Perennials That Make Striking Ground Covers
Perennial ground cover plants are invaluable in landscaping.
From filling out empty spaces and adding texture and interest to the garden to stabilizing slopes and limiting weed growth, these low-growing plants serve several purposes in landscapes.
Forming dense covers on the ground, these plants set an interesting and eye-catching foundation for your garden and give it a far more finished look than the bare soil.
They also help maintain the soil temperature by forming a layer above the ground.
This, in turn, helps protect the roots of other plants from getting damaged due to extreme weather.
Groundcovers also work like mulch, helping the soil to conserve moisture for longer while also improving the soil quality.
When groundcover plants spread across the ground, they form a web of roots, which helps prevent soil erosion.
Lastly, they also help attract many beneficial insects to your garden by providing an ideal habitat for them.
Since groundcovers are also inexpensive, generally easy to care for, and are available in evergreen and flowering varieties, they make excellent choices for adding visual interest to your garden, along with offering support to other garden plants.
A popular choice for growing in beds and borders, groundcover plants are available in a huge variety.
Here are some of the best perennials for use as ground covers:
Hostas (Hosta spp.)
Hosta plants are from a genus of herbaceous perennial plants, commonly known as plantain lilies, from the family Asparagaceae.
Native to northeast Asia, particularly to China, Korea, Japan, and the Far East region of Russia, the plants are widely grown as ground covers across the world.
In the United States, the hosta species are the most popular ground cover species due to their ability to tolerate low-light conditions and even full shade and easy care.
Hardy to USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9, the plants easily adapt to almost all soil types as long as they are well-drained.
While the plants develop some drought tolerance when established, they appreciate and grow best in moist soil.
In summer, hostas produce white, pink, or lavender flowers, which look great against the green foliage.
False Lamium (Lamiastrum Galeobdolon)
Lamiastrum Galeobdolon, now called Lamium Galeobdolon, is a large-leaved perennial species from the family Lamiaceae, commonly known as the sage, deadnettle, or mint family.
The plant is native to Europe and western Asia and is generally known with its common names – yellow archangel, yellow weasel-snout, aluminum plant, and artillery plant.
Featuring large, ovate, toothed, and oppositely arranged leaves, the plant grows up to only 1’ to 2’ feet in height and forms a loose spreading mat of green foliage.
Lamiastrum galeobdolon is an easy-to-grow and low-maintenance plant and is easily grown in a variety of soil types with moderate to low watering and partial shade to full shade.
However, it grows best in moderately moist soils in partially shaded locations.
In summer (June), the plant produces yellow blooms with brown spots.
Once established, the plant becomes drought tolerant and starts spreading through self-seeding.
It is also deer tolerant.
Carpet Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
Producing highly attractive blue-violet flowers in mid to late spring or early summer, Ajuga reptans is a rapidly growing species of the Lamiaceae family.
Featuring glossy, dark green leaves and long whorls of small but showy flowers, the plant displays a mat-forming growth habit and quickly forms a dense groundcover.
The plant is native to Europe, northern Africa, and southwestern Asia and is commonly known as carpet bugleweed, bugleweed, bugle herb, blue bugle, bugle, common bugle, and carpetweed.
It is traditionally known as the St. Lawrence plant.
The name, however, is not commonly used.
Similar to most other ground cover species, bugleweed is very easy to grow.
Grow it in moist, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade, and you’ll have a dense and attractive groundcover.
Several cultivars of carpetweed plants are also available and are grown for their varied foliage color.
The plant is deer tolerant, rabbit tolerant, and black walnut tolerant.
However, it is not tolerant of foot traffic.
Blue Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
The blue Plumbago or botanically Ceratostigma plumbaginoides and commonly referred to as the hardy blue-flowered leadwort, leadwort, hardy plumbago is a flowering herbaceous perennial from the family Plumbaginaceae.
Growing up to only 20” inches tall, the plant displays a mat-forming growth habit.
In addition to its undemanding nature and low-maintenance needs, the plant is widely grown for its late-season color.
The leadwort species has a long bloom period and produces bright blue to deep blue flowers from late summer to early autumn.
Sometimes, its leaves also change color from green to red or purple before falling off the plant.
Native to western China, the plant is mainly seen growing in rocky foothills in Beijing, Zhejiang, Shanxi, Jiangsu, and Shi Henan.
However, it is cultivated as a groundcover, for ornamental purposes, throughout the temperate regions.
In the United States, it can easily be grown in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9.
Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
Hardy to USDA zones 5 to 8, Chrysogonum virginianum forms a highly attractive ground cover with bright yellow flowers scattered over a dense carpet of green leaves.
