Ground Cover Choices

A Great Cover-Up!

By George and Becky Lohmiller
March 26, 2008
Ground Cover

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.


(Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

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.

Creeping Junipers

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.

Reader Comments

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ground cover

I live in Florida;zone 9 and need a groundcover for a hot sandy area of my lawn.

ground covers

There is hardly any information about what would be a good ground cover for Zones 8a and higher. Should I determine what would grow good by the tempurature and the soil instead of by the Zone? Please help, we have HORRIBLE soil.....hard clay and sand mix with aphids and such. thanks

ground covers for clay soil

Coreopsis, Sea holly, and Ironweed are all good ground covers that thrive in clay soil and are suitable for zones 8a.

Ground cover

We have a sloping area with good soil under our high southeast facing deck. It gets sun for most of the day, dappled a bit by the decking. Grass and weeds grow, but are difficult to mow. We would like a full ground cover. Have tried Barren strawberry. It lives, but is not spreading. Any other suggestions?

Spreading the Word

Hi, Allane: Thanks for giving such a good description, although knowing your surface area would be helpful, as well as what abuts it. It sounds like you might be a candidate for some sedum or vinca (myrtle). These are good spreaders, so you have to keep an eye on them to make sure that you don’t get too much of a good thing–sort of a “be careful what you wish for” situation. But either would be nice in your setting, we imagine. Thanks again and good luck!

picture -- what is this?

at the top of his page,, is a picture. It's a ground cover being used in and around rocks.

What is it?

Creeping Phlox

Hi Scott, 
The plant pictured at the top of the page is creeping phlox, a hardy and easy-to-grow flowering perennial. They do well in rock gardens and on rock walls, as they hang down and bloom early in the spring. Here is some more info: Growing Phlox 

Dear adviser I have moved to

Dear adviser I have moved to Europe Latvia. I have built a Chinese garden pond with rock garden with waterfall on clay bank from excavated soils. Zone 7a with hard winters and hot summers. I am searching for hardy plants for ground cover on clay mound. The rock garden does well with Sedums and Plox with Italian mint as trailing plant. I have a procumbent juniper and some hostas but what will do for the ends in sun and back in shade on ends of rock garden.

I want a groundcover to cover

I want a groundcover to cover a large area on a bank where it is bare and grass doesnt grow. Are there any types of groundcover where I could get seeds and spread directly on ground and work in since its a large area?

There are many groundcovers

There are many groundcovers for slopes where grass won't grow. However, it depends on your zone, if it's sunny or shady, if it's moist or dry, if your soil is clay or sand, etc. Asiatic jasmine is a fast-spreading groundcover that will thrive in sun or shade.

We have tried to grow grass

We have tried to grow grass in our yard for years, and have been unsuccessful each time, for the most part. Our yard is mainly a clay-type of dirt in most areas, but with some good areas also. We also have 4 outdoor dogs, which are not destructive, except for the constant running around...the perks of being a dog. Could you recommend a grass or even a ground covering plant that would help us with our dilemma? We live in The Ohio River Valley..Southwest Virginia. Any help and suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

If you really want grass to

If you really want grass to grow in your clay soil our best advice is to get a dump truck full of topsoil and start from scratch. That can be expensive and labor-intensive. Or try one or both of these groundcover plants that enjoy clay soil: crownvetch and snow-on-the-mountain.
Good luck!


Here in the west, I would never order a load of topsoil. It should be either a load of compost or a load
of topsoil blended with least that is surely the case if you are trying to grow anything in it,
including grass.

need a good ground cover for

need a good ground cover for our backyard in zone 6 cleveland ohio...Tough soil to plant in though..ground seems very hard when we try to plant. My husband has planted rose bushes and has had great success though in the front yard..Do any of the ground covers that would be good for us have flowers ? Thank you so much.

You don't indicate what is

The Editors's picture

You don't indicate what is growing on the ground now, so we'll presume it's "bad" grass. The "hard" soil that you say you have could be a few things: compact soil, in which case, aerate it. (Hard rake it or even till it. We've never tried the shoes with spikes on the bottom that supposedly do the job, but you might.) Or it might be high in clay, in which case it needs to be broken up, ˜tilled or turned over˜and amended with compost and other good things. Does your soil absorb water? That, too, is an indication of these kinds of hard soil (aka hardpan). Consider getting a soil test before you do too much to it; the results should indicate what you need to do.
Ground cover options are numerous. You can see some above on this page. Other searches on this site,, lead to more choices. For example,
 "At one time, most lawns had at least some clover growing in them, and many were almost entirely clover. Today, many lawn enthusiasts are trying to limit the use of pesticides and are again turning to clover." See the entire article here:
 "Myrtle is among the hardiest of evergreen ground covers, hardy to Zone 4 and growing as far north as Canada. Its bright-green leaves darken with the season, sometimes taking on a bronze tone under the winter sun. Lavender-blue or white flowers appear in the spring and sporadically all season." See the entire article here:
 There are a few here, too:
 And let's not forget creeping thyme. Read more here:

where can i find those

where can i find those floweres from

I would like a ground cover

I would like a ground cover for our back yard area. We are in zone 6... Could you please give us some choices that would work. we do get plenty of sun in this area too. Thank you

Hi, Polly, If you have Sun

Hi, Polly, If you have Sun and Zone 6, explore varieties of: Creeping Phlox, many Sedums, Hardy Aster, Coreopsis, and Dianthus. The plants also depend on your soil. Visit a local nursery and explore!