However, turfgrasses can be very high maintenance, can be unsuitable for some growing conditions, and often has to be repaired or completely replaced. And there are locations, such as under trees or in heavy shade, where is cannot be successfully established.

Firstly, I would like to discuss popular and heavily promoted groundcovers that I do not recommend because of their invasive nature. Ajuga is a monster in many gardens. It spreads rapidly through rhizomes. The fact that it is a member of the mint family should give everyone a head's up.

Then there are plants that can be grown with caution. Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), which is hardy in zones 2-9, is a delightful plant. But be prepared to take a shovel to it as it moves around the yard. I inherited it, and find that it needs to be reined in almost every year. Also note that, while wonderfully fragrant, all parts of the plant are highly poisonous, and therefore small children should be carefully supervised around this plant.

Vinca can be delightful, but it can be hard to establish. I take care of several yards and one has a massive show that was established by a previous owner, while two keep adding and adding and failing to establish a reliable cover.

Also, take care with certain grasses, because they can behave very differently in different places. I established Chasmanthium latifolium (northern sea oats, a native plant) in a high pH dry zone, and it stayed in place. I established it in a lower pH environment that gets less sun, and it went nuts! Just like miscanthus behaves beautifully for me but is invasive elsewhere, there are plants that barely survive in one location but become problems even one horticultural zone away. But there are a number of other plants that are carefree and beautiful without negatives or an obligation to monitor them closely to avoid a plant riot.

Gaultheria procumbens has a number of names, the most common being winterberry, as well as American wintergreen. This handsome little plant is hardy in zones 3 through 8. It is a species of gaultheria that is, according to Wikipedia, native to northeastern North America from Newfoundland west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to Alabama, and is a member of the heath family.

I began establishing it in zone 5a a couple of years ago. Its only requirements are acid soil, which I solve with a couple of applications each year of Ironite, and it is better if it does not dry out. That makes it a natural for serving as a groundcover for plants like azaleas and rhododendrons, but it is worth the trouble of acidifying, because it is a gorgeous little plant. It is evergreen, and produces white flowers that then morph into stunning red berries that are, in fact, edible. It creeps, but quite slowly. It's flexible, in that it can handle anything from part to full shade. It also is one of the few plants that is attractive in the winter.

Such a beauty! And this is a plant you can grow in Minnesota as well as Georgia. It has glossy, leather leaves that come up from rhizomes. The white flowers are shaped like bells. And there is a new cultivar with white berries.


There are several geraniums that make fine ground covers but I have found that big foot hardy geranium 'Bevans Variety', a macrrorhizum type geranium, is superior to most. It never becomes leggy. It is evergreen, even in my zone 5a climate in winter (it is hardy in zones 4 to 8). It is great in sun or shade, appears impervious to ph, and can grow where nothing else does. It's a clumper, and remains dense, never getting leggy or bare. It never needs shearing; you can just remove the flowering stems. The foliage is wonderfully fragrant. And it is very handsome. Once it starts to clump, and it can reach three feet in width, it is a piece of cake to lift sections of it and move it elsewhere. As a professional gardener, it is the plant I "donate" to anyone who says that nothing will grow in a particular location. The flowers are a pleasing shade of pink.


Alchemilla mollis is another classic ground cover plant, also known as ladies mantle. An attractive and easy to grow plant, but at up to 30 inches across, it can be a bit large. It is hardy in zones 3 through 8. Try Alchemilla alpina, a very similar plant that tops out at 5 inches high and 12 inches wide is similar, but the scalloping on the leaves is sharper. Both plants are wonderful.


Another geranium that accompanies roses well is Cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'. It is one of the most picturesque and charming, and it was Perennial Plant of the Year in 2015. Hardy to zone 4, it remains tidy all season with its groundcover form. It is never scraggly, and its foliage is red tinged in fall.

Geranium biokovo with rose Zephirine Drouhin

A plant with many bonuses is Fragaria vesca, the woodland strawberry. There are several variants. The ones that I have grown for many years is 'Reugen'. Please do not confuse this lovely little plant with the one with hard little inedible berries that runs around your garden. Not aggressive, it simply bunches up, and besides being completely disease resistant, rewards you with tiny edible strawberries. It is easy to grow from seed you need not buy it, which is great because I like to use it extensively as an edging plant, which can make it expensive. Hardy in zones 4-8, the plants produce pretty white flowers which ripen into small, but delicious berries. There are several types that have yellow berries or slightly different names. The only important thing to remember is to buy runnerless woodland strawberries.

Lastly, I must mention Japanese anemones. There are many, in white and various shades of pink, and single or double. For me the first one is the best: Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert', which dates from 1858. Hardy in zones 4-8, great in sun to partial shade. It's a fabulous plant because it is a very effective groundcover when not in bloom.

Anemone pre-bloom

And after bloom, it's a beauty.

Anemone in bloom

This picture is of four plants once established. The bloom period for this lasts about five weeks in my garden. And contrary to the usual description, these plants were on the western side of my property in full blazing sun. And note - this was taken the week of October 13!anemones massed

I hope that you will investigate some of these plants. I have had great enjoyment from them over the years while minimizing my maintenance. And less maintenance combined with great beauty is something that I believe most of us seek.

Images are my own or from PlantFiles with the exception of the Winterberry Image it is courtesy of Gabriela Beres at