Good groundcovers: 10 groundcovers that won’t overtake your garden

August 16, 2016

We strongly believe in the benefits of mulching your garden. Whether you use wood chips or composted mulch, there are huge benefits to covering and protecting your soil. But what’s even better than mulch? Living mulch! Groundcovers are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also provide many of the same benefits of mulch for your garden.

Benefits of groundcovers:

  • Prevent soil from eroding in sloped areas
  • Increase beneficial habit for soil organisms
  • Suppress weeds
  • Insulate the ground from extreme temperatures
  • Keep moisture in the soil from evaporating as quickly

When selecting groundcovers we look for varieties that are low maintenance, aren’t invasive, suppress weeds and are easy to remove when they get out of bounds. While getting established, any groundcover would need to be weeded around so we look for varieties that are easy to weed under.

Here are ten of our favorite groundcovers that won’t take over your garden:

  1. Creeping Thyme (Thymus species): 2-4”, evergreen, pink, white or purple flowers in early summer, full sun. Great choice to infill between pavers or replace a small lawn that is drought tolerant once established.

    Creeping Thyme

  2. Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis): 6-8”, evergreen, white flowers in spring, part to full shade. Perfect choice in dry shade where little else will grow (although it may not flower in full shade).

    Pachysandra

    Japanese Spurge

  3. Sweet Box (Sarcococca hookeriana-humilis): 12-15”, evergreen, fragrant white flowers in late winter, part to full shade. Spreads slowly but densely, keeping out weeds.  Once established it’s drought tolerant.

    Sweet Box

  4. Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi): 4-6”, evergreen, pinkish white flowers in spring, full sun. This NW native is a perfect choice for hot dry slopes or rock gardens. It needs well-drained soil to thrive.

    Kinnikinnick

  5. Bellflower (Campanula ‘Birch Hybrid’): 6”, evergreen, lavender flowers spring to summer, part to full sun. It will take average soils and look it’s best with some supplemental water during dry summers. You can mow or trim it back after flowering to get lush new growth.

    Bellflower

    Bellflower

  6. Brass Buttons (Leptinella squalida): 2-3”, evergreen, sun to part shade. It’s rich green foliage is a good choice to creep between pavers and makes a lovely lawn substitute in small spaces. Low water user.

    Leptinella squalida

    Brass Buttons

  7. Barrenwort (Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’): 12-15”, evergreen to semi-evergreen, yellow flowers in early spring, part shade. Drought tolerant but will appreciate some supplemental watering during dry spells.

    Epimedium

    Barrenwort

  8. Mount Vernon Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Mount Vernon’): 10-18”, evergreen, hardy, full sun to part shade. Thrives in average soils and is a low water user once established.

    Mount Vernon Laurel

    Mount Vernon Laurel

  9. Himalayan Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum venustum): 6-8”, evergreen, pinkish copper new fronds, part-shade. Surprisingly tough for how delicate it looks.  Best in average soil with some supplemental water in the hot season. Trim back old fronds in February or march for freshest look.

    Adiantum venustum

    Himalayan Maidenhair Fern

  10. Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum): A NW native evergreen groundcover that grows 4-6” tall. Wild Ginger does great in part to full shade gardens and adapts well to dry conditions once established. I’ve grown it in sandy soils with great success once established.

    Wild Ginger & Maidenhair Fern

    Wild Ginger & Maidenhair Fern

2 comments... (add a comment)

  1. Arlene

    Which ground cover is best for not smothering the perennials? I’d love to add ground cover to help with weeds but also as a backdrop for the other plants but I fear they may kill my other plants by smothering them.

    • Hi Arlene,

      Any of the options in this blog post would be good around perennials. Another option you could also consider is Mondo grass. You can find both green and black varieties.

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