slideshow: 10 great groundcovers to rely upon

geranium macrorrhizumIAM THINKING OF SIMPLIFYING SOME OF MY BIGGEST GARDEN BEDS this year—spots where the shrubs have grown in and are just crying out for a simple groundcover or two at their feet. In a slideshow, then, some of the tried-and-true choices I’ve got plenty of here to choose from come spring (including Geranium macrorrhizum, above). Divide and conquer, right?

Hover your cursor on the right side of the big photo to reveal the navigational arrows (or if you prefer, double-click the big image and the show will display on your darkened screen). When you’re done looking at photos, don’t forget to go read the full profiles of any that interest you, at the links below the photo gallery. Enjoy. And remember: Order multiples!

profiles of the pictured plants:

more helpful stuff:

  1. Bill Plummer says:


    I started some 50 years ago planting Epimediums rubrum on the paths leading into my front woods.
    A number of years later it had spread so much that I used it to line my driveway.
    And the along the path around my garage and as a background above the bank to the back woods.
    I have more lining the path off my patio.
    Visitors ask what is it. I have given away dozens of plants.
    I have two other Epimediums from this early tears and have some half dozen of Probst’s plants.
    I would like to get more, but I have run out of room.

    As for other ground covers, how about our native ginger? I have one huge patch in my back woods.
    I have given away of them to fellow gardeners and to plant sales.

    1. margaret says:

      Funny you mention that, Bill, as I am just starting to multiply the native ginger, Asarum canadense, lately here too. It’s very nice, though herbaceous of course. Don’t know why I didn’t start dividing it years ago!

  2. MB Whitcomb says:

    Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ can be very invasive…this variety less so than others, but it does revert into a big thug. When I bought this property the stream banks were covered with it, and it has been 10 years of back breaking determined work…only to hold it in check. It pops up everywhere in the lawn, as small pieces root. The previous owner threw her yard waste into some wild areas, and it is pulling down fern beds. On my husband’s mothers property, she had planted it 30 years ago, and it has completely eliminated everything else in large areas. As bad as goutweed IMHO. I have yet to eradicate it from anywhere…once you have it you have added that work to your yearly chores, and also add your dismay as you find it in new places. I am getting older and can’t keep up. Every planting decision should be made with this last idea in mind…garden legacy.

  3. MB Whitcomb says:

    Something happened to my longer post. But this plant is very invasive where I live (Nova Scotia). The “aurea” does not spread so fast, but it is more or less a permanent choice…once you have it you will never get rid of it, and every piece you move (mowing or tossing yard waste) will grow a patch. More on our website (earlier posts).

    1. MB Whitcomb says:

      This plant…sorry…Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’. The green form is a huge thug as bad as goutweed, would not wish on my worst enemy, and sold in flowerbaskets everywhere. Like creeping charlie.

  4. Sallie Rynd says:

    Hi Margaret, here’s a question for you: you mentioned pruning back your geranium Phaum and I was wondering how far down you go? Thanks, Sallie

    1. margaret says:

      Good question, Tarun. The garden, started 30-something years ago, is a mix of collector/horticultural beds nearer the house, and looser more natve plantings at the perimeter. (It is 2.3 acres total.) So there is a bluestem meadow and other native groundcover areas that probably equal in size the bed/borders of “garden” plants, many of which when I began gardening here were Asian or European in origin (think hosta, astilbe, pulmonaria, perennial geraniums, many showy ferns etc…). I should do a second slideshow of native choices.

  5. Carol says:

    I like native wild ginger as a ground cover for shady spots, too, as mentioned in an earlier comment.
    And while not native, I also really love sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum. I have found that it has no trouble at all growing in full sun, although everything I’ve read suggests at least part, if not full, shade. In addition to shady places around the yard, I also have it in a full-sun-all-day bed that never gets supplemental water and it has thrived for 10 years now. Granted, it spreads much more slowly in sun, but that can be (as Martha says) a Good Thing! And at this time of year, with the tiny white flowers blooming, on a warm sunny day (far too few this May, this year!) the scent wafts into the house through the window under which it grows and makes me smile. And I clip small bouquets of it to dry & place around the house – and especially at my bedside – to enjoy further the lovely scent that develops even more as it dries!

  6. Kit Binkley says:

    Thanks so much for the recomendations. I think I have several of these ground covers. One of my favorites are Ajuga with gorgeous 4″ tall deep blue flowers! I’m surprised you didn’t mention that!

  7. Carol Kelly says:

    You omitted one of my favorites: sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), even though it is not a native. If I had my way I would have that instead of lawn – except that, of course, it dies back to nothing all winter so wouldn’t look good then at all! But the rest of the year, from late April on, it’s perfect, with tiny starry flowers early on and the foliage stays 6-8″ at most. Thrives in sun or shade, spreading slowly but inexorably, but is shallow-rooted so may be dealt with if it ventures too far. The fragrance is heavenly, and when picked, increases as the plant wilts. In Germany, it is called Waldmeister, and is the herb that flavors Maiwine. I use it to make a syrup that I mix with gin & tonic on a summer evening!

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