There's something beautiful underfoot -- and it's more carefree than turf. Ground covers are low-growing perennials that can meet a variety of landscaping challenges.
For dry, sunny spots, try desert plants. Two succulents that survive cold winters are the creeping, yellow-flowered sedum and the mounding sempervivum, also called hen-and-chickens.
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.
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.
Areas shaded by trees, shrubs, and overhangs from decks and other outdoor structures pose special problems. Here are three ground covers that take to shade.
Shade-loving Ajuga reptans shows off spiked blue flowers in spring. This purple-leaf form spreads quickly in any well-drained soil. Other varieties sport multicolored foliage.
Lamium maculatum swiftly fills bare spots in moist, shady areas. The variety White Nancy offers white spring blooms atop green-edged silver foliage. Other forms pair silver leaves with blue or pink flowers.
Chartreuse blooms adorn lady's-mantle (Alchemilla mollis) in early summer, pairing well with the purple-flowering hardy geraniums in the background. The 15-inch-tall plants are grown as much for their pleated, silvery leaves as for the billowing sprays of tiny blossoms. Lady's-mantle is a perfect edging for a path or a perennial border situated in light shade. In hot climates, plant it in a moist, shady site.
Spring and early autumn, usually cool and rainy times, are the best seasons to plant ground covers. The number of transplants you'll need depends on the size of the planting area and how quickly you want it covered.
1. Assemble pathway materials. Space concrete steppers at a normal walking stride. A soft sand base underneath the steppers will help you level them.
2. Good carpetlike ground covers are Scotch moss and thyme. To allow for growth, space these tiny plants at least 4 inches from steppers.
3. Space trailing ground covers, such as rubus, 12 inches apart. To block weeds, first lay landscaping fabric, cutting a hole for each plant.
4. Plant ground covers at the same depth they grew in the pot. A 3- to 4-inch layer of bark mulch around plants will help keep soil moist and cool.