The Best Low-Maintenance Ground Cover Plants for Your Property
Photo: flickr.com via dweickhoff
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The Best Low-Maintenance Ground Cover Plants for Your Property
These ground covers serve practical purposes—including filling bare spots, warding off weeds, and preventing erosion—while boosting your home’s curb appeal.
By Sarah Littleton and Teresa Odle | Published Jan 10, 2023 4:50 PM
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Whether you do it yourself or pay a landscaper, maintaining a vibrant garden and lush lawn requires time, effort, and money. One way to cut back on the energy and resources you put into your yard is to incorporate ground covers into the landscape. They can spread across bare ground, suppressing weeds and dust, preventing erosion, decreasing water evaporation, and adding color. Check out these favorite ground covers that will require little effort on your part once you plant them.
1. Coral Bells (Heuchera)
An evergreen perennial native to North America, heuchera is known for its vibrant foliage, which ranges in color from silver to green to brown. The large, veined, heart-shaped leaves have a spread of 18 to 24 inches, and most varieties bloom in late spring with small pink flowers. When planted in groups, heuchera works well as a ground cover or along garden edging. The plant prefers partial shade or full sun and well-draining moist soil. What’s more, it requires relatively little maintenance, and it resists deer and other critters.
2. Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
Want to lure hummingbirds, butterflies, and other wildlife to your garden? Try some honeysuckle! Also known as lonicera, honeysuckle is an aromatic perennial that blooms with white, yellow, or red flowers in the spring and summer. It often grows vertically along trellises, but the plant can also serve as a ground cover. Just beware: Its rapid growth makes this an invasive plant throughout the Eastern United States, as well as parts of Texas and the Southwest. Honeysuckle grows best with full sun and moist soil, and it’s resistant to heat.
3. Brass Buttons (Cotula coronopifolia)
Photo: flickr.com via dweickhoff
Named for the color and the shape of their flowers, brass buttons stand out perhaps most of all for their serrated, fern-like leaves. In fact, brass buttons share the same Achilles’ heel as ferns: Both succumb easily to drought. In moist soil, however, brass buttons spread vigorously, forming 2-inch-tall mats of growth strong and thick enough to withstand even regular foot traffic.
In the South or West, the ground cover may lose its leaves or die back in the cold months. It is native to New Zealand and invasive in some areas, though its spread has not been out of control. In the right climate, brass buttons remain an evergreen ground cover year round.
4. Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera)
Few ground covers ever look as beautiful as creeping phlox in spring, when it produces an explosion of fragrant, star-shaped, pastel-colored flowers. It matures to a maximum height of only 6 inches, so many gardeners choose to plant creeping phlox on a slope or along the top of a retaining wall to appreciate its beauty from several angles.
Many use the ground cover to define the borders of garden paths. So long as the site affords full sun and good drainage, creeping phlox requires next to nothing in the way of care. It’s a native to wooded areas and stream banks of the Appalachian Mountains, and easy to control.
5. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Equally at home hanging from a planter or covering a hillside, Lysimachia (more commonly known as creeping Jenny) is a plant admired for its trailing branches. Each plant takes on a green fountain-like appearance: Long, lush shoots of chartreuse foliage sprout up from the soil, then softly twist and tangle for full coverage wherever planted.
Aside from good exposure to sunlight, these leafy green clusters ask little of their gardener with no need to replant every season. Note that the green type of European native can be highly invasive, especially in wet areas of the Northeast westward to Indiana, and in the parts of the Northwest.
6. Stonecrop (Sedum)
Need an easy evergreen carpet to plant where no grass dare grow? Though its lush leaves don’t scream “drought tolerant,” sedum boasts an ability to root and thrive in even the driest, rockiest settings—thus earning it the familiar name “stonecrop.” The secret? Those fleshy, bluish-green leaves help retain what little water it receives.
Many plant species from the genus Sedum are native to North America. Mulching and weeding to prevent unwanted sprouts from stealing water from these low-maintenance succulents, and you can enjoy the cheery color of this low growing ground cover year-round, with a number of varieties to choose from.
7. Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
The dainty lavender flowers and vining evergreen leaves make this purple ground cover incredibly popular as a low maintenance ground cover for shade. Also known as periwinkle and creeping myrtle, vinca minor will spread wherever it’s planted and will even scale trellises or fences if trained.
Vinca has few pests, so it can be considered invasive, which is good news if your goal is to keep weeds at bay. While this super spreader is a great ground cover to prevent weeds, if you want your vinca minor to play nice with other plantings, you’ll need to cut it back on a regular basis. In fact, beware of this potentially invasive ground cover, especially if you live near a forest. Its dense mats are threatening native plants on forest floors.
8. Dead Nettles (Lamium)
Under even the most unforgiving of conditions, lamium prevails. This vining plant, also known as dead nettles, can tolerate cold, heat, and drought, and it’s deer resistant. There are more than 40 species of lamium, but the best are those that are flowering perennials like the Pink Chablis. The low-maintenance plant thrives year-round, rewarding you with delicate blooms in spring and summer.