A member of the Asteraceae family, the plant is native to the eastern United States, where it is seen growing from Rhode Island and New York State to Florida Panhandle and Louisiana in the south.
The flowers of this rhizomatous, low-growing plant are star-shaped and daisy-like and bloom from May to October.
Due to the color and shape of its flowers, the plant is commonly known as Goldenstar.
Chrysogonum virginianum is also referred to as green and gold.
Goldenstar appreciates full sun in the morning but will tolerate partial to full shade.
It will also tolerate hot and dry summer weather.
Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)
A rhizomatous perennial flowering plant from the family Iridaceae, Iris cristata is native to the northeastern United States – from Maryland to Oklahoma to Mississippi and Georgia.
However, this close relative of iris lacustris (dwarf lake iris) is widely cultivated throughout the temperate regions of the world as an ornamental ground cover.
The narrow, sword-shaped leaves of this iris species grow from branching rhizomes and have a yellowish-green to medium-color.
The flowers, on the other hand, grow on very short stems.
The pale blue, lavender, or lilac flowers feature gold crests on the falls and are fragrant.
Strawberry Begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera)
Commonly known as the Strawberry begonia, along with many other common names, Saxifraga stolonifera spreads rapidly and heavily through red stolons (creeping horizontal stems), forming a striking ground cover of small, round, silver-veined leaves.
The groundcover looks even more attractive in late spring when the plant produces small white flowers on about 2’ feet long plumes.
A member of the Saxifragaceae family, this herbaceous perennial species is native to East Asia – China, Korea, and Japan.
However, it is also widespread in most of the temperate areas of North America and Eurasia.
It is easy to grow and requires minimal care.
Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
Iberis sempervirens, also known as perennial candytuft and evergreen candytuft, is a mounding, woody, flowering plant with an average height of 12” inches.
The plant grows best in well-drained soil under full sun and is also drought tolerant.
It is also fairly winter-hardy.
Provided the right conditions, candytuft spreads quite rapidly and produces clusters of showy white blooms from late spring to early summer.
The flowers attract some birds and butterflies, which also act as pollinators.
The plant, however, is deer and rabbit tolerant.
It is a great choice for people looking for an unusual groundcover.
Robb’s Spurge (Euphorbia Robbiae)
Featuring dark green, shiny, and leathery leaves and beautiful chartreuse (lime green) flowers in early spring, Robb’s spurge is a slow-spreading groundcover from the Euphorbia or Spurges family.
It is hardy and grows well in full sun, partial shade, and full shade.
However, it needs to be protected from the winter wind.
While the plant is deer and rabbit resistant, you should also keep children and pets away from it, especially during and after pruning.
This is because the plant produces a milky sap when pruned, which is a bit poisonous.
Pink Dianthus (Sweet William Flower)
Featuring blue-green leaves and beautiful and showy pink flowers (from May to July), Dianthus plant forms a stunning groundcover under full sun.
Ideal for rocky and drier sites, the plant cannot tolerate standing water and hence, requires well-drained soil.
A member of the Caryophyllaceae family from Europe and North Asia, the plant has acquired an interesting common name – cheddar pink – due to its flower color.
Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
Phlox divaricata is a semi-evergreen flowering plant from the family Polemoniaceae.
The plant is native to eastern North America, where it grows in fields and forests, and is prized for its attractive flowers.
Produced on the stem tips in loose clusters, in spring, the flowers are tubular and slightly fragrant.
But, what makes them highly valuable is their varied color.
The flower color of woodland phlox can range from rose to lilac to lavender or violet to blue.
Easily grown in part shade to full shade, the plant has moderate water requirements and spreads readily.
It is also known with the common names of wild blue phlox and wild sweet William.
Maiden Grasses (Miscanthus spp.)
Native to Africa, Eurasia, and some Pacific Islands, Miscanthus is a small genus of grasses from the Poaceae family.
Some of the grass species are evergreen, while others are deciduous.
Regardless of their nature, the plants produce spreading tufts and flower spikes bearing silky flowers from late summer to autumn.
Mainly grown as ornamental grasses and groundcovers, the miscanthus species are available in several cultivars and hybrids.
Fountain Grasses (Pennisetum spp.)
Another genus of grasses from the family Poaceae, Pennisetum, comprises about 80 to 140 species, which are native to Asia, Africa, Australia, and Latin America, in particular.
Some of the species, however, have also become widely naturalized in many temperate and tropical regions of the world.
Fountain grasses are annual or perennial, remain small, or can grow up to 26’ feet tall.
All the species, however, produce the same type of inflorescence – dense and narrow panicles with fascicles of bristled spikelets.
