Ground cover plants are all-round problem solvers: they store moisture, control erosion and provide living space for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. While grass is usually the best way to fill empty space, low-growing plants are sometimes a better – and more beautiful – option. There are so many options to choose from, including old favorites like Pachysandra and Vinca, as well as small shrubs, perennials, and annuals.
Follow the directions on the plant care label to make sure your ground covers do the job (you know you’re beautifying your landscape) to create the right conditions. For your information: full sun means that an area receives more than 6 hours of direct sunlight per day, partial sun 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight and full shade up to 3 hours of sun. If you’re planting a shrub or perennial that you want to keep from year to year, make sure it’s suitable for your USDA hardiness zone (find yours here). And keep in mind that although these ground cover plants are extremely tolerant, they need to be watered for the first year or two during the dry spells until their root systems are well established.
20 Best Ground Cover Plants and Flowers
Lily of the valley
While it may be one of the hardest (um, tolerant) plants out there, lily of the valley looks as sweet as it can get when sweet white bells dangle from green strappy leaves. This sweet-smelling perennial spreads easily. So keep them at bay by planting them in well-kept areas such as on sidewalks or near the foundation of the house. It prefers full shade, but tolerates some morning sun.
Low-growing mats made from creeping thyme are covered with tiny purple or white flowers in late spring, making them a paradise for pollinators. This tough perennial spreads quickly, thrives in full sun, is hardy, grows on poor soils and, once established, is drought-tolerant. And of course you can cut the leaves off for cooking.
This type of evergreen comes in different shapes and sizes. Once established, it is nail-resistant and tolerates poor soil and drought conditions. The horizontally spreading branches of the creeping juniper form a dense mat into which weeds cannot penetrate. It prefers full sun.
The dead nettle, also known as lamium, is a low-growing perennial with silver-spattered leaves and purple, pink, or white flowers that appear in spring and early summer. It prefers shade, but tolerates some sun.
Shiny leaves in deep green, bronze and chocolate brown make this perennial a great alternative for low-growth lawns for almost any climate. Small ears of blue, purple, pink or white flowers appear in the summer months. Ajuga spreads quickly under different conditions and can take shade or sun.
Aronia is a fairly low growing native shrub with tiny white flowers amidst glossy green foliage. When several are planted together, they form a dense hedge that thrives in almost every type of soil and full sun.
Low-growing sedum varieties are easy-care ground cover plants, especially since the fleshy leaves contain enough water to survive dry periods. While some have small flowers, the focus is on the colorful foliage, which ranges from chartreuse to bronze. It takes full sun to survive.
If you’ve seen the lavender fields in Provence, you know that this sweet-smelling perennial looks mass-planted with purple or blue flowers. It doesn’t like wet feet, so make sure the floor is well drained. It takes full sun to thrive.
In early spring flowers appear on this perennial that look like fairy wings. Epimedium, also called bishop’s cap, tolerates dry conditions after its manufacture. It is hardy and prefers partial shade.
This lesser known perennial has attractive little hills of grassy foliage and tiny spherical flowers that appear in late spring through early summer. It likes partial to full sun.
While this shiny strappy green is popular in the southern states, it can survive anywhere. It grows in small clumps, likes moist soils and prefers full to partial sun.
You may not think of oregano as ground cover, but this herb forms dense clumps of fragrant foliage. In full sun, this green herb grows small flowers in summer and attracts many pollinators. Snap something to a boil or leave it cut back to control its height.
Dianthus is an old-fashioned perennial with a vanilla-like scent that comes directly from your grandmother’s garden. Sometimes called pink because the petals look like they are covered with pinking scissors. This pretty floor covering is available in different heights, from low to 2 feet high. It takes full sun to bloom best.
Ferns come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Planted in groups, it forms a beautiful floor covering. It prefers moist soil, is drought-tolerant after its establishment and needs full shade.
The delicate white star-shaped flowers form a beautiful contrast to the green foliage. While this perennial is spreading quickly, you can mow it to regain control. Store it in a shady place, especially under trees and shrubs.
As the name suggests, the flaky silver leaves resemble the lamb ears. In midsummer, however, they are littered with beautiful purple-pink flowers. It likes full sun, but tolerates partial shade.
Choose from an annual or perennial strain and watch charming daisy-like flowers bloom in this bushy plant. It likes full sun and requires regular cuts to prevent it from taking over the yard. Fun bonus: The flowers, either fresh or dried, can be used in salads or soaked in teas.
The soft, mossy foliage of this plant forms a dense mat underfoot. In spring, tiny white flowers add to its ethereal beauty. While it prefers full sun, it needs regular moisture, especially in hot months.
This fast growing yearbook looks beautiful when it falls over rock faces or along the edges of sidewalks. It quickly forms a thick hill and blooms all summer. It creates a sweet honey scent that attracts pollinators throughout the season. It blooms best in full sun.
This cold-resistant evergreen comes from Siberia and has fern-like foliage that takes on a fairly bronze color in colder climates. Try to plant it in large groups on a hill or along the foundation of the house to prevent erosion. It likes full sun.