Lamium spreads quickly, so be ready to cut it back if it begins to encroach on other shrubs and flowers. And beware that it is considered invasive in some areas of the Northeast and Northwest.
9. Grace Ward Lithodora (Lithodora diffusa ‘Grace Ward’)
Thanks to its bold blue hue and its ability to attract butterflies, Grace Ward lithodora will add bursts of color to your landscape from spring through the end of summer. The low-lying ground cover is a popular option as a filler for rock gardens or as an accent above retaining walls. In addition to making your garden look good, lithodora is a useful ally: The plant works as a natural deer repellent (the animals dislike the taste of the flowers) and helps control erosion.
Although not a U.S. native and with the potential to choke out nearby wildflowers, lithodora is not listed as an invasive concern. In extremely hot climates it needs a little shade, but otherwise it enjoys being in the sun.
10. Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Soft, aromatic creeping thyme seems to check off all the boxes for a gardener, plus more. The low-lying, flowering ground cover—it grows no more than 4 inches tall—can endure being stepped and stomped on, making it a smart choice for planting between pavers or for replacing grass entirely.
It prefers moderate climates but is able to withstand full sun and drought-like conditions. Creeping thyme ground cover is not invasive, helps prevent weeds from growing, and is a natural deer repellent. And while deer might not like its pink flowers, they do attract butterflies and honeybees—it’s even believed that it enhances the flavor of the honey. On top of all that, with proper care the plant can last 5 to 6 years, during which time you can harvest your own fresh thyme.
11. Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi)
Native to Africa, purple ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) became popular as a cold-hardy ground cover in the United States in the 1990s. Although it favors dry climates, this ground cover can survive in the warmer end of some humid regions. It’s a well-behaved spreader, and is not invasive. If it grows outside its pounds, trim it off or transplant a branch.
This deer-resistant succulent ground cover has needle-shaped leaves and small but bright daisy-like flowers that carpet the plants from late spring through early fall. The foliage is evergreen and the 3-inch-high plant trails or spreads, favoring gravel and other sunny, dry conditions in zones 5 through 9. New delosperma varieties boast yellow, orange, apricot, and bicolor flowers.
12. Native Zinnia (Zinnia spp.)
Photo: Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa) and prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora) are native ground covers in the Southwest. They love harsh conditions, including heat, full sun, low water, and even rugged terrain or rocky soil. Both have tiny needle-like foliage that spreads along the ground or down rock walls. They save their energy for the surprisingly large flowers, white on desert zinnia and yellow on prairie zinnia.
These waterwise plants are perfect rock garden ground covers in zones 4 through 9 for the hardier yellow prairie zinnia and 6 through 10 for desert zinnia with its pretty white flowers.
13. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Although taller than a typical ground cover, yarrow ranks among the most attractive ground cover flowering plants. Common or Western yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is native to North America and can be found throughout temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Some hybrids offer striking, flat flower clusters that bees and butterflies can use as a landing pad. In addition to white flowers, you can find colors like moonshine yellow, paprika, or vintage violet.
Yarrow can grow in full sun in nearly any soil and can tolerate drought once established. Choose native common yarrow. ‘Little Moonshine,’ for example, reaches about 10 inches high when in bloom; Greek yarrow has lower height and gray-green foliage. These creeping ground cover plants will reward you with easy care and bright colors. Available at Etsy; $10.99 per 1-quart plant.
14. Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii)
Aromatic enough for both kitties and their owners, catmint (Nepeta) is an easy-care, low growing ground cover. It’s a relative of mint, so it’s guaranteed to spread, and it’s hardy in the cold of Zone 3 but can take heat up to Zone 8. A particularly vigorous variety, ‘Walker’s Low’, was The Perennial Plant Association’s plant of the year in 2007.
Although not as attractive to cats as catnip (Nepeta cataria), catmint is a gardener’s dream: an easy-to-grow, robust purple ground cover. Its aromatic grayish-green foliage spreads easily, and lavender-blue flowers rise on stalks from spring through fall. Catmint can handle several types of soil as well as both humidity and drought, and it’s also deer and rabbit resistant. It spreads well, but is easy to manage.
15. Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)
With society garlic, you can have your ground cover and eat it too! This tuberous perennial has long, thin, chive-like foliage you can enjoy in the kitchen; the greenery is topped by tiny purple flowers in the summer, and it’s also available in a variegated type. Hardy in zones 7 through 10, these low maintenance ground cover plants love full sun and heat. Society garlic can also tolerate dry conditions.
It’s a good idea to add some mulch around the plant to help suppress weeds. As it spreads, new clumps will form. If your garlic outgrows its space, thin it out and divide the old clumps every few years for a consistent ground cover.