Ground cover plants should be found in any garden. Mat-forming plants are very popular in gardens all around the world and can be planted for technical reasons such as covering certain problematic areas or avoiding weeds. Even though they serve many uses, low-lying plants are also aesthetically pleasing. They add texture and diversity to a classic garden landscape.
Some people avoid these plants because they fear that they might be invasive or simply because they are unfamiliar with them. While some ground cover plants can be invasive, this is not always the case. Most of them are very well behaved and easy to care for.
Keep on reading to learn more about this lovely mat-forming, crawling, or dwarf plants. We will teach you how to recognize them, the best ways to make use of them and how to care for them. Last but not least, we have prepared an extensive list of ground cover plants that look great in the summer.
What are Ground cover plants?
ground cover plants define a group of low-lying plants. The most common ground covers have a creeping nature, but low perennials that can be planted in masses can also serve the same purpose. Certain climbing plants can also be grown as ground covers.
Ground cover plants are used to cover sections of the ground. They are low-maintenance, and most of them are shade-tolerant because this feature allows them to grow evenly.
There are also several sun-loving ground covers, so choosing the right plants depends on your needs and the characteristics of the space where you will plant them in. Low shrubs and ornamental grasses can also be used as ground covers.
If you plan on ordering the aforementioned types of plants online, make sure not to confuse them with cover crops. Usually, anything that includes the term crop has to do with food production. The purpose of cover crops is to improve the ground. They are grown as annuals for different purposes. They can improve the soil’s fertility, they can eliminate weeds, deter pests and manage soil erosion. Once they serve their purpose they can be cut and used to enrich the soil.
Advantages of Ground cover plants
If you are uncertain of whether or not you should fill your outdoor area with ground cover plants, we will discuss how they can be beneficial for your garden! You might have areas of land which you believed to be unsuitable for planting, but it might be perfect for ground covers.
- Ground cover plants are great lawn alternatives – A lawn may look neat but it requires a lot of resources and a lot of maintenance. Moreover, you can’t plant a lawn on slopes or other areas where the lawnmower won’t function properly. Ground covers on the other hand do not require mowing. They can be planted on any type of land, regardless of its shape and they don’t need to be watered as often as a classic lawn. And let’s be honest, if you want a garden that stands out, you might want to ditch the lawn and try a less common combination of plants.
- Ground cover plants can be used to cover shady areas – As we already mentioned, many ground covers are shade-lovers. This means that they can be planted under trees or in areas where shade comes from nearby buildings and they will thrive without much effort. Shady areas are also part of your garden and they can have a great deal of potential if you populate them with the right type of plants. Some examples of shade-loving ground cover plants include sweet woodruff, wild ginger, bunchberry, dwarf Solomon’s seal, lilyturf, goldenstar, and vancouveria.
- Ground cover plants tolerate high traffic – Grass may look smooth but it is also very delicate and not recommended for high traffic areas. This doesn’t mean that your only option is to pave these areas. There are plenty of low-lying plants that are very sturdy and can even handle intense traffic. These plants are sometimes referred to as foot traffic perennials. Some examples include creeping thyme, blue moneywort, verdigris brass buttons, blue star creeper, dwarf mondo grass, Corsican mint, Irish moss, silver carpet, New Zealand moss, baby tears, etc.
- Ground cover plants can be used to cover dry areas – The most popular ground covers are shade lovers, but there are also a lot of sun-loving plants in this group. Arid gardens often have a lot of bald spots. You can cover these spots with rocks. However, this will only make your garden hotter as rocks capture and emanate heat. When it comes to arid gardens and xeriscaping, sun-loving ground covers are a far better alternative. They can also be planted at the base of heat-sensitive plants, to keep their soil cool and moist. Some examples of sun-loving ground cover plants include cotoneaster, catmint, lamb’s ear, creeping juniper, yellow alyssum, ice plant, and creeping thyme.
- To eliminate weeds – If weeds are a recurring problem in your garden you can get rid of them by planting a very dense ground cover. A great option would be dragon’s blood Sedum. This fiery plant will not only rid your garden of weeds, but its intense crimson shade will also liven up the overall garden vibe.
- To balance your garden’s ecosystem – Certain ground covers have strong smells which deter pests. They can also attract beneficial insects. Such is the case of creeping thyme, sweet alyssum, or creeping mint.
