Favorite Flowering Ground Covers

‘Shell’Pink’ and ‘Orchid Frost’ lamiums look lovely side-by-side.

If you have a garden area that needs filling in, whether along a slope, between plants, or beside stone steps or rocky retaining walls, there are many beautiful perennial groundcovers for the job. They range from ones that do well in hot, dry areas to others that like moist shade.  I have chosen groundcovers that have beautiful leaves as well as flowers, which do not overwhelm surrounding plants and are easy to grow.

Flowering Groundcovers for Full to Partial Shade

‘Orchid Frost’ is one of many pretty deadnettles for shady gardens.

Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum, Zones 3-8): One of my favorites for shade is named spotted deadnettle, or simply deadnettle, even though it has no prickly nettles.  I have had several varieties in my shade garden for years. The early summer flower stalks are about 7 inches tall, rising over 4-inch-tall plants that spread several feet across. There are lots of varieties with variously spotted leaves and blooms of purple, pink, or white that are visited by bees. My favorite varieties include ‘Orchid Frost’ with lavender flowers and beautiful silver leaves, ‘Aureum‘ with bright pink flowers and white-striped gold leaves, Shell Pink‘ with palest pink blooms, and ‘White Nancy’, which has white flowers and silvery leaves. Lamium is deer-resistant, spreads gently, and is easily divided and transplanted. Plant it along shaded bed edges or allow it to cascade from the side of a shaded container garden. Lamium likes full to partial shade, and moist, well-drained soil.

Fragrant sweet woodruff flowers and plants look attractive in shaded gardens.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum, Zones 4-8): Another partial- to full-shade groundcover is European sweet woodruff, which also has the benefit of being an herbal plant used to flavor May wine in Europe. It has clusters of starry white flowers in the spring and whorled, star-shaped leaves; both are fragrant, but it’s the flowers that are used to flavor the wine. (Click here for a May wine recipe.) Sweet woodruff is about 8 inches tall and gently spreads around trees and shrubs.  It likes moist, well-drained soil and is deer resistant!

Wild ginger creates mats of attractive foliage through the growing season.

Wild Gingers (Asarum spp., Zones vary): There are many wild gingers with lovely ground-covering foliage and interesting beetle-pollinated spring flowers. The popular native species is Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadensis, Zones 2-8). Its medium-green, heart-shaped leaves look very pretty on bed edges or to hold shaded garden banks. Chinese wild ginger (Asarum splendens, Zones 6-8) is more ornamental with its pointed, green leaves that have spectacular silver markings.  ‘Quick Silver‘ is the best variety. Small, three-petaled, purple flowers appear around the base of the plants in spring. It also does well in full to part shade.  Most Asarum reach 6 to 8 inches, like average well-drained soil, and are deer resistant.

‘Cutting Edge’ Tiarella has attractive spring flowers and lovely leaves. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Foamflower (Tiarella spp.): These pretty native perennials have attractive, lobed foliage and spires of foamy flowers that appear in late spring. The flowers may be ivory or pink and attract both bees and butterflies. The pretty clumps of ornate leaves spread over time. Try the new Proven Winners variety ‘Cutting Edge’, which has spectacular green, maple-shaped leaves with red venation. Provide foamflower with full to part shade, and moist, well-drained soil amended with fertile organic matter, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend. In fact, this amendment will create a good soil foundation for all of the shade-loving groundcovers mentioned.

Flowering Groundcovers for Full to Partial Sun

Creeping thyme doubles as an herb and groundcover.

Creeping Speedwell (Veronica prostata, Zones 4-8): Grow this creeping groundcover along a border edge or in a rock garden. The stunning variety, ‘Aztec Gold’, has gold leaves with violet-blue flowers in the early summer.  It reaches 6 inches tall, is heat tolerant, and needs moderate moisture. Deer don’t like it but bees and butterflies do.

Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum, Zones 4-8): This easy garden herb is one of my favorites. It does well between paving stones or cascading down rock walls. The fragrant leaves are tiny plants reach 2-inches-high. The spreading mats have little summer flowers of purple, bright pink, or lavender, depending on the variety you buy. Bees love the blooms! Check out ‘Elfin’ with purple flowers, ‘Annie Hall’ with pink flowers, and ‘Silver Posie’, which has white-edged leaves and lavender flowers. The fragrant leaves can be used in cooking. Thyme needs full sun, very well-drained soil, and is drought-tolerant once established. Like most plants in the mint family, it is also deer resistant.

