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 BH&G Garden Editors
Updated July 14, 2020
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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.

Bob Stefko

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.

Light: Full sun

Water: Plant in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Creeping Thyme Seeds, ($5, Eden Brothers)

Bob Stefko

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.

Light: Full sun or part shade

Water: Plant in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall, depending on variety

Zones: 3-10

Buy It: Golden Creeping Sedum, ($5, Michigan Bulb Co.)

Marty Baldwin

Hens-and-chicks, another tough succulent plant, makes a terrific groundcover in tight spaces, such as between paving stones or in a trough garden. It's easy to grow, drought-tolerant, and needs almost no maintenance.

Light: Full sun

Water: Plant in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 6 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: ½-Pound Assorted Hens-and-Chicks, ($34, Mountain Crest Gardens)

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.

Bill Stites

Sweet woodruff is one of those rare plants that flourishes in deep shade. Plant it under trees and shrubs where its tiny white spring flowers will bloom about the same time as crabapples. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) forms well-behaved clumps of deciduous green foliage on upright stems.

Light: Full shade or part sun

Water: Plant in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: 20 Sweet Woodruff Seeds, ($3, Etsy)

Bob Stefko

It's pretty and spreads easily, yet it's easy to keep under control. Try one of the many varieties of ajuga wherever there's not enough light for grass to grow. It can take a bit of foot traffic but avoid growing it in areas with a lot of activity. Flower spikes in blue, pink, lavender or white adorn the rosettes formed from scallop-shaped leaves in spring. However, this tidy groundcover plant is mostly grown for its pretty leaves, which come in shades of green, maroon, bronze, purple, pink, or white. Depending on the variety, the foliage can reach 4-9 inches tall.

Light: Full shade to full sun

Water: Plant in moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 9 inches tall

Zones: 3-9

Buy It: 'Catlins Giant' Ajuga, ($21, Wilson Bros. Gardens)

Rich Pomerantz

Lamium has silvery or sometimes golden foliage that can brighten up a shady corner. This groundcover plant reaches 6-8 inches tall but spreads twice as wide. 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.

Light: Full to part shade

Water: Plant in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 8 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: 'Golden Anniversary' Lamium, ($9, Bluestone Perennials)

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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As tough as its common name, brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platt's Black’) has textured, feathery foliage in shades of bronze-black to purple-gray and small, buttonlike yellow-green blooms in late spring and early summer.

Light: Full sun or part shade

Water: Plant in moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 inches tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: 'Platt's Black' Brass Buttons, ($9, Bluestone Perennials)

Denny Schrock

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.

Light: Full sun to part shade

Water: Plant in moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 1 foot tall

Zones: 6-10

Buy It: Dwarf Mondo Grass, ($60, Wilson Bros. Gardens)

Robert Cardillo

Their fuzzy, touchable leaves give lamb's-ears 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 wintry regions, clip old leaves and stalks in spring to promote fresh growth.

Light: Full sun to part shade

Water: Plant in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 36 inches tall, depending on variety

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Dwarf Pink Lamb's Ear, ($7, High Country Gardens)

Derek Fell

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

Light: Full to part shade

Water: Plant in well-drained soil

Size: 12 inches tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Pachysandra ($22, The Home Depot)

Comments (1)

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