Something Gorgeous Underfoot

You're most likely to appreciate the texture of an evergreen ground cover after a dusting of snow. But there are many reasons to like these tough little plants -- and many types to enjoy.
Ground Cover

Spring and early autumn -- usually cool and rainy times -- are the best seasons to plant ground covers. But now is a good time to consider where they would work best in your landscape. Use them to soften hard surfaces like walls or paths, to enliven shady spots where grass grows poorly, or to stabilize a steep bank.

Grown along a sunny wall, the trailing lavender flowers of nepeta, or catmint, spill over the edge. After blooms fade, trim plants to encourage a second performance in late summer.


Shade-loving Ajuga reptans shows off spiked blue flowers in spring. The purple-leaf form, shown here, spreads quickly in any well-drained soil.

Woodland gems such as Cornus canadensis, or bunchberry, are equally at home in a moist, humus-rich shade garden. White spring blooms on this low-growing dogwood turn into bright red fruits. Leaves flaunt a burgundy shade in fall.

Red-flowered creeping thyme (Thymus Serpyllum coccineus) sets sunny sites afire each summer with crimson blooms.

When tread upon, the tiny leaves emit a sweet aroma. Polygonum affine is all foliage until fall, when showy flower spikes give gardens a needed lift.

For dry, sunny spots, try desert plants. Two succulents that survive cold winters are the creeping, yellow-flowered sedum, right, and the mounding sempervivum, also called hen-and-chickens, right.

Chartreuse blooms adorn lady's-mantle (Alchemilla mollis) in early summer, but the 15-inch-tall plants are grown more for their silvery leaves, which pair well with purple-blooming hardy geraniums, right. Lady's-mantle is a perfect edging for a path or a perennial border situated in light shade. In hot climates, locate in a moist, shady site.

Temperate coastal areas offer planting opportunities for tender ground covers. Hebe cupressoides and heather keep company with hardy junipers. A carpet of thyme adds spice at their feet.

Lamium maculatum swiftly fills bare spots in moist, shady areas. The variety White Nancy, left, offers white spring blooms atop green-edged silver foliage. Other forms pair silver leaves with blue or pink flowers.

Continued on page 2:  Planting Ground Covers