- Low-growing plants create unity – Certain plants don’t do very well when planted too close together. This usually happens with shrubs that need to have their own space. However, the barren ground that remains empty between them can give your garden an unfinished look. You can create a sense of unity by covering barren spots with ground covers. It will also add a unique touch to your garden.
How to care for Ground cover plants
Successfully growing ground cover plants require a little bit of planning. The good news is that planting and maintenance are relatively simple tasks, especially if you choose the right type of plants for your garden.
Step 1 – Choosing the right plants
- First of all, it is essential to focus solely on plants that are suitable for your climate. Keep in mind that some plants can be invasive in certain areas and it may take years to get rid of an invasive plant. When considering various ground-cover plants you must focus firstly on their needs and growing habits.
- Secondly, you can focus on their size and shape. As mentioned above, some plants only grow in direct sunlight, while others prefer a partial or even a full shade. Some are adaptable to droughts while others require moist soil.
- Furthermore, some have shallow roots that do not disrupt other plants while others have deeper roots which makes them solitary plants. Consider these factors carefully before choosing a new plant for your garden.
- Once you made the right choice, you can start learning how to properly care for them. While they can have different needs in terms of watering and light, most plants will have similar requirements for planting and maintenance.
Step 2 – Planting
- As most ground cover plants are perennials they should be planted in spring or early summer. When planting them, consider their size and growing habits, especially if you plan on planting them near other plants.
- Place lower growing varieties in front of the taller ones. Before planting, rid the soil of weeds and till it. It will make a big difference for the new plants if you enrich the soil with some organic matter. Peat moss and manure should do just fine, but make sure it reaches an average depth of 8 inches.
- If you can find information on how to space your specific plant, follow the instructions. If not, we recommend planting them about 30 cm apart. This works well for most cover plants. You will need to water the young plants consistently until they mature.
- A layer of mulch can also be beneficial as it will control weeds and keep the soil temperature moderate. As the plants spread and get thicker, they will act as mulch.
- Mature plants require minimum maintenance. To avoid any problems, it is recommended to place a soil barrier or edging between the ground cover plants and the lawn or other perennial plants.
Step 3 – Pruning
This process is not necessary for ground covers but it can sometimes improve their look. You can occasionally remove damaged foliage or cut disproportionate branches. Certain types of cover plants may even require occasional mowing.
Best Ground Cover Plants
In the following lines, we will present you with our top picks for great-looking summer ground cover plants.
Most of them are low maintenance, so you don’t have to be an experienced gardener to grow them in your outdoor area. Some are bloomers, others are evergreens, and they have different sun and water needs. Check them out and choose the ones that suit your needs and preferences.
This perennial is suitable for USDA zones 5-9. It has semi-evergreen foliage that spreads like a mat. The leaves are round or spoon-shaped. It blooms in clusters with blue, pink, purple, or lavender flowers. Creeping phlox reaches a top height of 25 cm and a top height of 60 cm. It looks best when planted in masses. It blooms from the middle of the spring to the beginning of the summer, creating a spectacle of colour.
Creeping phlox will grow best if it gets direct sunlight, but it can also make do with some dappled shade. However, keep in mind that more shade usually means fewer blooms. It thrives in sandy or gravelly soil and it is very drought-tolerant once it matures. It can be planted on slopes and it is great for erosion control.
Furthermore, it looks great in rocky decors and it gets along with bulb plants such as daffodils and tulips. Due to its rich blooms, it also attracts a lot of pollinators as well as other beneficial insects. This is a very low-maintenance plant but we recommend that you shear it once the blooming season ends, to encourage new growth and more blooms in the following year. Creeping Phlox multiplies easily under adequate growing conditions and it is resistant to diseases and pests.
Read our complete guide to creeping phlox to learn more about this amazing ground cover plant!
Commonly referred to as the mother of thyme, creeping thyme is an ideal ground cover plant. It is suitable for USDA zones 4-9, it thrives in zone 5 and it often requires some protection during harsh winters. It reaches a top height of 15 cm and a top spread of 50 cm. It is a semi-evergreen plant, but it can sometimes die back during winter.
