From mounding perennials to creeping evergreen woody shrubs, low-growing ground covers come in all shapes and textures. Ground covers keep weeds from invading the landscape and provide an aesthetically pleasing transition between garden areas and taller landscape plants and shrubs. Low-growing ground covers are typically defined as plants that grow 12 inches tall or less with a spreading habit. They are ideal for creating a carpetlike cover in the landscape without adding height.
Evergreen Woody Shrubs
Evergreen woody shrubs, both needled and broad-leaved varieties, are ideal for a year-round ground cover. These tend to be low-maintenance, spreading plants. Look for creeping shrubs that grow less than 1 foot tall for ground covers.
An excellent low-growing shrub with needlelike leaves is creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis). Here are two to cultivars to try:
- Creeping juniper 'Blue Rug' (Juniperus horizontalis '_Wiltonii'_), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, grows 6 inches tall. This cultivar has silver-blue foliage that spreads 6 to 8 feet.
- An exceptionally low-growing cultivar, 'Momber' (Juniperus horizontalis 'Momber' Icee Blue), which you can find listed both under the cultivar name 'Momber' or the trade name Icee Blue, grows 4 inches tall. It has an 8-foot-wide spread and is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9.
Broad-leaved evergreen ground covers have glossy leaves year-round. Try common bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), a green-leaved species or, for a little color drama in winter, look for the cultivar 'Big Bear.' This cultivar has leaves that turn deep red in winter. Both common bearberry and the cultivar 'Big Bear' grow 6 to 12 inches tall and are hardy in USDA zones 2 through 7.
Evergreen and Semievergreen Perennials
Semievergreen perennials and evergreen perennials have fleshy stems -- rather than woody stems -- and keep their leaves all year.
Try these low-growing plants in different areas of your yard:
- Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) is a semievergreen perennial that grows 6 to 12 inches tall. In spring, the low green foliage is accented with white fragrant flowers. Allegheny spurge grows in USDA zones 5 through 9 and prefers shade to part shade.
- The Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) cultivars 'Green Sheen' and 'Green Carpet', both hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, are evergreen perennials well suited to grow as a low ground cover. 'Green Sheen' grows 8 to 12 inches tall, while 'Green Carpet' has a mature height that is between 6 and 8 inches tall. This perennial spreads and fills out an area through creeping, rhizome roots. Its ability to spread also makes Japanese pachysandra and its cultivars invasive in some areas.
- Striking and resilient, the black mondo grass cultivar 'Nigrescens' (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') has striking, sword-shaped, purple-black foliage topped with sprays of pale pink flowers in summer. It grows in USDA zones 5 through 10. This mounding ground cover grows 5 to 6 inches tall and provides year-round interest.
Low-growing succulents make excellent ground covers, especially in rocky areas or in rock gardens. These fleshy-leafed plants keep their leaves year-round.
Stonecrop ground covers tend to be small and compact, best suited for rock gardens and small areas where they won't get swallowed up by the surrounding garden:
- 'Fuldaglut' (Sedum spurium 'Fuldaglut') is a 2- to 3-inch-tall cultivar with maroon foliage. It grows in USDA zones 4 through 8.
- As the cultivar name suggests, 'Tricolor' (Sedum spurium 'Tricolor'), has leaves that combine three colors: green in the center surrounded by pale pink and edged with white. This cultivar grows 3 to 6 inches tall and is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.
- The cultivar 'John Creech' (Sedum spurium 'John Creech'), hardy in USDA zones 2 through 9, has bright green fleshy leaves and grows 2 to 4 inches tall.
- Cape Blanco stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco') has silvery green rosettes of fleshy leaves. This sedum grows 2 to 4 inches tall and will creep 24 inches wide. It grows in USDA zones 5 through 9.
You can grow herbaceous perennials as ground covers, but because they typically die back at the end of the growing season, be prepared for seasonal bare areas in the landscape. However, herbaceous perennials can grow back from dormant roots in the spring within the growing region specific to that plant. You can find a range of herbaceous perennials grown as ground covers for their flowers or their foliage.
Try one of these examples of low-growing herbaceous ground covers:
- Soft, silvery-leaved lamb's ear cultivar 'Big Ears' (Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears') grows 8 inches tall and is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9. The cultivar 'Silver Carpet' (Stachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet') is a 4- to 6-inch-tall lamb's ear cultivar hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9. With lamb's ears, it's all about the soft, silvery foliage rather than the rather unremarkable flowers.
- Flowers make lovely ground covers, and few are as striking as the Mexican evening primrose cultivar 'Siskiyou' (Oenothera berlandieri 'Siskiyou'), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8. This cultivar grows 6 to 8 inches tall and, from late spring through midsummer, the foliage is hidden by masses of 2-inch-diameter pale pink flowers.