Ground cover plants refer to low growing vegetation that grows to form attractive carpets. They provide all-rounded, low maintenance solutions to landscaping problems and questions such as:
- What plants can withstand foot traffic, but don’t need mowing?
- What to plant on a slope too steep for your lawnmower?
- What to grow under shady trees with prominent roots?
- What plants can you use to create a border along your driveway?
Additionally, they create visual intrigue by introducing colors, textures, and shapes to your landscape. All while reducing the time and effort it takes to maintain the garden.
In this article, we will explore some of the best low maintenance ground cover plants. We will also look at their growing conditions, unique features, and show you why you should include them in your garden.
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Ground Cover Plant
Before you can plant any ground covering plants, there are a few things you should take into account. Not all ground covers will thrive in your specific set of conditions.
The first step to establishing a ground cover plant is to evaluate your garden. The conditions in your garden will dictate the ground cover plant you can grow.
To do this, consider factors like sun exposure, soil texture, and protection during winter. The level of exposure to the sun and elements will determine whether the plants will thrive, or die off.
The type and texture of soil play a critical role in the survival of your cover plants. Determine whether your soil is sandy and dry, or soggy and clayey, or if it’s a well drained loam.
You may even go a step further and test the soil pH, and adjust it to suit your desired cover plant. You can also amend the soil texture using gravel or organic matter as necessary.
Here is a table with a brief overview of our choices for the best low maintenance ground cover plants. It shows their key growing conditions and the unique features they bring to your garden.
|Creeping Phlox||Moist conditions||Partial sun, shade||6.0 – 8.0||Zones 3 – 9||Dense evergreen foliage, weed suppressant|
|Creeping Jenny,||Wet conditions||Part shade to full sun||6.1 – 7.8||Zones 3 – 9||Fast growth|
|Creeping Thyme||Moderate to dry conditions||Full sun||6.5 – 7.5||Zones 3 – 9||Heat and drought tolerant|
|Sweet Woodruff||Moist to wet conditions||Part shade to full shade||4.8 – 8.3||Zones 4 – 8||Fragrant thrives in full shade|
|English Ivy||Moist conditions||Part shade to full shade||6.0 – 7.8||Zones 4 – 8||Fast growth, weed control|
|Trailing Periwinkle||Moderate to dry conditions||Partial sun to full shade||6.1 – 7.8||Zones 4 – 8||Fragrant violet and blue flowers|
|Basket of Gold||Dry conditions||Full sun||5.6 – 7.5||Zones 4 – 7||Hardy, deer resistant,|
What Is the Best Low Maintenance Ground Cover?
As mentioned above, there are a few factors that will determine the best ground cover plant for your garden. Keeping that in mind, here are our choices for the best ground covers to suit different growing conditions.
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
Creeping phlox, or moss phlox, is among the most stunning ground cover plants. It produces an explosion of fragrant pastel-colored white, blue, and pink flowers.
It grows well in rockeries, hanging baskets, and containers. But because it looks so beautiful from the top-down, many gardeners grow it as a ground cover plant.
This is also aided by the fact that its dense needle-like leaves can withstand light traffic.
Creeping phlox is very adaptable and will do well in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9. It tolerates a variety of growing conditions but does best in full to partial shade, and well-drained soil.
Additionally, the plant has low maintenance requirements. Simply water it during dryer months and give it a little trim at the end of the blossoming period. Mature stems don’t always re-flower, so pruning helps encourage new blossoms.
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Creeping Jenny, or Moneywort, is a ground cover plant popular for its vibrant colors. It grows in long trailing stems with rounded chartreuse leaves and golden flowers.
Creeping Jenny grows well in full sun to partial shade. Preferably with sun exposure in the morning and shade in the harsh afternoon sun. When growing in full sun, the leaves turn bright yellow, and in the shade, they turn to beautiful lime green.
The plant is rated for USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9, and does well in wet conditions. But it might develop root rot if the soil is not well-drained.
Creeping Jenny spreads quickly over large areas by putting out roots all along its stem. It grows aggressively in a low blanket that can choke out weeds and other flowers alike. This is why it’s better suited for large areas where it can spread freely.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus Serpyllum coccineus)
Creeping thyme or wild thyme is a heat and drought tolerant ground cover plant. It’s one of the most popular plants for ground cover among gardeners and landscapers.
It’s hardiness and ability to withstand foot traffic make it an ideal grass replacement. It also makes it well suited for growing along walkways, and around stepping stones.
The plant forms a low growing blanket of deep green leaves, which turns bronze in the winter. And in summer, it bursts with purple flowers creating a vibrant blanket over your yard.
The maintenance requirements for creeping thyme are very low. If planted in full sun and well-drained soil, the plant will likely be self-sufficient.
However, a little trimming and pruning each spring will go a long way in encouraging new growth.
