When you think of your garden's landscaping, many gardeners probably think about how to intermingle tall plants with smaller flowers, bushes, and even water features to create an overall aesthetic. Even if you’ve planned for clusters of similar colors or anticipated a combination of bulbs, perennials, and annuals, one thing you may not have incorporated into your plan is groundcover. The various plants to use for groundcover can provide ways to add depth, texture, and protection to your entire landscape design.

What is Groundcover?

Technically, groundcover is anything that covers the soil. By some definitions that even includes plastic sheeting, but for the purposes of gardening with groundcover, we're talking about all of the amazing options for fast spreading, low lying plants that will grow throughout your yard. In addition to adding visual appeal to the bare spots in your garden, groundcovers provide a mulching function that helps maintain moisture in the soil. Groundcovers also help with erosion, allowing your topsoil to stay in place longer.

Types of Groundcover

Types of ornamental grasses

Ground cover plants are a large group with many varieties, but the most common groundcover by far in home gardens is grass, and not just the bluegrass in your lawn, but ornamental grasses as well. In wet ecosystems, moss is a common groundcover that can easily be found blanketing the forest floor. A third type of groundcover is vines, which are woody plants. Herbaceous plants are described as non-woody and make up the fourth category. Finally, we have shrubs, specifically low-growing varieties. Now that you know about the main types of groundcover you may even recognize that you already have some in your garden. If not, consider ways you can incorporate them to improve the look and health of your mini-ecosystem.

Where to Plant Groundcover

Flower bed on grass

One of the great things about groundcover is the myriad ways you can use it in your yard. For starters, it makes a great border. Picture your flower bed, layered with tall sunflowers in the back, interspersed with lilies and lavender, and framed in with some short but colorful pansies. Groundcovers can extend that picturesque tiering with a variety that runs along the front of the bed, perhaps even dangling over the edge of your paving stone border.

A second ultra-common location for groundcover is along walkways and seating areas made of stone. The thyme family offers many varieties that work double “thyme” as both visual art and stability to keep stepping stones in place. In addition, thyme and other plants placed between pavers will drive out weeds, sparing you from that task. In addition to the ubiquitous thyme options, consider chamomile, Jewel mint of Corsica, blue star creeper, dichondra, green carpet, and Irish moss, among myriad choices.

Slopes are another fantastic avenue to introduce groundcover. For areas that benefit from erosion protection and weed control, look for groundcover that grows slightly higher than those you might use between pavers. Since the root systems hold the topsoil in place, think about how far the plant will spread without becoming invasive. Ivy is an example of a groundcover that offers excellent erosion control but walks a fine line between function and invasion. Also think about the visual appeal. While some groundcovers are evergreen, there are many that flower in a variety of colors and sizes. Finally, part of the appeal of using groundcovers on a slope is to provide low maintenance so avoid grasses that will need mowed or prickly plants that require frequent care. Some prime examples of groundcover that work well on slopes include ornamental grasses, rambling low-growing roses, periwinkle (vinca minor), or bishop’s weed.

Characteristics to Consider

Groundcovers come in hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties. Before you head to the local garden center or load options into your online cart, there are several things to consider.

As with all plants the first consideration is your planting zone. If you want your groundcover to thrive, select options recommended for your area, especially those that are native as they have the best chance of survival.

Height is a feature previously mentioned, but it’s important enough to point out again. Remember to investigate the maximum growing height so that your pavers don’t become completely covered and your hillside receives proper coverage.

Rambling plants also need special thought. After all, the goal is to improve conditions in your yard and make your gardening tasks easier. With this in mind, eliminate options that will become too invasive. Your groundcover should boost the soil for surrounding plants rather than stealing nutrients and choking them out.

Color is part of any good landscape design so make sure to do your research. Where pink flowers may conflict with your rose colored pavers, blue or white can bring a visual punch.

The location of your groundcover will also factor in to your decision. Look for options that can tolerate heat in full sun locations and those that prefer shade for the north side of the house and beneath trees.


Stone Paver Steps surrounded by pots and groundcover

Groundcovers offer many benefits in the form of weed and erosion control as well as added support to paving stones and visual appeal. It is important, however, to select the right plants to meet your goals.