Creeping phlox is perfect for garden edges and slopes (‘Emerald Blue’ is at the far left, and ‘Candy Stripe’ is at the far right)

Stonecrop (Sedum spp., Zones vary): For hot, dry, sunny, areas nothing can beat, low-spreading stonecrops.  Many have beautiful, succulent leaves, as well as starry flowers that attract bees and butterflies. It is very easy to pull up a piece and replant it to help fill in an area quickly. Some good varieties are the 2-3 inches tall ‘John Creech’ (Sedum spurium ‘John Creech, Zones 3-9) with pink, summer flowers, SunSparkler® Wildfire (Zones 4-9) that has red leaves edged in rose as well as pink flowers in the late-summer, and ‘White Diamond’ (Sedum pachyclados ‘White Diamond’, Zones 5-9) with blue-green rose-shaped leaves and white summer flowers.  The broad-spreading ‘Angelina’ (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, Zones 5-9) is a popular variety with gold spiky foliage and yellow summer blooms.  Sedums are drought-tolerant once established.

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata, Zones 3-9): This has some of the most beautiful flowers of all the groundcovers and blooms for up to 4 weeks in the spring.  It averages 5 inches tall and spreads quickly. Plant creeping phlox in open, sunny areas along slopes or retaining walls, in front of shrubs, or in rock gardens where they will get full sun and well-drained soil.  Look for the colorful varieties ‘Scarlet Flame’ with red-eyed rose-pink flowers, ‘Emerald Blue’ with pale lilac-blue flowers, and ‘Candy Stripe’, which has pink flowers edged in white.  Creeping phlox is deer resistant.

Snow-in-Summer can take heat and drought!

Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum, Zones 3-7): gardeners with hot, dry, sunny spots that need a flowering groundcover should grow snow-in-summer. It creates a broad, spreading mat of silver leaves that erupt with cascades of white flowers in the summer. Try the more compact variety, ‘Yo Yo‘. It is beautiful! Site it as you would creeping phlox. Bees and butterflies love the flowers!

These easy groundcovers will help to provide needed in sweeps across your garden. Buy a few to fill in bare areas, and you will be glad you did.

Groundcovers to Avoid

It is important to note that there are some popular groundcovers to avoid because they are invasive and have become an ecological problem in wild areas. These include groundcover periwinkle (Vinca minor and Vinca major), wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), Japanese spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), and worst of all, English Ivy (Hedera helix). English ivy is a tree-killer in zone 7 or warmer (click here to learn more). The evergreen types are truly the worst because they smother native spring ephemerals and other natives along the forest floor. Avoid planting them, if you can.

How Do You Get Grass to Grow in Shade?

“How can you grow grass when you have so many trees you get no sunlight on the ground?” Question from Terry of La Place, Louisiana

Answer: Sadly, the best thing to do is to grow something else. Grasses are notoriously sun-loving and none of the common lawn varieties will grow well in deep shade. Beds of attractive, low-growing groundcovers for deep shade are a much better choice. Some options are even grass-like, such as sedges. Here are some of the finest groundcovers for deep shade in Louisiana. You may even mix these up to create a more textural, interesting planting.

Southern Groundcovers for Deep Shade

Ajuga is an easy-to-find, spring-blooming groundcover for deep shade.

Partidge berry and little brown jug are my favorites because they are native, cute, tough, and feed wildlife. There are also lots of ferns to consider if the soil is not too dry beneath your trees. These include wood fern (Thelypteris kunthii) and Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora).

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do I Recover Tree Roots Exposed by Erosion?

“I have tree roots that have been exposed near the ground because of soil erosion.  Should I try to recover with soil or leave it be?  Will it kill the tree? I think they are the roots of a very large willow oak.  There is also a very large poplar tree close by, too.” Question from Richard of Winston Salem, North Carolina

Answer: Extensive root exposure can be damaging to trees, so I recommend restoring the eroded area. Exposed, large woody roots are not a problem, but the broad exposure of smaller feeder roots can cause trouble and indicates a severe erosion problem.

Different trees can tolerate different levels of root-soil cover. Willow oak (Quercus phellos) has a shallow root zone and should not be covered with a thick layer of soil. Two to three inches of soil over the layer of smaller roots should be enough. Poplars have large, extensive root systems and are less prone to damage from high levels of erosion. Still, erosion is always troublesome in the landscape and should be stopped. It can also cause tree instability and make them far more prone to falling during storms.

Here are my recommendations for managing your erosion and tree-root exposure problem.

  1. Identify and attempt to stop the source of erosion. If you can identify the water source, you can often divert the water. Your method of diversion would depend on the source. Feel free to provide more information regarding the source, so I can provide specific solutions.
  2. Cover the exposed feeder roots with at least 2 to 3 inches of topsoil and press it down. We also recommend mixing a good organic amendment into the topsoil, such as Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss.
  3. Apply a straw mat or burlap erosion mat to keep the soil in place.
  4. Plant plugs of groundcover for dry shade between the matting. A good groundcover layer will hold the soil in place as it becomes established (list below).
  5. Keep the plugs watered and cared for until they begin to really grow and spread–around two to three months.