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Woodruff is a fragrant perennial with star-shaped white flowers and whorled green leaves. When crushed, the leaves produce a freshly mown hay scent. And when dried, the foliage can be used to make wreaths, potpourri, and other craft creations.
Sweet woodruff grows best in zones 4 through 8 and can be a vigorous spreader in moist, well-drained soils. It grows in a dense ground cover with clusters of white flowers that blossom in the early summer.
Woodruff is not very heat tolerant, in the South it will require shade and constant moisture to thrive. But in cooler areas of the North, it does very well, spreading over shaded areas.
It thrives in wet soils, and given the right growing conditions can run rampant. This is why growing it in dry soil, and starving it of water is sometimes used as a method to keep it in check.
In this instance, you will need to give it just enough water to keep it alive, but not so much that it becomes invasive.
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
English Ivy is one of the fastest-growing ground covers. Its low growing and creeping habit make it ideal for a wide number of applications.
It grows dense sprawling foliage, ideal for preventing weed growth and soil erosion. It’s also very adaptable. and can grow in shaded areas where other plants can’t, as well as in full sun.
However, harsh direct sunlight can burn the leaves and make them change color. It prefers well drained soil, rich in organic content but will do well in almost any type of soil.
The high adaptability and fast growth rate make English Ivy invasive. Be careful not to plant it close to delicate plants that may suffer from inhibited growth.
You can control the spread of the plant through pruning, ideally in the spring. It is very hardy and responds well to pruning, thus will not be harmed by vigorous cutting back.
Trailing Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
The periwinkle plant is an adaptable plant that will grow in almost all areas of the garden, including those with full sun and shade.
It’s a favorite among gardeners because of its fragrant blue or violet flowers. They like to grow it along pathways where people will enjoy the pleasant perfume as they walk by.
It trails along the ground, and down the side of whatever surface it grows on adding visual interest. It’s also an excellent choice to grow under trees or shrubs, and on rock walls where it can cascade down the side.
The periwinkle is a fast-growing ground cover plant and will spread out over large areas quickly. This makes it ideal for large open spaces but can be a concern in smaller gardens as it can quickly get out of control.
Basket-of-Gold (Aurinia saxatilis)
Basket-of-gold is an enchanting evergreen ground cover popular for its golden flowers, and grey-green foliage.
It’s hardy and will thrive in a variety of growing conditions, even in harsh environments. But it grows best in USDA zones 4 through 7 in full sun, and well-drained soil, but can withstand poor soil.
On top of its stunning looks, it’s also drought tolerant, with low maintenance. You can basically plant it at the edge of your rock garden, and forget about it.
However, you should avoid growing the plant in clayey, and poorly drained soils.
The only maintenance you need to carry out is occasionally watering in the summer. Additionally, the plant will benefit from a bit of pruning and trimming back in late summer. or when scraggly.
Benefits of Ground Cover Plants
Most gardeners use ground covers to provide an attractive foundation for their gardens. These plants provide a more refined design compared to bare soil and open gaps.
But this is not all that ground covers are good for. They come with several other advantages including:
They Help Improve Soil Quality
Ground cover plants act as a natural mulch, increasing humus levels, and thus soil quality. They provide a steady supply of organic matter resulting in healthier garden plants.
They also create a layer of insulation over the soil regulating the temperature in harsh weather conditions.
They Are Cost-Effective
Ground covers provide an inexpensive solution to bare spaces in the garden. Their growing habit makes it easy for them to fill out bare spaces without breaking the bank.
They also come with low maintenance costs, unlike other plants.
They Help Improve Curb Appeal
Usually, gardens look bleak and dead during the winter. But evergreen ground covers ensure year-round visual interest, boosting curb appeal.
The Help Control Weeds
Ground covers provide a natural, beautiful, and inexpensive method of weed control. They work in two major ways to suppress weed growth:
- They cover the soil making it harder for weed seeds to germinate.
- Once established, they physically suppress weeds, preventing growth.
They Prevent Soil Erosion
They provide a physical cover over the soil, and their roots hold the soil together preventing erosion.
This is invaluable on hillside gardens where the soil tends to come loose and wash away during heavy rains.
The Host Beneficial Insects
Some ground cover plants blossom in vibrant flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and ladybugs. These help along the pollination process in your home garden. Ladybugs also help control pests by feeding on them.
Note, however, that some ground cover plants host snails and slugs. This can be a problem if you grow susceptible plants nearby.
Learn More About Gardening
Ground cover crops are a worthwhile investment for any garden. But finding the right plant for your garden or landscaping needs can be a little challenging.
For more information about ground cover crops and gardening in general, visit Gardening Channel.
Here you can get all the free advice and tips to help in your gardening and landscaping. You also get access to expert advice to help make you a better gardener and landscaper.
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