Beyond Ivy: Groundcovers for Every Situation

Groundcovers are versatile workhorses in the landscape. Low-growing, low-maintenance, and quick to fill in problem areas - we'd be lost without them. There are dozens of options for groundcover, but chances are most people just know English ivy and its other evergreen counterparts, vinca and wintercreeper. While these plants have a time and a place (expect for wintercreeper - it has turned out to be highly invasive, and we no longer use it even though many nurseries and garden centers still sell it), there are so many more species to choose from. Some experts also consider English ivy and vinca to be invasive, or at the very least highly aggressive, so there's another reason to broaden your groundcover horizons. I have been asked about this topic more than once, and usually the question is framed in terms of a groundcover for specific growing requirements, like steep hills, dry shade, or full sun. So to make this post as useful as possible, I'll give you lists according to different uses. You may see some plants popping up on multiple lists, so if your property has a wide range of conditions look out for these highly adaptable species to unify your plantings. If you want flowers, look for plants marked with *. If you want native plants for Indiana, there are a few marked with +.

Liriope in bloom Photo by Maria Gulley

Liriope in bloom
Photo by Maria Gulley

Dry Sun

Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)*
Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)*
Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)
Low-Growing Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis and other low-growing varieties)
Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)*
Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii)*
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)*+
Stonecrop (Sedum species and varieties)*
Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)*
Thyme (Thymus species and varieties)*

Cranesbill Photo by Maria Gulley

Cranesbill
Photo by Maria Gulley

Average Moisture Sun

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)*
Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)*
Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)
Clematis (Clematis hybrids and varieties)* - usually grown as a vine, but can be a gorgeous flowering carpet
Cranesbill (Geranium species and varieties)*
Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)*
Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)*
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii)*
Petunia (Petunia varieties, especially Wave and Supertunia groups)*
Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)*

Ajuga in bloom Photo by Maria Gulley

Ajuga in bloom
Photo by Maria Gulley

Damp Sun

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)*
Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)+
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)

Dry Shade

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)
Bishop's Hat (Epimedium species and varieties)*
Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)
Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)*

Lily-of-the-Valley Photo by Maria Gulley

Lily-of-the-Valley
Photo by Maria Gulley

Average Moisture Shade

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense+ and europaeum)
Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis)* - poisonous, so should not be planted in landscapes with young children
American Beak Grass (Diarrhena americana)+
Bishop's Hat (Epimedium species and varieties)*
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)*
Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)
Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)*
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis and procumbens+)

Ostrich Fern Photo by Maria Gulley

Ostrich Fern
Photo by Maria Gulley

Damp Shade

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense+ and europaeum)
American Beak Grass (Diarrhena americana)+
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)*
Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Hill Stabilization

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)* - better for more gentle slopes
Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)
Low-Growing Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis and other low-growing varieties)
Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)*

Lamium has some good variegated options

Lamium has some good variegated options

Quick Filling

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)* - better for more gentle slopes
Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)
Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)*
Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii)*

Epimedium is an underused plant By User: SB_Johnny - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Epimedium is an underused plant
By User: SB_Johnny - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Foot Traffic Tolerance

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)*
Bishop's Hat (Epimedium species and varieties)*
Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)*
Irish Moss (Sagina subulata)*
Thyme (Thymus species and varieties)*

Annuals

Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)*
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) - actually a perennial in warmer zones, but usually dies in zone 5
Petunia (Petunia varieties, especially Wave and Supertunia groups)*


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