There are lots of good groundcovers for dry shade that reduce or stop erosion. These include creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Nana’, light shade, Zones 6-10), evergreen vinca (Vinca minor, shade, Zones 4-9), dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’, shade, Zones 6-11), golden sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, shade to part shade, Zones 5-11), and the evergreen creeping plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’, Zones 6-9), which I highly recommend.

If you like native groundcovers, consider wild ginger (Asarum canadense, shade, Zones 3-8), Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens, shade, Zones 4-9), and the pretty green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum, part sun to shade, Zones 5-8).

I hope that these solutions help!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

I Am Looking For a Deer-Proof Chartreuse Ground Cover

Golden lemon thyme is a great groundcover that is disliked by deer.

“I planted a chartreuse ground cover, I believe it was a sedum, not sure.  Very low growing.  It looked great & then the deer discovered it – they ate it all.  Can you suggest another chartreuse ground cover that perhaps the deer wouldn’t – the little darlings.” Question from Peggy of Canton, Michigan

Answer: Many sedums are succulent treats for deer. It is really too bad because they are otherwise so tough and beautiful. There are a number of low, spreading groundcovers with chartreuse or golden-chartreuse color that deer tend to avoid. Here are some perennial options in addition to one woody option.

Deer-Resistant Chartreuse Groundcovers

Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’): Here’s a fast-spreading, non-evergreen groundcover that will withstand both partial sun and shade. It grows best in fertile soils and can take over quickly, so plan to dig some out on occasion to keep it in line.

Golden Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum ‘Aureum’): Spotted deadnettle is a pretty, fast-spreading flowering groundcover in the mint family. In general, deer avoid plants in the mint family. The variety ‘Aureum’ has very pretty golden-chartreuse leaves and pinkish flowers in spring. It grows best in partial sun to shade.

Good Vibrations® Gold Spreading Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis Good Vibrations® Gold): The beauty of this chartreuse groundcover is that it is evergreen. Each plant only reaches a little over 1 foot tall but can spread as far as 6 feet. It is very tough and thrives in full sun.

Banana Boat Creeping Broad-leaved Sedge (Carex siderosticha Banana Boat®): Plant this beautiful, deer-resistant sedge in groups to create a chartreuse and gold ground cover. It grows best in partial shade.

Golden Lemon Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus ‘Aureus’): Deer can’t stand the strong smell of thyme, and this sun-loving groundcover has the leaf color you want and is also edible. Just be sure to plant it in well-drained soil.

I hope that some of these suggestions interest you.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Ornamental Spreaders, Cascaders, and Creepers for the Garden

Creeping thyme has the benefit of being both culinary and a wonderful ornamental creeper for bees.

Tired of weeding the cracks in sidewalks and the places around stepping stones?  Plant creepers.  These ground-hugging perennials are small but mighty, working proactively to keep untidy grass and weeds from taking over. Creepers fill in along edges and around stepping stones, and some are tiny enough to thrive in the narrow cracks of sidewalks. And, if you plant them along the edges of containers or walls, they transition to elegant cascaders in a snap.

Creeping Speedwells

Georgia Blue Creeping Veronica looks at home along a flagstone walk or growing from the cracks in a stone wall. (Image by Dinkum)

Lesser known than their tall-flowered relatives, the creeping veronicas–also known as speedwells—form 1 to 5 inch tall, dense mats that tolerate light foot traffic.  The perennial veronicas on this list are evergreen, deer-resistant, and tolerant of both drought and heat.  Some are extremely hardy, and all are spring flowering.

Georgia Blue Creeping Speedwell (Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’,  USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9) will creep steadily outward to form a 2- to 4-foot carpet. Very early spring flowers bloom a vibrant violet-blue with sparkling white centers. Easy to grow, tolerant of light shade, and quick-spreading but not invasive, Georgia Blue’s foliage turns purple-bronze in winter.

The bright green foliage of Tidal Pool Creeping Speedwell (Veronica x intermedia ‘Tidal Pool’, Zones 4-8) is more compact than that of Georgia Blue. A carpet of bright blue flowers with white eyes covers this ground hugger in mid-spring.  Tidal Pool will spread steadily outward to 3 feet. It handles light foot traffic, humid conditions, and stays evergreen.

Sunshine Creeping Speedwell (Veronica repens ‘Sunshine’, Zones 6-9) is called golden creeping speedwell for the low, bright yellow foliage that spreads slowly outward to form 1-foot-wide patches. Under an inch tall, Sunshine covers itself with small white flowers in late spring to early summer.

Creeping Jenny

Golden Creeping Jenny has very brightly colored leaves and likes shade and moist soil.

