Ground covers are useful in the landscape for many reasons. They help suppress weeds, cover tough-to-mow slopes, provide nectar for pollinators, and prevent soil erosion. But with dozens of different choices, how’s a gardener to decide which ground cover is best for them? To simplify that decision, here’s the skinny on several of my favorite, flowering ground covers.
1. Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)
This fast-growing plant (pictured above) only reaches 4 inches high and has rounded leaves with silvery markings. Flowers can be white, pink or red depending on the variety. The foliage is partially evergreen. What makes this plant extra nice is the fact that a few plants will form a nice thick carpet within a year or two. I have a variety called Beacon Silver at home and another called White Nancy, and I love them both.
2. Sweet Woodruff (Gallium odoratum)
This plant reaches about 3 to 4 inches high and is smothered in small, white, sweet-smelling flowers every spring. It’s a great ground cover for under trees that are shallow rooted. Plant it in spring, and it will be ready to divide and spread around by the time fall rolls around.
3. Barrenwort (Epimedium grandiflorum)
Barrenwort is a personal favorite with its heart-shaped leaves and tiny spring flowers. It looks kind of fragile, but it’s a very tough plant, surviving even under shallow-rooted maples and pines. The only downside to this plant is that it may be a few years until it really takes off, but if you’re willing to wait, it is worth the time and effort.
4. Creeping Mazus (Mazus reptans)
This ground cover is about as low as you can go, reaching only 1/2 inch high. It forms a thick, light-green mat and is covered with pale purple flowers (or white if you choose the Alba variety). Mazus spreads quickly and is easy to move around by simply digging up a chunk of the plant and finding it a new home. The only negative I can find about this wonderful little plant is its intolerance to the salt used to melt snow and ice in the winter. Don’t plant it near walkways and driveways where you use rock salt, and you won’t have the problem.
5. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
This hummingbird- and bumblebee-friendly ground cover is one of my favorites for early season flowers. Spires of purple/blue flowers appear in early May. Evergreen foliage comes in various shades and textures and measures only a few inches high. It spreads fairly quickly and can easily hop across edges and invade the lawn. It’s best to use this ground cover where plastic or metal edging is in place.
6. Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
This beautiful little native ground cover is one of my favorites for its easy nature, deer resistance and sunny yellow flowers. A spring bloomer, green-and-gold is not often seen, but it’s a great choice for anywhere from full sun to full shade. Plus, it’s fairly drought tolerant and handles some amount of foot traffic. I grow it as an understory plant around my hostas and other taller shade plants to help keep the weeds at bay.