11 great garden ground covers

June 30, 2015

An alternative to grass, different ground covers are better suited to different areas of the garden. Here are some top-notch choices for tough sites including slopes and shaded areas.

11 great garden ground covers

Different ground covers for different parts of the garden

  • Steep slopes tend to be very dry because rainfall runs off instead of soaking in, so they call for sturdy ground covers that can survive without much moisture.
  • Shady areas require ground covers that can thrive without much sunlight.
  • Under shrubs and trees, ground covers should not compete for nourishment.
  • Ground covers for edging should be particularly dense and hardy.

For slopes

1. Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontals)

  • Dense, shrubby, evergreen mounds of woody stems with short green or bluish needles; about 60 centimetres tall.
  • Full sun

2. Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp. and hybrids)

  • Deciduous clumps of narrow, strap-like leaves plus trumpet-shaped summer flowers in a wide range of colours; 30 centimetres to 1.2 metres tall.
  • Sun to partial shade

3. English ivy (Hedera helix)

  • Long, vining stems with shiny evergreen leaves that are deep green, green and white, or green and yellow; 15 to 30 centimetres tall.
  • Partial to full shade

4. Rock rose (Heliantheum nummularium)

  • Low, mounding shrubs with grey-green leaves plus pink, orange, yellow or white flowers in late spring; 30 to 60 centimetres tall.
  • Full sun

5. Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontals)

  • Spreading mounds with deciduous, glossy green leaves that turn red in fall; 60 centimetres to 1 metre tall.
  • Full sun

6. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortune)

  • Fast-growing creeping or mounding plants with deep green or variegated evergreen leaves; 30 centimetres to 1 metre tall.
  • Full sun to full shade

As lawn alternatives in shade

7. Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminals)

  • Upright, 15- to 20-centimetre stems bear whorls of glossy, rich green foliage all year long, plus short spikes of fragrant white flowers in late spring.
  • Space plants 15 to 30 centimetres apart

8. Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

  • Slender, trailing stems clad in small, glossy, deep green leaves create dense evergreen carpets that are 15 to 20 centimetres high. The pretty sky-blue spring blooms are a bonus!
  • Space plants about 30 centimetres apart

For under shrubs and trees

9. Dwarf Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis var. pumila) 

  • Low, dense masses of lacy green leaves are accented with brushy, 30-centimetre plumes of pink flowers in summer.
  • Space plants 20 to 30 centimetres apart

10. Spotted lamium (Lamium maculatum)

  • Dense, mounding plants form 15- to 20-centimetre mats of silver-and-green leaves 15 to 20 centimetres high and accented with pink or white flowers from mid-spring to midsummer.
  • Set plants about 30 centimetres apart

As broad edgings for lawns and hard surfaces

11. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptant)

  • Low rosettes of deep green, bronze or variegated leaves are 8 to 10 centimetres tall; they are evergreen in mild climates; 10- to 15-centimetre spikes of blue or pink flowers bloom in late spring.
  • Space plants 20 to 30 centimetres apart
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