Another yellow ground hugger, Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, Zones 3-8) grows 2 inches tall, spreading ever outwards, rooting as it goes to form patches that glow like sunshine on the ground. It tolerates some foot traffic and thrives in evenly moist soil in partial-sun to partial-shade. Yellow flowers bloom in June. Plant this only where you want ample coverage because it can easily spread out of bounds if given a chance. There is also a green-leaf form, which is equally vigorous.

If you like creeping Jenny but dislike its aggressive growth, try the Proven Winners variety Goldilocks Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Goldilocks’, Zones 3-10), which spreads to just 14 inches with all the same good looks and vigor.


A silvery dichondra spills over the edge of a container composition. (Image by Proven Winners)

Where it is hardy in the subtropics and tropics, the tough silver nickel vine (Dichondra repens, Zones 10-12) can serve as a lawn. Where it is tender, grow it as a fast-growing bedding or container annual or even a house plant. The tiny, circular, bright green leaves creep along the ground, swiftly filling in the tiniest of cracks. The finest garden variety is the pure silver Proven Accents® Silver Falls, which looks spectacular creeping along a sunny bed edge or dramatically spilling from a pot. Although dichondra is persistent, weeding out the taller competition in its path will speed coverage.

Creeping Mazus

The fast-spreading Mazus reptans has beautiful little flowers early in the season.

The tiny creeping mazus (Mazus reptans, Zones 5-8) is an utterly carefree 4-inch-tall spreader that multiplies quickly in moist, well-drained soil in the sun or shade. Durable and tolerant of tough conditions, including foot traffic, it spreads into a dense mat of bright green that can be contained easily if necessary.

In late spring, mazus is studded with purple blooms that are reminiscent of monkeyflowers. There is also a white-flowered form called ‘Alba’.

Blue Star Creeper

Blue star creeper has very pretty, delicate little flowers.

At a half inch-tall, blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis, Zones 5-9) is a creeper of many talents, including its role as a ground cover that tolerates deer, drought, and rabbits and can eliminate the need for mulch at the base of shrubs. Tiny sky blue flowers bloom sporadically throughout the summer.


Wooly thyme, Breckland wild, and other thyme varieties are commonly sold at nurseries.

There are many creeping fragrant thymes that have the added bonus of being culinary herbs. The gray-green woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosis, Zones 5-8) thrives in a bright sunny place where it slowly expands outward but remains just under 3 inches tall.  It is charming, cascading over rocks and walls.

Another is Pink Chintz Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’, Zones 5-8), which grows to just a few inches high and produces spectacular shows of pink flowers in late spring to early summer. It spreads so well that it can also be used as lightly used lawn out West. (Click here to read an article about establishing thyme lawns.)

Creepers are best planted as small plants or plugs when nesting among stones or along walkway edges. Mix in a little Black Gold Garden Soil at planting time for better establishment. Not only does it contain needed organic matter, but is contains an all-purpose fertilizer that feeds plants for up to six months. Larger specimens can be planted in containers filled with Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix. Be sure to give newly planted creepers enough water in their first weeks post-planting for good establishment.

While creepers successfully crowd out weeds, they are more than simply workhorses. Highly ornamental, they provide a neat, unifying effect to the garden’s edges, cracks, and bare spaces, and add cheerful flowers into the bargain.

The white-flowered mazus ‘Alba’ really glows when it is in full bloom. (Image by Carole Ottesen)

I Need a Subtropical Groundcover for Partial Sun


“What would be a good ground cover for a small area in the garden with partial sun for Zone 11a?” Question from Susan of Pembroke Pines, Florida.

Answer: There are many lovely subtropical groundcover plants for partial sun that are easily grown in smaller areas. I’ll supply both native and non-native options.

Non-Native Subtropical Groundcovers

Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior): This tough evergreen groundcover is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 7b-11a.

Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus):  Grassy, evergreen mondo grass is very tidy, low-growing, and thrives in partial sun.

Fan Flower (Scaevola aemula): Fan-like blue flowers and semi-succulent green leaves make this a perfect perennial groundcover for those living zones 10-11.

Moses-in-the-Cradle (Tradescantia spathacea): Semi-succulent purple and green leaves and a spreading habit make this an excellent groundcover for tough growing areas. It is also easily pruned back.

Native Subtropical Groundcovers

Baby Rubber Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia): The glossy evergreen leaves of this southern Florida native are always pretty. Look for variegated varieties. This groundcover is hardy to zones 10-12.

Frogfruit (Phylnodiflora nodiflora): This low, succulent verbena relative tolerates partial sun, has lovely clusters of lavender flowers, and feeds butterflies (see image above). I highly recommend it!

I hope these tips help!

Happy Gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold horticulturist