The flowers are tiny but numerous. It blooms in shades of pink, white and red. The blooming season starts in late spring or early summer and lasts for about a month. It is normal for young plants not to bloom in their first year.
Thyme likes sunny and dry conditions. It is not picky in terms of soil. It will grow beautifully in normal garden soil, provided that it drains well. Its roots are a bit sensitive, so heavy soil or too much moisture can cause root rot. If you live in an area with heavy rainfalls, you might want to plant on rocky slopes to encourage drainage.
During harsh winters it might need a thick layer of mulch or gravel. There are various cultivars to choose from, so make sure to choose one suitable for your local climate. In terms of maintenance, we recommend pruning the leggiest branches in late fall, preferably after the first frost of the season.
To learn more about this ground cover plant, don’t forget to read our complete guide to creeping thyme!
This plant is suitable for USDA zones 4-8. The blooming season starts in April, May, or even June in some areas. Sweet woodruff reaches a top height of 30 cm and a top spread of 45 cm. It self-seeds so it can spread indefinitely. It has elliptical leaves with pointy ends, arranged in a rosette pattern. It is popular due to its hardiness, its lovely cream blooms, and wild foliage.
The flowers are small and white, with four leaves arranged in a cross pattern. It has a sweet, mild fragrance. The interesting thing about this plant is the fact that it is a very useful medicinal plant. It is used for treating lung and stomach problems as well as urinary illnesses. It is also believed to be beneficial for the circulatory system and some people use it to treat insomnia and agitation.
This is a shade-loving plant. It grows well both in full shade and in partial shade. A dormant state is usually a clear indicator that the plant is getting too much sunlight. The sun can also scorch its leaves, so it’s best to plant it in a location with some protection from the direct sun.
It is tolerant to various types of soil, but it grows best in acid, moist soil with good drainage. It is resistant to diseases and most pets, including deer. It is non-invasive, but it can be slightly aggressive in ideal growing conditions. Keeping the soil moist and providing shelter from the scorching sun are the main requirements for keeping sweet woodruff happy.
If you are looking for a ground cover that you can use as a foliage accent, you can’t go wrong with Golden Moneywort. It is suitable for USDA zone 3b to 8a. It is a herbaceous perennial but it can be grown as an evergreen in milder climates. It can even be invasive in certain parts of North America.
It reaches a top height of 15 cm and a top width of 40 cm. It forms a sense of golden-green ground coverage. During the summer, it grows tiny, bright-yellow flowers. The flowers are cup-shaped and only slightly bigger than the leaves. The leaves grow in pairs in an opposite pattern.
This is a rapidly growing plant, so you should consider spacing it about 50 cm apart. The best time to plant it is in early spring. You might be able to enjoy some summer blooms from the first season.
Provide Golden Moneywort with moist soil, but make sure it has good drainage. Soggy soil can cause root rot. Direct sun exposure is to be avoided, especially in areas with hot summer. The hot afternoon sun can cause serious damage to the leaves. Partial shade is the best option for this plant.
This plant is native to South Africa but it has been naturalized for different climates. It is now suitable for USDA zones 5 to 9. It blooms from early spring until mid-summer. Delosperma cooperi, commonly known as the ice plant got this unusual name because its leaves are covered in transparent flakes which resemble frozen water droplets. It reaches a top height of 20 cm and a top width of 60 cm. It is a mat-forming succulent plant that can cover wide areas of up to 500m. Its foliage consists of long, thick leaves which resemble small fingers. It grows pink, red, purple, orange, yellow, and bi-colour flowers. Its fruits are edible.
Like most succulents, this plant doesn’t require a lot of water. It can survive on rainwater and it can handle draughts with ease. It needs plenty of sun exposure, but it does not tolerate frosts. It prefers dry, sandy soil. It grows well on slopes and it looks great in rock gardens. This plant doesn’t need regular fertiliser but some nourishment can encourage more blooms. Consider composting regularly or using a slow-release fertilizer. The Ice Plant self-seeds but it can also be propagated through division. Dry, wilting leaves can be a sign of overwatering.
Learn more about it from our complete guide to ice plants!
