As fall marches on and winter is just around the corner, it’s important to remember that your landscape can stay quite beautiful even when the temperature dips below zero. While evergreens of all sorts add texture and color to the winter garden, I also think that a winter garden is incomplete without a quilt-like swathe of evergreen groundcovers.
I’m not talking about pachysandra and myrtle, though these two common groundcovers do stay green throughout the winter. I’m talking about a group of less-common, low-growing groundcovers that have made a home in my own garden, smothering it with blooms in the summer and color and texture in the winter. Without them, my garden would be a far less interesting place during winter’s rule.
Here are some of my favorite winter-hearty groundcovers:
1. Ajuga reptans
This fully evergreen groundcover is very hardy and comes in a broad range of foliage colors and textures. It hugs the ground at a mere 1/2 inch in height and is covered with spires of purplish-blue flowers in spring. Ajuga, commonly called bugleweed, is a fast, yet controlled, spreader that prefers full to partial shade. I grow a tricolored variety called Burgundy Glow that’s a lovely blend of pink, green and white foliage. Metallica Crispa is another favorite, with crinkled, dark-green/burgundy foliage.
2. Asarum europaeum
European ginger might not be the fastest-growing evergreen groundcover, but it’s surely one of the most attractive. Bearing shiny, heart-shaped, 3-inch-wide leaves that stand a mere 3 to 5 inches tall, European ginger is very hardy. It prefers full to partial shade and is deer-resistant.
3. Iberis sempervirens
Evergreen candytuft has been around a long time. My mom grew it when I was a kid and I have loved it ever since. Smothered in pure-white flowers in spring, this plant remains a rich, deep green all winter long. It does not spread via underground roots like some other groundcovers, but rather it makes a large, billowing clump and develops roots along the stem as it grows. It is very easy to start from stem cuttings and thrives in full sun.
4. Thymus species
It urns out that thyme isn’t just useful in the kitchen. It’s also a great winter-friendly groundcover. With dozens of species and hundreds of cultivars, you can’t go wrong with this lovely little plant. Variegated, wooly, creeping, wild, lemon-scented and English thyme varieties all thrive in hot, sunny areas with well-drained soil. Thyme does best when given a regular haircut, so harvest as much as you want for the kitchen early in the season and then let the plant develop lots of new growth before winter sets in.
5. Liriope spicata
The dark green, strap-like leaves of lilyturf remain evergreen through most of the winter, though sometimes mine turns brown around the leaf margins just before spring arrives. Variegated forms are also quite interesting. In spring, spikes of purple-blue flowers poke out of the center. Lilyturf spreads at a moderate rate and is suitable for both full sun and partial shade. If you’d like, you can mow the plants down each spring to encourage new, deep green growth.
6. Sedum rupestre Angelina
OK, so this isn’t actually evergreen—it’s ever-yellow. Angelina is a new acquisition for my garden, and so far I am loving it. The succulent, golden-yellow foliage hugs the ground at a mere 4 inches in height. In spring it bears yellow, star-shaped flowers and in the cooler temperatures of fall and winter the foliage turns a beautiful reddish-amber color. Angelina is drought-resistant and tolerant of hot, sunny areas. It is a vigorous grower than can be trimmed back at any time. This plant looks great tumbling over rocks or retaining walls.