Great Groundcovers That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of


veronica oltensis groundcover

Thyme-Leaf Speedwell (Veronica oltensis) makes a great groundcover.

Uncommon, But Awesome Groundcovers

Groundcovers are a great group of garden plants. They create the foundation of an inspiring garden. Like a nice wood floor or beautiful area rug, they make all the furniture placed on top of them look better. Groundcovers are a flowering and foliar carpet that makes all the taller plants planted into them look more beautiful, especially when the flowers are complementary colors like golden yellow Daffodils and sky blue Speedwell (Veronica). Groundcovers are also a living mulch, helping to shade the soil and keep all the plant roots cooler. And they help to reduce weed populations when healthy and dense.

But frankly, gardeners need some inspiring new plant choices when it comes to groundcovers. We all tend to plant what is familiar like Ice Plant (Delosperma) and Creeping Thyme (Thymus). Spread your wings and try some of these recommendations. The results will delight you.

Evergreen Groundcovers

Pterocephalus depressus.

Carpeting Pincushion Flower (Pterocephalus depressus)
Carpeting Pincushion Flower (Pterocephalus depressus)

A native of Morocco, This resilient, evergreen groundcover comes from a high elevation mountain habitat giving the plant has excellent cold hardiness. A close relative of the popular Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa) it grows only an inch tall. In early summer it covers itself with huge, showy mauve-pink flowers, followed by fluffy pink Apache Plume-like seed heads to give it an extended season of color. Deep rooted, with coarse, thick roots, it slowly spreads to make a long-lived garden rug. A slow but steady grower, it is a great plant for small garden areas.

Thyme-Leaf Speedwell (Veronica oltensis)

Easily mistaken for a creeping thyme, this plant's shiny evergreen leaves are tiny, hence the common name "Thyme Leaf Speedwell. 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 crack filler between pavers and flagstone, makes an excellent edging plant for pathways and is 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.

Creeping Shrubby Ice Plant (Ruschia pulvinaris)

A long-time favorite groundcover, this evergreen Ice Plant is an excellent choice for xeric (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. And unlike its close relative, Delosperma, 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.)

Cotula tiffindell gold.

Creeping Gold Buttons (Cotula sp. 'Tiffindell Gold')
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 grass 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 lawn mower which keeps the foliage looking lush and tidy. Plant on 15" centers to get a dense carpet of flowers and foliage.

Deciduous Groundcovers

Giant Flowered Soapwort (Saponaria lempergii Max Frei)

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 (xeric). Soapwort also has excellent cold hardiness and is a great choice for fall planting.

zauschneria_garrettii_orange_carpet_web_square

Orange Carpet® Hummingbird Trumpet
Orange Carpet® Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii cultivar)

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 (also known as Fire Chalice) 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 not to cause desiccation during dry winters.


Achillea millifolium sonoma coast.

White Yarrow 'Sonoma Coast'.

White Yarrow (Achillea millifolium 'Sonoma Coast')

A fantastic introduction discovered along the coast of CA, this native yarrow is much more ornamental than the common white yarrow. It is a compact grower, with short 12" blooming stems of flat, white flowers. And it grows to form a tight carpet of gorgeous foliage. In fact, the bright green, fine textured fern-like foliage is its best feature. It makes a wonderful, foot-traffic resistant xeric lawn replacement. When planted in large areas, "deadhead" it with a lawn mower to removed the faded flowers and keep the foliage looking fresh and cool for the rest of the growing season. This is also an excellent plant (along with Sulfur buckwheat) for attracting beneficial (predatory) insects to your landscape to help control injurious insect pests.

Planting Groundcovers

When planting groundcovers, I always recommend using them in groups of 5 or 7 (at the minimum) to create larger patches of the plant maximizing the impact and beauty of the flowers and foliage.

Use Mature Width For Planting Guidance:

On our website, you'll see listed as the second measurement, the groundcover's mature width. If it spreads to 15-18" wide, plant them 15" apart. This will help you create a solid carpet of groundcover. Want quicker coverage? Plant them a bit closer than their mature spread.

Planting Perennials With Groundcovers:

And most importantly, taller growing plants can be transplanted right into a new groundcover area or into established patches of groundcovers. Groundcovers tend to have more horizontal growing root systems that won't compete with the deeper roots of flowering bulbs and taller perennials.

4 thoughts on “Great Groundcovers That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of”

  • Biz Bisard
    Biz Bisard 08/06/16 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for this article on underused ground covers. I'll try several of them and hope for the best zone 4 results.

    I'll mention a couple more that fit my northern Michigan climate: Siberian barren strawberry (yellow flowers, very interesting leaf structure and no fruit on this deciduous late spring bloomer) and European wild ginger (evergreen with dark green waxy round leaves and insignificant spring flowers.) They look sort of like violet leaves that have been to a beauty parlor. I found both of these in the yard and have a suspicion that my late mother may have originally planted them 30 plus years ago.

    Reply
  • Sharon Hardy-Mills
    Sharon Hardy-Mills 08/06/16 at 3:07 pm

    I am thinking of planting some of these ground covers in my orchard rather than the grasses that are growing there. Will the ground covers work with the deep watering for the fruit trees?

    Reply
  • Linda Gunter
    Linda Gunter 08/07/16 at 4:18 am

    Which of these grows best in poor mountain soil? Mostly sun but some dappled shade

    Reply
  • Julie Clark
    Julie Clark 08/07/16 at 6:23 am

    I live next to Lake Oroville which is a reservoir fed by the Feather River and a large dam built in 1963. During July/Aug we get frequently hot weather of several days over 100 degrees. This year is not a drought but in the past the Lake gets very low. I have found that flowers simply wilt and the nursery plants die (lavender). I have a watering system in place and am looking at rocks and the possibility of Golden Bamboo. Oleanders, citrus and olives are grown here.

    Reply
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