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Tanacetum, Lavendula, Coreopsis, Nassella Garden

David Salman's Top 10 Groundcovers

By David Salman, Founder of High Country Gardens

Groundcovers are a great group of garden plants. They create the foundation of an inspiring garden. Consider a nice wood floor or a beautiful area rug that ties a room together in a home and makes all the furniture look even better. Groundcovers create a flowering and foliar carpet for the garden, making all the taller grasses, perennials, and shrubs planted into them look more beautiful. Groundcovers also act as a living mulch, helping to shade the soil and keep plant roots cooler, and helping to reduce weeds when healthy and dense.

Spread your wings and try some of these recommendations for groundcovers - including popular varieties as well as some great groundcovers that may be new to you. The results will delight!

Exploring Evergreen Groundcovers

Gray Creeping Germander (Teucrium aroanium)

A native of the Mediterranean, Gray Creeping Germander grows into a low mound of thin, silver leaves that form a beautiful backdrop for the honey-scented deep lavender-pink flowers that bloom in summer. The plant is an excellent small scale groundcover for hot, sunny sites in well-drained soil. Shear back 1/3 in mid-spring to reinvigorate established plants. Because this plant is very aromatic, it is an excellent choice for a deer and rabbit resistant garden. Looks wonderful when planted with Ice Plant (Delosperma), as shown in this image and at at the top of the page.

Thyme-Leaf Speedwell (Veronica oltensis)

Easily mistaken for creeping thyme, this plant's shiny evergreen leaves are tiny, hence the common name "Thyme Leaf". But when this little beauty bursts into flower in early to mid-spring, it becomes a sheet of blue flowers, readily distinguishing it from pink-flowered thyme. This groundcover is excellent as filler between pavers and flagstones, and makes an excellent edging plant for pathways. It is also a good lawn replacement for smaller, hard-to-mow areas. Thriving in sun and part sun, it weaves itself into flower beds and rock gardens. A great companion plant for mid-spring blooming bulbs like miniature Daffodils, Muscari, and Wildflower Tulips.

Silver Nailwort (Paronychia kapela ssp. serpyllifolia)

Native to the Pyrenees of southern Europe, Paronychia is a tough-as-nails groundcover that very closely resembles Creeping Thyme. However, we have found it to be much more xeric. It is resistant to fungal diseases of the stems and foliage and is very tolerant of dry winter conditions. As such, we are recommending it as a replacement for white-flowered thyme. Blooming in late spring, the flowers are insignificant, but the white bracts light up the plant for several months.

Creeping Shrubby Ice Plant (Ruschia pulvinaris)

A long-time favorite groundcover, this evergreen Ice Plant is an excellent choice for xeric and waterwise gardens. Only an inch in height, the plant spreads to form a woody mat of gray-green foliage that disappears under a cloud of brilliant magenta flowers in mid-spring. A great nectar plant, hungry native bees and honeybees are quick to visit these early-blooming spring flowers. Unlike its close relative, Delosperma (also called Ice Plant), this succulent species is rabbit resistant, making it a good choice for use as an edging plant along paths and driveways. While cold hardy to USDA zone 6, Ruschia is recommended for fall planting in warmer winter climates in zones 7-10. (Wait for spring in zone 6.)

Creeping Gold Buttons (Cotula sp. 'Tiffindell Gold')
This tough, deep-rooted groundcover hails from the high elevation Drakensberg Mountains of the Republic of South Africa. I discovered the plant while traveling to South Africa's only alpine ski area, Tiffindell, and have come to appreciate its versatility and vigor in the landscape. It is fast-growing and excellent when used as a lawn replacement. It has fine-textured, evergreen foliage, a profusion of bright yellow button-shaped flowers in late spring, and tolerance to foot traffic. When planted as a lawn replacement in full to partial sun areas, it can be "deadheaded" with a lawnmower which keeps the foliage looking lush and tidy. Plant on 15" centers to get a dense carpet of flowers and foliage.

Silver Edged Horehound (Marrubium rotundifolium)

Silver Edged Horehound is one our very best xeric groundcovers for poor soil areas with hot, sunny growing conditions. The soft felted leaves are green with a bright silver underside that curls up to give the leaves a silver edge. Native to high, dry areas of Turkey, this is sure to become a very popular addition to the Western xeric garden. The soft felted leaves are green on top and edged in white with the backs of the leaves also wooly white. . A vigorous grower, this plant does well in lean, well-drained soils, requiring little water once established.

Partridge Feather (Tanacetum densum ssp. amani)

This fabulous ground cover is perfect for beautifying hot, dry areas of the garden with its attractive gray, ferny foliage and late spring display of yellow button-shaped flowers. It does best when mulched with gravel, pine needles or other fast drying material to protect its woolly foliage from the wet ground during the winter and spring months. Plant Select says the following: "The contrast of silvery white against the greens of other leaves is striking. Its habit of crawling over stones and inching its way up and down slopes makes it ideal for a rock garden.  Partridge Feather placed on a crest or the high point of a rock garden can be quite arresting when the leaves and flowers are backlit by the sun. Partridge Feather isn’t a common plant in most gardens, so having one or more in your garden will put a feather in your cap."

Discovering Deciduous Groundcovers

Gold on Blue Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)

A superb native groundcover plant for slopes and dry areas, Gold on Blue Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora) is an unusually large-growing form of Prairie Zinnia. Blooming in summer with golden-yellow daisies, the foliage develops a distinct blue tinge. Spreading by suckers, ‘Gold on Blue’ is a vigorous spreader. Plant Select shares the following about this great plant introduction: "Just when the summer heat has driven most other flowering plants out-of-bloom, Gold on Blue bursts into flower in mid-summer, covering itself for several months with hundreds of bright golden-yellow flowers... It is the perfect match for Colorado, Intermountain and Great Plains garden conditions, thriving in our blazing higher elevation sun and growing well in most any dry soil type including clay."

Max Frei Giant Flowered Soapwort (Saponaria lempergii)

This Old World hybrid wildflower hails from the mountains of Europe and is an excellent groundcover for sun and partial shade. Blooming for a month or so in late spring, the plants cover themselves with a carpet of bright pink flowers. This long-lived plant provides the garden with years of dependable ground coverage and flowers. I've had the same patch in my garden for over 25 years! Very deep-rooted once established, it is surprisingly drought tolerant. Soapwort also has excellent cold hardiness and is a great choice for fall planting.  An uncommon perennial that deserves wider use.

Orange Carpet® Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii)

My first new plant introduction from 1996, Orange Carpet® is still one of my favorites, and one that has not been improved upon since! As its name implies, this Hummingbird Trumpet is a large-scale spreading groundcover, unlike other varieties of Zauschneria which are tall up-right growers. Blooming in mid-summer, it covers itself with a profusion of long, bright orange trumpets that attract hummingbirds. An excellent choice for cascading over the edge of a raised bed or sloping area, give it average water during the growing season to keep it lush and vigorous. Wait until spring to cut it back so as not to cause desiccation during dry winters. (Also known as Fire Chalice).

The Legacy of David Salman | High Country Gardens founder David Salman was a pioneer of waterwise gardening, a passionate plant explorer, and a charismatic storyteller. His commitment to cultivating a palette of beautiful waterwise plants transformed gardening in the American West. 

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