Low-growing groundcovers—those reaching no more than 6 inches in height—are ideal for difficult areas such as sunny slopes or shade, particularly under trees, where grass will not grow. Shorter groundcovers are especially useful in rock gardens, along pathways, and at the front of borders. Most low-growing groundcovers spread by rhizomes (rootlike structures under the ground) or stolons (above-ground runners).
Planting and maintenance
In growing groundcovers, follow a few simple steps to ensure success:
- Clear the area of weeds and grass before planting. Groundcovers are tough, once established, but competitors can easily overrun them when first planted.
- Test your soil to determine if you need to add fertilizer or lime.
- Weed regularly to keep gaps clear in the several years it takes most groundcovers to fill a space.
- Water your new plantings regularly for the first year.
- Divide your groundcovers to fill in any remaining gaps.
Choose groundcovers that fit your site. Pay attention to the plant species and growing requirements—light, moisture, frost hardiness—as well as other characteristics—evergreen or deciduous. If flowering, consider the flower season, size, and color of the specific cultivars or varieties you pick.
Here are some native plants that provide attractive groundcovers for our area—including suggested spacing between individual plants to give some idea of the number of plants needed to fill a space:
- Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) is a shade-loving pachysandra that will not become invasive. It has fragrant, bottle-brush type blooms in the spring and attractive mottling on its leaves. It is semi-evergreen in Western North Carolina and will tolerate drought and dense shade. Allegheny spurge does well under trees and on slopes if they are not too sunny. Plant 6 to 12 inches apart in moist, rich, acidic soil.
- Appalachian barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) prefers partial shade. It has yellow flowers in the spring, grown mainly for its foliage—evergreen leaves that turn an attractive dark red or bronze in winter. It is a good choice for slopes that are not in full sun. It spreads by rhizomes and is easy to divide once established. Plant 16 inches apart; it will spread about 18 inches per plant.
- Green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) thrives in part-sun, part-shade settings. It has pretty yellow flowers in the spring and bright green, evergreen foliage. It makes an attractive border. Green-and-gold prefers moist, acidic, rich soils and appreciates consistent moisture with good drainage. Plant 18 inches apart.
- Phloxes: Creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) tolerates shade and moss phlox (Phlox subulata) loves sun. Many people call them both creeping phlox, in contrast to the tall garden phloxes. Phlox stolonifera is a woodland plant and prefers rich, moist, shady locations with good drainage. It can do well under trees, shady rock gardens, or in other shady, moist areas. Phlox subulata likes sun and good drainage, making it an excellent choice for sunny slopes. Its foliage is needle-like, distinguishing it from its cousin which has oval leaves. Both phloxes come in a variety of pastel colors as well as white. The recommended spacing between plants is 12 to 18 inches.
- Sedums: There are many stonecrops (Sedums) that are useful as groundcovers. Low-growing sedums thrive in thin, poor soils and will grow on and around rocks. They are a good choice for rock gardens and walkways, planted in gaps or cracks, and in borders. Most readily available varieties are not native to our area, love sun, are drought tolerant, and do well on dry, hot slopes. Our native Sedum ternatum, known as wild or woodland stonecrop, prefers some shade, and has unusual white flowers in late spring to early summer. Space 8 inches apart.
Article written by Judy Deutsch, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.
Groundcovers: Planting and Care
by Home & Garden Information Center
Clemson Cooperative Extension