Every yard has at least one difficult spot where it's a challenge to get anything to grow. Try some of these robust, low-growing plants to fill in dry or shady places, or wherever you need year-round coverage.

By Andrea Beck
Updated July 09, 2021
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When you feel like tossing a big rug over your yard and calling it good, often what you really need is the right groundcover plants. These dependable, hardworking species grow densely to carpet the ground with minimal fuss. Sure, you still need to water, weed, and feed them, but these plants can provide living solutions for many of your most frustrating landscape problems. You can find groundcovers that control erosion, blanket a hillside, or thrive in dry conditions while still complementing your home and garden. Some are evergreen, while others lose their foliage in winter. A few can even tolerate light foot traffic.

Drought-Tolerant Groundcover Plants

If you live in an area that doesn't get a lot of rain, you might be used to a brown lawn. Instead of planting turfgrass, try these hardy groundcovers that can withstand the heat.

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Small green plants in soil
Credit: Bob Stefko

Thyme

If it's dry, it's time for thyme. This aromatic groundcover excels in beds, borders, and containers. It features tiny, fragrant leaves and flowers that can be used fresh or dried. Creeping varieties can handle moderate foot traffic. Try tucking these plants between the stepping-stones of a garden path, where they will discourage weeds from taking over.

Growing Conditions: Full sun in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Red Creeping Thyme ($20, Breck's)

Red flowers growing under fence
Credit: Bob Stefko

Sedum

You may already grow tall sedums. But did you know many wonderful creeping types form thick mats only 3 inches tall? With succulent leaves and stems, these sedums can thrive in low-water situations, and they bloom in shades of white, pink, red, purple, yellow, or orange, depending on the variety. Sedums are prized for use in green roofs and living walls because they are so adaptable.

Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall, depending on variety

Zones: 3-10

Buy It: 'Angelina' Sedum ($20, Etsy)

drought tolerant ground cover plants
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Hens-and-Chicks

Another tough succulent that makes a terrific groundcover in tight spaces, hens-and-chicks is a small but mighty option for planting between paving stones or in a trough garden. It thrives in hot, sunny, dry spots and needs almost no maintenance.

Growing Conditions: Full sun in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 6 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: Hen and Chicks Collection ($21, Walmart)

Groundcover Plants for Shade

Shady areas are often too dim for many plants to do well. These groundcovers will thrive in the normally-tricky areas of the garden.

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Small white flowers growing over rocks
Credit: Bill Stites

Sweet Woodruff

Flourishing even in deep shade, sweet woodruff works well under trees and shrubs where its tiny white spring flowers will bloom about the same time as crabapples. Sweet woodruff usually forms well-behaved clumps of deciduous green foliage on upright stems, though it can spread aggressively in ideal conditions.

Growing Conditions: Full to part shade in moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: Sweet Woodruff ($11, Etsy)

Dark green plants growing over sidewalk
Credit: Bob Stefko

Ajuga

Able to withstand some foot traffic, ajuga makes a versatile groundcover wherever there's not enough light for grass to grow. Flower spikes in blue, pink, lavender or white adorn the rosettes formed from scallop-shaped leaves in spring. However, this perennial groundcover plant is mostly grown for its pretty leaves, which come in shades of green, maroon, bronze, purple, pink, or white. It can become weedy in ideal conditions, so check to make sure it's not a problem in your area before you plant it.

Growing Conditions: Full shade to full sun in moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 9 inches tall

Zones: 3-9

Buy It: 'Fancy Finch' Ajuga ($17, Walmart)

Purple flowers growing near sidewalk
Credit: Rich Pomerantz

Lamium

Brighten up a shady corner with the silvery or sometimes golden foliage of lamium. It also produces small clusters of purple flowers in spring. This groundcover plant stays under a foot tall but slowly spreads outward. Use it to highlight other plants with darker foliage, such as boxwoods and conifers. Place lamium where you won't be smashing it underfoot, though, because its stems are somewhat fragile.

Growing Conditions: Full to part shade in moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 8 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: 'Purple Dragon' Lamium ($10, Etsy)

Evergreen Groundcover Plants

Besides staying green throughout the hot summer months, these groundcovers will add winter interest to the garden as well!

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Cotula leptinella potentillina many plant green background
Credit: skymoon13/Getty Images

Brass Buttons

Brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platt's Black’) forms dense mats of finely textured, feathery foliage in shades of bronze-black to purple-gray. In Hardiness Zones 9-10, the leaves are evergreen, remaining through the winter. In colder regions, this plant will die back to the roots, and appear again in spring. Its name alludes to its small, buttonlike yellow-green blooms in summer.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in moist, well-drained, acidic soil

Size: Up to 3 inches tall

Zones: 4-10

Buy It: 'Platt's Black' Brass Buttons ($14, Walmart)

mondo grass groundcover
Credit: Denny Schrock

Mondo Grass

Though it isn't actually a grass, Mondo grass certainly looks like one. Its slender, strappy, sometimes variegated leaves in shades of green to almost black grow 3-24 inches tall, depending on the variety. It works well as an edging for borders, sidewalks, or driveways, and is a traditional groundcover in Japanese-style gardens.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 1 foot tall

Zones: 6-10

Buy It: Black Mondo Grass ($30, The Home Depot)

Plants growing near sidewalk
Credit: Robert Cardillo

Lamb's Ear

Their fuzzy, touchable leaves give lamb's-ear their common name. Flower stalks with tiny white, pink, purple, violet or red blooms are produced in summer, but feel free to cut them off so the silvery-green leaves continue to be the stars of the show. In hot climates, the leaves may appear to melt away during the summer, but they'll revive with cooler weather. In regions with very cold winters, this plant may not be evergreen, but will regrow from the roots in spring.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 36 inches tall, depending on variety

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: 'Hummelo' Lamb's Ear ($11, Etsy)

Japanese Pachysandra
Credit: Derek Fell

Pachysandra

Also called Japanese spurge, pachysandra thrives in full shade and reliably stays evergreen through freezing winters. It forms tidy mats of green leaves that will spread to fill a large area like a slope over time. If this perennial groundcover starts wandering too far, it's easy to keep it in bounds by digging it up. Pachysandra blooms in spring but the small white flowers are not very showy.

Growing Conditions: Full to part shade in well-drained soil

Size: 12 inches tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Pachysandra ($35, Etsy)

Comments (1)

Anonymous
August 15, 2019
Lambs Ear will take over EVERYTHING! It will show up 40' from where it is planted.