10 Ground Cover Plants for Full Sun
For your sunniest expanses in the landscape, consider these low-maintenance ground cover plants to choke out competing weeds.
This is one of the most cold hardy ground covers native to North America. Several species grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 2 through 8, all providing a brilliant stroke of color across the carpet-like foliage. Their pinwheel-shaped blooms appear exclusively in the springtime, in multiple shades of purple, blue, pink and white.
Creeping phlox is not aggressive, so it’s safe to plant among other perennials and shrubs in garden beds. Think of it like a green blanket laid at the feet of its companions, blooming before most plants fully awaken in the spring. Provide plenty of sunshine and well-drained soil for best growth and disease resistance.
For hot, arid climates, try ice plant (Delosperma) around taller succulents like cacti and agave. It provides a bright splash of pink, red, orange or yellow around their feet for most of the summer. Dime- to quarter-sized starry blossoms open perfectly flat, showing off the colorful eye in the center — a bullseye for pollinators.
Ice plant is most at home in well-drained rocky or sandy soils. It can be tucked into the crevices of rock walls, left to scramble across stone mulch, or planted on a slope to aid in erosion control. Full sun is a must in USDA Zones 6 through 10.
Have you considered herbs as a ground cover? If you’re after rapid coverage and deer resistance, any plant in the mint family will do. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) makes a pretty ground cover, and you can eat it, too.
Fresh leaves exude a pungent lemony fragrance. Use them to flavor hot and cold drinks, to garnish a salad, or in chicken and fish dishes. This oil can be mixed with essential oils, or made into perfume or insect repellent. When planted among cruciferous vegetables, its scent deters insects from attacking those crops.
Plant lemon balm where you won’t mind it spreading quickly and widely. It thrives in moist soil and full sun to light shade in Zones 4 through 9. Harvest it regularly to prevent the plant from going to seed.
If you like the idea of a succulent ground cover but ice plant won’t grow in your climate, try sedum instead. It’s significantly more cold hardy down to Zone 3 and tolerates more types of soil. As long as you plant sedum in a sunny location and the soil doesn’t stay waterlogged, it will grow.
Forms of sedums vary widely in height, from those two inches tall at best to others that grow semi- or fully upright to 30 inches. The plant label should indicate its likely height and ground coverage.
Most sedums are well-behaved in the garden and make good companion plants for other perennials, shrubs and small trees. Because they’re shallow rooted and don’t need much moisture, they don’t rob resources from neighboring plants.
Two common species of lilyturf are widely used in landscapes in Zones 5 through 10. Although they look similar, you’ll notice a vast difference in speed of spread.
Blue lilyturf (Liriope muscari) forms a clump when young, then slowly spreads underground. Creeping lilyturf (Liriope spicata) spreads at a medium rate in colder climates but much faster in the South. Choose the species that fits your needs carefully.
This 12-inch-tall, grasslike plant produces beautiful emerald green, evergreen foliage topped with violet purple flower spikes in late summer. Glossy, black berries form once the flowers are spent and usually persist into winter.
Liriope thrives in sun and shade conditions. It’s commonly planted along driveways, slopes and under trees where other plants may struggle. It’s drought tolerant once established. To keep the foliage looking fresh, mow it once a year before the new growth appears in early spring. Be sure to use a high blade setting on your lawnmower.
This durable cranesbill is a joy to grow. It requires little from the gardener yet delivers beauty and performance all year.
Large, felted, citrus-scented leaves form a billowing two-foot-wide patch dense enough to suppress weeds. ‘Bevan’s Variety’ (Geranium macrorrhizum) produces vivid magenta purple flowers that attract pollinating bees and butterflies in late spring to early summer.
Once established, its thick, fleshy roots make this Zone 4 through 9 hardy perennial drought tolerant. Use it around the base of large shrubs or tall trees, or try planting it en masse to fill large expanses in the landscape in full sun to part shade. There’s no need to worry about deer or rabbit damage with this fragrant, fuzzy-leaved perennial. Here are a few short perennial flowers for smaller gardens.
Ground Cover Roses
Ground cover roses are a wonderful way to bring a bright splash of color to open landscapes and rambling hillsides all summer long. They deliver as much flower power as annuals while returning reliably every year in Zones 4 through 11.
Most ground cover roses bear single flowers that attract pollinators. They bloom in shades of pink, red, coral, yellow and white. Pictured here is Pink Drift, a disease-resistant, everblooming variety that grows 18 inches tall and three feet wide.
Roses grow best in an area that receives at least eight hours of sun per day, mostly in the afternoon. Water them with drip irrigation if possible to avoid wetting the foliage. If you must use overhead watering, do so in the morning to allow plenty of time for the foliage to dry before sundown.
Look for low, spreading forms of chokeberry (Aronia) — including Ground Hug, pictured here — to transform dry, sunny borders or slopes into beautiful, easy-to-maintain plantings. Although it’s deciduous, this shrub grows dense enough to block out weeds and eliminate the need for mulch. Each plant covers about three square feet.
Clusters of tiny white flowers attract pollinating bees in the spring, then transform into near-black berries that birds enjoy in late summer. Its glossy, green foliage turns brilliant shades of orange, red and purple in the fall.
Chokeberry is an adaptable native shrub. In Zones 3 through 9, it will grow in just about any soil, whether wet, dry, salty, organically rich or rocky. It tolerates full sun and part shade.
If you like using hardy shrubs as ground cover but prefer something with year-round coverage, try evergreen creeping junipers. They offer the same adaptability and durability as chokeberry but stay green in the winter. Although they don’t produce showy blooms, birds enjoy their blue or green berries in the fall and winter.
Junipers come in many forms, so be sure the label states it grows low and wide. All need full sun to thrive, but their cold hardiness ranges by type. Because they can handle drought, road salt, air pollution and deer pressure with ease, you can safely plant junipers in the harshest conditions in your landscape.
Northern Sea Oats Grass
Ornamental grasses that spread by seed or underground runners make great ground covers for large areas. Combine them with fall blooming wildflowers if you’re going for the native prairie look.
In late summer and fall, the elegantly arching stems of our native Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) bear hundreds of fish scale-like seed pods that sway in the slightest breeze. Even if you leave them be so the plant can spread, there will still be plenty left to use for flower arrangements.
This grass forms a two- to four-foot tall clump of bamboo-like foliage that remains upright through most of the winter. Cut it down to the ground by early spring to make room for fresh foliage. In Zones 3 through 8, Northern sea oats prefers moist soil, and full sun to part shade.