Low-Maintenance Ground Covers That Suppress Weeds
Six Easy-to-Grow Ground Covers That Choke Out Weeds
Hardy ground covers can not only improve the appearance of your yard, but they can also significantly reduce the amount of time you spend weeding.
Need coverage for a dry area that gets full sun? Struggling to grow grass in dry shade? Or perhaps your landscape suffers from boggy patches marred by bald spots and scraggly weeds.
One of the perennial ground covers below could be the perfect solution to your problem. Each grows thickly, choking out weeds as it spreads. And each requires little care to thrive where few other plants will grow.
Low-Maintenance, Weed-Abating, Perennial Ground Covers
Golden Creeping Jenny (aka Moneywart)
lots of water
will grow in shade to full sun
covers large areas quickly (fast growth)
keep soil moist
prefers part shade but will grow in full sun
in some conditions, it will bloom spring through fall
partial sun or shade
needle-like evergreen leaves form a dense mat to suppress weeds
Phlox Subulata (Creeping Phlox)
drought-tolerant erosion control
Red Creeping Thyme
fairly quick growing; heat-tolerant and deer-resistant; grows like a tightly-knit mat
Dragon's Blood Sedum
full or partial sun
hardiest and most versatile; thrives in poor soil
Golden Creeping Jenny
Golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is a rugged ground cover hardy in zones 3-9.* It thrives in wet areas. Although it grows in partial shade, for best color, grow it in full sun. Its long, trailing stems have round chartreuse leaves and yellow flowers.
Creeping Jenny covers large areas quickly, putting out roots all along its stems and choking out weeds.
Use it to ring a pond, trail along a wall, or edge a walkway. It even makes a great spiller in mixed container gardens. Although creeping Jenny can be an aggressive grower, the cultivar "Aurea" is relatively well-behaved.
Mazus reptans, commonly called mazus, is another low-maintenance perennial ground cover. Suitable for Zones 4-9, it performs best in part shade, but it will grow in full shade, too.
When the weather's hot, keep mazus moist. In mild climates, it remains green year round and begins blooming in early spring. If conditions are right, it will bloom throughout summer, sometimes even into fall.
At just two inches tall, mazus is the perfect ground cover to plant between stepping stones and along walls. And it's easy to propagate; transplant small plugs from established plants in early spring or fall when they're not in bloom, or root cuttings during the summer and plant them in autumn.
Creeping phlox is a classic perennial ground cover that's hardy in Zones 3-9. Although it looks delicate, phlox is extremely rugged, and it grows easily in shaded and full-sun areas.
For shady, moist spots, try Phlox stolonifera for weed suppression. In full-sun, dry areas, Phlox subulata forms a thick, pretty carpet that keeps weeds at bay. Read more about these two kinds of phlox below.
Tufted creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) is a North American native that prefers partial sun or shade and moist soil. It has needle-like evergreen leaves that form a dense mat to effectively suppress weeds.
In early spring, it produces small white or pink flowers. The 'home fires' variety is a fragrant cultivar with hot pink blooms. When flowering, it can reach up to 12 inches high.
For erosion control, few ground covers work better than creeping phlox (Phlox subulata).
It loves full sun, it's drought-tolerant, and it isn't picky about soil quality. Phlox subulata cultivars come in a variety of flower colors, including white, blue, red, and pink.
Like tufted creeping phlox, Phlox subulata has needle-like evergreen leaves.
Red Creeping Thyme
Red creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum coccineus ) is a heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant ground cover that grows in zones 3 to 9. It likes full sun and grows close to the ground at only two to four-inches tall. It's deer-resistant, too.
Plant it around stepping stones; it gives off a delightful scent when stepped on. Or plant it by walls, along borders, and in other areas that are difficult to weed.
Red creeping thyme adds attractive, deep green color to your landscape throughout spring, but it's most beautiful in summer when it erupts in gorgeous crimson flowers. It really, really chokes out the weeds, forming a thick mat.
We grew our thyme from seed, but you can also purchase organic plug trays for quicker results.
