By Susan Albert
Groundcovers are low-growing, spreading plants that serve multiple uses: transition between perennials, control erosion on a slope, substitute for grass, define a path, or act as “living mulch.”
Ideally groundcovers are perennial, evergreen or herbaceous, and suitable for sun or shade. For the lowest maintenance choose winter-hardy, perennial plants that form dense mats to suppress weeds.
Low shrubs, such as dwarf junipers or landscape roses, work well as groundcovers in sunny locations with well-drained soil. I have a couple of Coral Drift groundcover roses in my front bed that pretty much stay evergreen through our Zone 6B winter.
Here are more groundcovers that are winter hardy in the South Central region:
Full to part shade
- Carpet bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) spreads easily by runners. Purple, white, or pink flower spikes arise in spring, depending on the cultivar. Several leaf colorations are available, including dark green, bronze, and variegated. Bugleweed is susceptible to crown and root rot, and I’ve experienced dieback disease. Planting in a well-ventilated area can help.
- Pachysandra is a garden stalwart perennial, with white flowers in spring. Its glossy, whorled evergreen foliage is suitable for erosion control. A variegated form is available.
- Hostas make a great perennial cover for a large, shady area. There are so many varieties to choose from, with large leaves, small leaves, variegated, green, blue, etc. Plus they grow white or lilac flower spikes that hummingbirds enjoy visiting. Our southernmost friends may want to try the more heat-tolerant Hosta plantaginea.
- Coral-bells (Heuchera sanguinea) make a nice mounding groundcover 12–16 in high and come in a variety of leaf colors, sizes, and textures. Coral-bells prefer light shade. Some varieties are more heat tolerant.
- Monkey grass, or mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicum), grows well in sun or shade. The evergreen perennial has arching, grasslike stems and often is confused with liriope.
Full to Part Sun
- The succulent leaves of ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) form a thick mat with 2-in flowers of magenta or other bold colors in summer. The plant spreads quickly and can be propagated by pulling up small sections and planting them shallowly in nearby soil.
- Candytuft (Iberis) is a perennial with evergreen foliage and is hardy in the South Central region. Its pure-white flowers start blooming in late winter and continue for a long period, making it a must-have plant. Hybrids are available in a mix of colors, but white is most popular.
- Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia) looks like small rounded pennies, with green or chartreuse foliage. Needs moist, well-drained soil. Small, yellow flowers appear in summer. Can be invasive.
- Santolina (Santolina hamaecyparissus) is a mound-forming evergreen perennial with silver-gray foliage and buttonlike, yellow blooms. Prefers to be on the dry side. Grows about 1 ft tall. It’s evergreen through our Zone 6B winters.
- Creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) is a very low-growing evergreen perennial that forms a nice mat. In spring, when the numerous small blooms come on, it looks best when allowed to spill over an edge. Creeping phlox does best in full sun to part shade.
- Plumbago (Plumbago capensis) is herbaceous and somewhat viney, with striking small, electric-blue flowers all summer. Great to fill in a small area.
- Periwinkle (Vinca minor, Vinca major) is a fast-growing evergreen groundcover with purple, blue, or white flowers in early spring. The glossy, green minor stays low to the ground, and its trailing stems root to the ground, providing good erosion control. I have the Vinca major variegated variety, but I daresay I would be happier with only the Vinca minor. The larger-leaf varieties mound up to 1 ft tall or more, and I hate to think what may be living under that groundcover. I occasionally mow it back, just to reduce its height.
- Lilyturf (Liriope spicata) is an arching, grasslike perennial that spreads by underground rhizomes, forming colonies. It can be invasive. Liriope muscari is a clump-forming perennial that slowly expands over time and can be mowed in spring before new growth starts. I particularly like the variegated variety.
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