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Five Great Garden Ground Cover Plants

Lisa is a writer and gardener with extensive knowledge of plants and plant care. Her articles focus on easy-care tips for home gardeners.

Why Use Ground Cover Plants?

Ground covers are great for keeping roots of other plants shaded (great for clematis, since they need their roots shaded and their leaves in the sun in order to bloom properly). The more important usage, in my opinion, is for erosion control. They do well in difficult spots where other plants won't grow (under trees is a good example of this). They are also great in place of a lawn. Most ground covers are low maintenance and good for filling in a large area. Here are the five plants that can be used for the aforementioned purposes:

  1. Ajuga reptans (a.k.a. Bugleweed)
  2. Lamium (a.k.a. Dead Nettle)
  3. Vinca minor (a.k.a. Periwinkle)
  4. Lobularia maritima, or Sweet Alyssum (a.k.a. Carpet Flower)
  5. Pachysandra terminalis (a.k.a. Japanese Spurge)
Ajuga "Blue Chip"

Ajuga "Blue Chip"

1. Ajuga Reptans (Bugleweed)

Bugleweed is an evergreen perennial that does best in Zones 3 to 10 and in sun to part-shade. It is a very fast-growing plant, so it will fill a spot quickly if that is what you need it to do. It forms large mats spread via runners that are 6 inches high and flowers spring through mid-summer. The bloom colors range from blues to purples. The leaves vary in colors from all green, green variegated with white, copper, and purple-tinged.

Bugleweed is not fussy about its soil, only it needs to drain well. It is a great plant for erosion control. Both deer and rabbits tend to leave it alone.

Bugleweed can be invasive, so you must pull it to remove it from any area you don't want it in, which is why the best application for this plant is in very large areas needing a ground cover.

2. Lamium (Dead Nettle)

Lamium is a beautiful perennial plant with serrated-type leaves. The reason it is sometimes referred to as Dead Nettle is that the leaves are very similar to the common weed (and sometimes delicacy) Nettle. Lamium, however, does not produce the tell-tale sting like regular Nettle does when handling the leaves.

Lamium isn't as invasive as Ajuga (Bugleweed). It grows well in Zones 3 to 8 and blooms late spring to early summer. The flowers are similar to Snapdragons in appearance and bloom continuously for 4 weeks or more. It roots easily, so it can be divided in early spring and planted in a different spot. They do really well under Ferns and Hostas, which is exactly where I have mine growing! Lamium also is resistant to deer and rabbits.

Lamium "Orchid Frost"

Lamium "Orchid Frost"

3. Vinca Minor (Periwinkle)

Vinca is a perennial that grows 6 inches high with a 16-inch spread in Zones 4 to 8. It prefers full sun to part shade and is semi-evergreen. Vinca is another good plant for naturalizing an area and provides erosion control. Not as invasive as Ajuga so probably a better option for backyard gardens. It produces small, lavender-purple blooms in spring and early summer.

One of the most popular ground covers, it is found in the wild in woodland/ forest preserve sites. Once it is established, it can tolerate drought conditions, as well as heavy shade.

Vinca is also resistant to both deer and rabbits.

Vinca Minor with variegated leaves

Vinca Minor with variegated leaves

4. Lobularia Maritima (Sweet Alyssum or Carpet Flower)

Alyssum is an annual ground cover that grows very well from direct sow seeding once temperatures have reached 65 to 70 degrees. It takes about 14 days until you see seedlings.

It is perfect for rock gardens, edging of pathways or front of the flower border. It does best in cooler summer weather and prefers full sun to part shade. It blooms spring through mid-fall and both bees and butterflies go crazy for the flowers.

Alyssum grows to about a mature height of 12 inches and prefers damp soil. Flowers come in a variety of shades of white, pink and purples. The flowers are also very fragrant. It is a non-invasive plant and also is disliked by deer.

Alyssum "Royal Carpet"

Alyssum "Royal Carpet"

5. Pachysandra Terminalis (Japanese Spurge)

Pachysandra is a herbaceous perennial that forms a dense mat. It grows well in Zones 5 to 9 and at about 1 foot tall with a spread of 16 inches. It produces tiny white flowers that bloom in April exclusively. It is a very low-maintenance plant that does well in a border, treated like a low-growing hedge.

If you have heavy clay soil, this is the plant for you. It thrives in heavy clay but does well in other soil types. Because it is an evergreen, it provides winter interest when everything else has died back for the season. Both Deer and Rabbits dislike it too.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some other ground covers for you to research on your own:

  • Brunnera (Jack Frost is great variety)
  • Ivy-all Hedera Helix varieties
  • Creeping Jenny (great in hanging baskets too!)
  • Cornus Canadensis aka Dogwood
  • Viola/Violet varieties


Groundcover Poll

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Lisa Roppolo


Hannelore on March 03, 2018:

I love Snow in summer. It grows along the edge of my driveway and is never invasive.