Dragon's Blood Sedum
Dragon's blood sedum may be the hardiest and most versatile of all weed-suppressing ground covers.
A cultivar of the succulent Sedum spurium, dragon's blood ('Schorbuser Blut') is hardy in Zones 3-8. Not only does it grow in full sun as well as partial shade, but it also thrives in poor soil.
Like creeping Jenny, dragon's blood sedum has trailing stems that root easily, so it's a snap to propagate. It does well in containers, rock gardens, and places where little else (besides weeds) will grow.
Dragon's blood sedum looks good year-round. In spring, it produces bright green leaves that turn maroon as temperatures drop. In summer, it has showy red flowers.
Less hardy Sedum spurium cultivars include ‘red carpet,' which has red leaves, and ‘voodoo,' which has mahogany-colored leaves. 'John Creech,' is a smaller, slower growing cultivar that produces pretty pink blossoms in fall. 'Tricolor' has green, pink, and white variegated leaves.
No matter which variety you grow, pollinators will be drawn to its broad flower heads.
Can I replace my lawn with a low-maintenance ground cover?
Depending on your soil and situation, any of these ground covers could be used to replace a lawn. Any of these plants would require less maintenance than a lawn would, especially the ones that don't need a lot of water.
Which ground covers don't need mowing?
None of the plants mentioned above needs mowing.
Which ground covers are low-growing and hug the ground?
The tallest mentioned here is Phlox stolonifera, which is 12" at its tallest.
Which weed-suppressors are best for shade?
Mazus works best in shade, but some cultivars of creeping phlox will also work.
Which are the best flowering weed suppressors?
Every type mentioned here is flowering, although mazus and phlox have the showiest blooms. Although the others flower, they don't produce stand-out blooms. Golden creeping Jenny has yellow flowers, mazus and creeping phlox have lavender flowers, phlox stolonifera's are white or pink, phlox subulata's are white, blue, red, or pink, and both creeping thyme and dragon's blood are red.
Which is the fastest-growing ground cover?
Creeping Jenny is a fast grower, and thyme will gain about half its size by the next year, but really how fast any plant spreads depends upon how well it likes the conditions. They are not invasives.
Which Hardiness Zone Do You Live In?
If you don't know your area's plant hardiness zone, go to EdibleLandscapeDesign.com for links to zone maps in Australia, Canada, China, Europe, New Zealand, North America, South America, and the U.S.
More Ground Covers to Consider
About the Author
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.
Questions & Answers
Will low-maintenance ground covers choke out other flowers if planted in a flower bed?
Creeping Jenny might be a problem if it likes the area and you don't buy a cultivar that's slow growing. The others, however, not so much, especially thyme, which is slow growing. What service each of these plants does perform, however, is that where they do grow, they grow tightly, making it less likely you'll have to weed. In eight years I've only had to weed my thyme patch once to root out a single dandelion.
Will any of these ground covers compete/choke a ninety-year-old red oak tree? I have had a berm with mulch for many years, but buckthorn & weeds continuously overtake it. Landscapers always want to use PREEN and Roundup--I won't let them jeopardize the oak, but I was wondering if ground cover will take too many nutrients and water?
I completely agree with you about the Roundup, etc. I doubt any groundcover would harm your oak unless it is already on its last legs, but why don't you use landscaping fabric or heavy cardboard over the weeds and mulch underneath the oak to the drip line? The dripline is the area below the outer circumference of the tree branches. Water drips from it sort of like it does from an umbrella. The drip line area is also called the Critical Root Zone (CRZ) or Root Protection Zone (RPZ).
Are these ground covers all okay to step on and soft enough for bare feet?
You can walk on the thyme, but you could cause plant damage if you step on the others. None of them have thorns, so they shouldn't hurt your bare feet.
Can I combine Jenny with Phlox to replace areas where grass will not grow well for a mix of plants?
That would be lovely. Just be sure to choose the type of phlox that prefers moist soil. Also, expect one of the plants to dominate, as one will probably love the light and soil conditions better than the other.
© 2011 Jill Spencer