This plant is suitable for USDA zones 4 to 10. Most blooming ground covers only bear flowers until mid-summer. If you are looking for a ground cover that blooms in mid to late summer and even early fall, Liriope is your best choice. This is a type of Lilly but it is sometimes categorized as an ornamental grass. It is appreciated for both its foliage and its flowers. It can reach a top height of 45 cm and a similar top width. It spreads through rhizomes and can cover a very large area. It features white and lavender flowers.
This plant can thrive in full sun exposure, but also in partial shade. It prefers slightly acidic soil with good drainage. It should be planted about 30 cm apart. It likes to be watered regularly, needing about 3 cm of water per week. It spreads very quickly and it is listed as invasive in Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. It can also be problematic in several other southern states. Liriope acts as an evergreen in warm climates and it dies back in the winter in colder climates. Winter protection is required in areas with very cold winters. As far as pruning goes, you can mow it in late winter.
Although it is not a summer-flowering plant, Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’ does grow some lovely blooms in the spring which can last until early summer, but its beauty lies in its foliage. This is a mat-forming succulent that can reach a top height of 15 cm and a top width of 45 cm. It has fleshy, bright green leaves. What makes this plant a great summer ground cover plant is the fact that its leaves change colour in the summer. They darken around the edges, towards the centre going through different stages of bronze until settling on a dark crimson in the fall. It has short stems, and its flowers are also dark red. It has been awarded the Horticultural Award of Garden Merit.
It grows best in full sun and it enjoys dry soil with good drainage. This is a very resilient plant, posing no pest or disease concerns. It makes for an excellent ground cover, but it also looks good in rock gardens. Dragon’s blood is a very low-maintenance plant. It thrives on neglect. It can easily be propagated through seeds or division.
You can learn more about these mat-forming succulents by reading our complete guide to sedum spurium.
One of the most beautiful summer plants, Hydrangea petiolaris, commonly referred to as the climbing hydrangea starts blooming in late spring, and its blooms last until early fall. The climbing variety makes for an excellent ground cover, especially since it is highly tolerant of shady spots. This plant is suitable for USDA zones 7 to 10. Its blooms can be white, blue, lavender, or pink.
As a shade-loving plant, the climbing hydrangea can find its way into any garden. It is not high maintenance, but it does need rich soil. The soil should be slightly acidic and kept moderately moist. For the most spectacular blooms, fertilizer your climbing hydrangea in early spring. Ideally, you should feed it before the leaves begin to bud. If it grows out of control, you can prune it in the summer, according to your landscaping plans.
‘Flower Carpet’ Roses
If you love roses as much as we do, you’ll be happy to learn that you can grow them in every corner of your garden. ‘Flower carpet’ roses or drift roses are a type of roses that make beautiful ground covers. They can be used to cover less attractive areas of your garden and they will quickly become an attractive carpet of flowers. The best thing about them is that they come in many different colours including pink, white, coral, red, and yellow. The ideal location for them is a sunny spot with well-drained soil and some shelter from bad weather. If you want your carpet roses to thrive and produce many flowers, make sure you amend the soil with organic matter.
Calluna vulgaris, commonly referred to as common heather, is a low-growing evergreen plant that can be a great ground cover. There are many different varieties of heather, so you can choose the size and form of the shrub based on your needs. This plant grows natively in wet environments such as bogs and moors, so it will thrive in bog gardens and near ponds.
Common heather blooms from midsummer through fall and it doesn’t need much to grow healthy and happy. It is not a drought-tolerant plant, so it’s best to keep this in mind when planting it. However, established plants won’t need as much water as young plants, so you don’t need to be intimidated by their love for wet environments.
Not attractive for deer and tolerant to salt spray, common heather makes a great addition to Mediterranean gardens, cottage gardens, but also wildflower meadows. Some cultivars offer attractive foliage that changes colour throughout the seasons, so the flowers aren’t the only great thing that this plant has to offer.
These are but a few of the many ground cover plants that will look great in your garden during the summer. Planting and caring for these types of plants is relatively easy, so don’t worry if you are a beginner gardener.
As previously mentioned, mat-forming, creeping, and ground-covering plants have many different benefits – they can help you avoid weeds, will improve the aesthetic of your garden, and promote biodiversity. Remember to choose your plants according to your local climate and the amount of sunlight available in your garden. Start by growing low-maintenance plants and make sure not to choose plants that are listed as invasive in your region.
What are your favorite ground cover plants? Let us know in the comment section!