By Deb Courtner
Pity the poor groundcover; it gets no respect. While trees, shrubs and taller perennials bedazzle gardeners, lowly groundcovers just quietly do their jobs–spreading steadily, preventing weeds, and providing a stage from which taller plants can emerge.
Groundcovers typically grow one foot high or less, although there are some taller ones, such as spreading roses. These plucky plants add color and beauty to a garden, in addition to performing their regular jobs.
If you currently use wood or rock mulch around your plants, why not create a living mulch instead by planting attractive, low-maintenance groundcovers?
No matter what your lighting or moisture conditions, you can find a groundcover that will thrive in your garden.
If your garden is sunny and dry, for example, it’ll provide an ideal home for prairie winecups, with their lush, purplish goblet-shaped flowers and deep-cut, geranium-like leaves; orange carpet hummingbird, with its neon orange, tubular flowers that hummingbirds crave; Angela sedum, with its plump chartreuse spikes that turn orange-red for fall and winter; Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, with its white spring blossoms, outstanding red fall color, and black cherries that birds love; and soapwort, with its abundant pink or white blooms and evergreen leaves. Incidentally, orange carpet hummingbird and soapwort are quite rabbit resistant.
Low growers that favor sunny, moister conditions are woolly speedwell, with its spring indigo flowers and evergreen foliage; cranesbill geraniums, especially the showy, long-blooming Rozanne, which can be drought-tolerant once established; and June-bearing strawberries, with their delicious fruit and bright green leaves;
Options for dry, shady gardens include pigsqueak, with its broad, cabbage-like leaves and upright pink blooms; some drought-tolerant varieties of heuchera, with its delightful foliage available in many colors; and dead nettle, which is anything but dead with its green or white/silvery variegated leaves and delicate pink or white blossoms.
Shade lovers that perform well with average moisture include plumbago, with its startling blue flowers and copper seed heads set against dark green leaves; ajuga, with its beautifully variegated foliage and whorls of tiny flowers on spikes about four to six inches tall; sweet woodruff, with its delicate, scented white blossoms and small, umbrella-like leaves; and, of course, periwinkle, whose dark green leaves and purple blooms contrast nicely with those of sweet woodruff.
Once you familiarize yourself with groundcovers and their uses, you can create a more beautiful garden with fewer weeds and lower maintenance. Then, perhaps, groundcovers will receive the respect they deserve.
Originally published on August 31st, 2016. Updated on March 3rd, 2023.