A baffling problem for many gardeners is what to grow in hot, dry, or gravelly areas that are too inhospitable for grass and most ground cover plants. Fortunately, there are some durable ground cover plants that will thrive under these rigorous conditions.
Here are some ground covers to help with those troublesome spots: areas between the driveway and lawn; around patios, where heat builds up in the soil; on south- and west-facing bankments; and at exposed sites with poor, thin soil.
Extremely tolerant of poor soil, bearberry will even will grow in pure sand. The six-inch-tall evergreen has small, glossy, dark-green leaves that turn bronze-ish-red in autumn. In spring, the entire plant is covered with tiny white flowers tinged with pink. These mature to bright red berries that birds love. Spaced 12 inches apart, plants will form a thick carpet in two or three seasons. Bearberry is hardy to Zone 2.
This ground covers is suitable for parched areas. A popular choice is blue rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii'), a tough-as-nails ground hugger that is only 4 to 6 inches tall. Its intense silver-blue needles take on pleasing purple tones in winter. Although a single plant may eventually grow to 8 feet in diameter, the recommended spacing is 2 to 3 feet for quick coverage. Blue rug juniper is hardy to Zone 3.
Spreading, mat-forming types of sedums resist drought by storing water in their fleshy stis and roots. Two good choices, both hardy to Zone 4, are two-inch-tall 'John Creech' two-row sedum (Sedum spurium cv.), with pink flowers in June, and the six-inch-tall 'Fuldaglut' two-row sedum, with reddish or purple foliage and rose-red flowers from July through September.
Shrubs, Perennials, and More
Shrub roses, as well as some perennials such as creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) and catmint (Nepeta cataria), like it hot and dry, as do some ornamental grasses such as blue fescue (Festuca glauca). Lowbush blueberries will do well, as will creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and other herbs.