Pearl millet (P. glaucum), a species of frontier grass, is widely used as a food crop worldwide, whereas Napier grass (P. purpureum) is used to feed livestock in Africa.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Easy and quick to grow, deer and rabbit resistant, and low-maintenance, creeping thymes make beautiful groundcovers.
They are also tolerant of foot traffic and helps prevent weed growth, once established.
Members of the Lamiaceae family, the plants produce aromatic leaves and showy blooms during late spring or early summer.
As opposed to their edible relatives, these plants are grown for their varying heights, textures, and flower colors.
Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)
Helleborus orientalis, commonly known as Hellebore and Lenten rose, is a perennial species known for its large leathery leaves and attractive blooms.
When grown in moist and well-drained soil under partial shade, the plant produces large clusters of saucer-shaped flowers in pink, white, green, mauve, smoky purple, or primrose color.
The plant typically blooms in spring, but can sometimes start producing flowers as early as February.
It belongs to the family Ranunculaceae and is native to Turkey, Greece, and the Caucasus.
The sap of Lenten rose may cause skin irritation to some people.
Therefore, it is recommended to wear protective gloves when working with this plant.
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia Nummularia)
LysimachiaNummularia, sometimes also referred to as Lysimachia zawadzki Wiesner, is a flowering species of the Primulaceae family.
Due to the shape of its leaves, the plant is commonly known as creeping jenny, moneywort, twopenny grass, and herb twopence.
Nummularia also means a coin.
The small round lime green leaves make a striking background for yellow cup-shaped blooms, which appear on the plant in summer.
While the plant can easily tolerate partial shade, it produces the best flower color when grown in full sun.
It spreads quickly through rhizomes and self-seeding and generally forms large colonies within a short time.
Biokovo Hardy Geranium (Geranium Xcantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’)
An attractive natural hybrid Geranium varieties, Biokovo hardy geranium, was discovered in the Biokova Mountains in Croatia.
Hence, it was named after the mountains.
Featuring aromatic green leaves, which looks similar to coriander leaves, the rhizomatous plant forms low, but spreading mounds, eventually forming a dense groundcover.
What makes the plant even more attractive is the fall foliage color – the leaves turn coppery orange to red in the fall.
To further add to its color and beauty, the plant produces clusters of white flowers, with pink stamens, from mid/ late spring to mid-summer.
The flowers are also highly attractive to bees and butterflies, making it an ideal choice for gardens.
Creeping Raspberry (Rubusca lycinoides)
Rubusca lycinoides, also known as Rubushayata-koidzumii, is a low-growing species from the Rosaceae family.
It produces a mass of thick, richly textured, and glossy emerald green leaves on long spreading branches.
The leaves often turn raspberry-red during the fall, adding color to an otherwise dull garden.
During late spring or early summer, the plant produces small white flowers followed by the production of salmon-red fruits.
The fruits are edible, but not very flavored.
Grow the plant in moderately fertile and well-drained soil under full sun or partial shade, and it will gradually spread to form a striking, durable, and pest-free groundcover.
Established plants are also drought tolerant.
Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)
Lamium maculatum, commonly known as spotted dead-nettle, purple dragon, and spotted henbit, is a flowering plant species from the family Lamiaceae.
Native to Europe and temperate regions of Asia, the plant is known for its varying leaf shape and size and flower color.
It features erect and pubescent stems, which are only branched at the base, long, hairy, and toothed leaf blades in ovate-triangular to the heart shape, and small clusters of white, pink, or magenta hermaphrodite flowers.
It is low-maintenance and can easily be grown in partial shade to full shade.
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Named after its sweet-smelling foliage, sweet woodruff belongs to the Rubiaceae family.
It is native to most of the areas of Europe, western Siberia, Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, Japan, and China.
The plant has also been naturalized in some parts of Canada and the United States.
Since the plant lies flat on the ground without support, it makes an excellent groundcover.
The sweet-smelling foliage and showy and fragrant white flowers make it even more ideal for landscapes.
Due to its large native range, the plant has acquired several common names over the years.
These include sweet-scented bedstraw, woodruff, and wild baby’s breath.
White-Flowered Mazus (Mazus japonicus ‘Albiflorus’)
Producing small two-lipped white and blue or purple flowers on the flowering stems above a basal rosette of leaves, this Mazaceae species is known for its evergreen foliage.
When grown in the right conditions – in consistently moist soil under full sun to partial shade – the plant forms an excellent groundcover.
It is sometimes confused with Taraxacum Officinale (Dandelion).
However, the two are completely different species.
