‘Blue Star’
Blue Star juniper
Woody, evergreen
--
--
Bluish-white foliage; dense growth habit.
Lonicera japonica
‘Halliana’
Hall's honeysuckle
Woody, evergreen White, yellow July-Aug. Can use as vine or ground cover.
Lysimachia nummularia
Moneywort
Herbaceous Yellow June-July Aggressive; prefers moist soil.
Nepeta x faassenii
Catmint
Herbaceous Lavender, blue May-Aug. Commonly sold varieties are ‘Six Hills Giant’ and ‘Walker’s Low.’
Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Virginia creeper
Woody
--
--
Can use as vine or groundcover; aggressive; red fall color; commonly sold variety is ‘Engelmannii.’
Parthenocissus tricuspidata
Boston ivy
Woody
--
--
Can use as a clinging vine or ground cover; aggressive; red fall color.
Potentilla neumanniana
Creeping potentilla
Herbaceous Yellow May-Aug. Commonly sold variety is ‘Nana.’
Prunella grandiflora
Self-heal
Herbaceous Purple, rose, white June-July Dense mat; several varieties.
Prunella laciniata
Lacy self heal
Herbaceous Pink May-June Fuzzy evergreen foliage.
Teucrium chamaedrys
Germander
Woody, evergreen Pink, purple June-July Dark green leaves; erect stems; can be sheared.
Symphoricarpos x chenaulti
‘Hancock’
Hancock coralberry
Woody Pink, white June-Aug. Can spread to 12; stems root where they touch the ground.

 

Table 3: Selected ground covers for part to deep shade.

Plant Name Type Flower Color Bloom Time Remarks
Small areas - under 50 sq. ft.
Ajuga reptans
Carpet bugle
Herbaceous Blue/pink, white/purple May-June Varieties include ‘Atropurpurea,’ ‘Burgundy Glow’ and ‘Silver Beauty'.
Convallaria majalis
Lily-of-the-valley
Herbaceous White May-June Drooping, fragrant flowers.
Hosta spp.
Hosta, plantain lily
Herbaceous Lilac to white July-Aug. Many varieties; primarily grown for foliage effect.
Lamiastrum galeobdolon
Archangel
Herbaceous Yellow May-June Silver-flecked foliage; commonly sold variety is ‘Herman’s’ Pride.’
Paxistima cambyi
Mountain lover
Woody, evergreen
--
--
Small shrub; prostrate growth.
Phlox stolonifera
Running mat phlox
Herbaceous, evergreen Blue, purple, pink May-June Commonly sold varieties are ‘Blue Ridge’ and ‘Pink Ridge.’
Sagina subulata
Pearlwort, Irish moss
Herbaceous,
evergreen
White May-June Dense, moss-like mat; moist soil.
Viola cornuta
Tufted pansy
Herbaceous Violet May-June Many varieties with various flower colors; moist soil.
Viola odorata
Sweet violet
Herbaceous Violet May-June Several varieties; potentially invasive.
 
Large Areas - greater than 50 sq. ft.
Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’
Snow-on-the-mountain,
bishop’s goutweed
Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’
Snow-on-the-mountain,
bishop’s goutweed
White June-July Looks best in moist soil; grown for foliage effect; invasive, aggressive.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Kinnikinick
Woody, evergreen Light pink April-May Native; prefers acid soil; bright red fruits; glossy, evergreen leaves turn copper-red in fall.
Euonymus fortunei ‘Colorata’
Purpleleaf wintercreeper
Woody, evergreen
--
--
Foliage turns purple through winter; many other varieties.
Galium odoratum
Sweet woodruff
Herbaceous White May-June Fragrant; aggressive.
Glechoma hederacea
Ground ivy
Herbaceous Blue, purple May-July Member of the mint family; aggressive; variegated varieties available.
Hedera helix
English ivy
Woody, evergreen
--
--
Can use as clinging vine or groundcover; aggressive; foliage may winterburn on exposed sites.
Lamium maculatum
Spotted deadnettle
Herbaceous Pink, white April-June Many varieties, including ‘Beacon Silver’ and ‘White Nancy’; most with variegated foliage.
Mahonia repens
Creeping Oregon grape
Woody,
evergreen
Yellow April-May Native; spiny foliage turns reddish purple in fall; may winterburn on exposed sites; blue, grape-like fruits.
Pachysandra terminalis
Japanese spurge
Herbaceous,
evergreen
White April-May Glossy foliage; needs moist, acidic soil.
Vinca minor
Periwinkle
Herbaceous, evergreen Blue April-May Several varieties; best in moist soil and deep shade.

1J.E. Klett, Colorado State University Extension horticulture specialist and professor, horticulture and landscape architecture; and R.A. Cox, Extension horticulture agent, Arapahoe County. 12/95. 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 Wednesday, January 08, 2014

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