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
Creeping phlox, also known as Phlox subulata, is a Polemoniaceae species native to the sandy and rocky location in the eastern and central United States.
It has also been naturalized to some North American regions, including Quebec, in Canada.
The plant features two types of stems – creeping and erect flowering stems – and produce showy, colorful flowers from April and May.
The flower color varies from white to pink to pale purple.
While creeping phlox is a low-maintenance plant, it prefers rich, organic, acidic, well-drained, and consistently moist soil.
It easily grows in full sun to partial shade and spreads by stolons, forming large colonies and thick foliage mat.
Foamflowers (Tiarella spp.)
Tiarella (foam flower) is a small genus of hardy perennial flowering plants from the Saxifragaceae family.
The plants are native to Asia and North America and feature rounded, toothed leaves and small star-shaped flowers in white, pink, or purple color.
The flowers grow in clusters on long racemes, which extend way beyond the foliage.
When grown in moist soils and shaded locations, the plants from great groundcovers.
Several cultivars and hybrids of Tiarella species have also been developed over the years.
Heuchera Coral Bells
Heuchera also referred to as coral bells, is a clump-forming perennial with eye-catching foliage.
It produces striking grey-pink leaves, which are prominently veined and form compact mounds of spreading foliage when grown in light shade.
In late spring or early summer, small white flowers with purple tinge are borne on long stems, further enhancing the plant’s appeal.
Coral bells are fairly winter-hardy as well as highly attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.
Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis scorpioides)
The Forget Me Not Flower is often found growing near streams, brooks, and other water bodies, Myosotis is a moisture and humidity loving plant which grows easily and spreads through self-seeding.
The plant grows best in a shaded location but can adapt to full sun as well.
Often producing healthy growth with minimal care, the plant is characterized by its stunning blue flowers with yellow centers, which grow on the plant from May till October.
This low-maintenance plant is native to the United States.
Trailing Verbena (Verbena canadensis)
Verbena canadensis is also known as Rose Verbena, Rose Vervain, and trailing verbena is a low-growing Verbenaceae species native to the United States – from Virginia to Florida.
Growing well in sunny areas in well-drained soil, the plant features pinnately-lobed leaves and colorful inflorescences, which look like umbel.
Due to its attractive foliage and flowers, several cultivars of this verbena species have been developed out of which ‘Homestead Purple’ has gained immense popularity because of its purple flowers and long bloom time.
This low-growing and spreading species of the carnation (Caryophyllaceae) family is native to alpine regions of Europe – Italy and Sicily in particular – and is characterized by its hairy (tomentose) foliage.
It produces silver-grey stems and leaves and white star-like flowers in summer.
When in bloom, the plant looks as if snow has fallen on the leaves.
Hence, the common name snow-in-summer.
Cerastium tomentosum is not a demanding plant and easily grows in poor soils with minimal care.
However, it grows best in well-drained soils and full sun.
The plant has also been naturalized in Frances, the United States, and Canada.
Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca)
A small size grass species valued for its early bloom and attractive foliage, blue fescue displays a clump-forming growth habit.
The foliage is semi-evergreen and has a fine texture and an attractive light blue color.
While the plant prefers moist, moderately rich, and well-drained soil, it easily adapts to a variety of soil types, including the poor ones.
Blue fescue is also fairly heat and drought tolerant.
The plant is native to Europe and grows in USDA zones 5 to 8.
Purple Heart (Tradescantia Pallida ‘Purple Heart’)
A tender perennial prized for its vibrant foliage and attractive flowers, the Purple Heart Tradescantia produces the best growth and color when grown in bright sunlight and moist soil.
The purple stems, violet-purple leaves, and pink flowers make this spiderworts species an excellent addition to your gardens.
Kaffir Lily (Clivia miniata)
Clivia miniata is a flowering plant of the Amaryllidaceae family and is native to the woodlands of South Africa and Swaziland.
The plant has also reportedly naturalized in Mexico and is widely grown in the USA, China, Japan, and New Zealand.
An ideal choice for shaded areas of your garden, kaffir lily forms large clumps of foliage with yellow, red, or orange, sweetly-fragrant flowers, forming a striking groundcover.
It is also water-wise.
Prayer Plants (Calathea)
A genus of the Marantaceae family, Calathea plants comprise neotropical rhizomatous plants native to the tropical Americas.
Their decorative leaves mainly characterize the plants; however, some also produce colorful inflorescences.
The leaves of the plants tend to rise upwards at night, giving an appearance as if someone is praying.
Hence, the common name prayer-plants.
In addition to making striking groundcovers, prayer-plants also make ideal houseplants.