Creeping Plants: What They Are, Examples, Uses

There Is Nothing Weird About These Kinds of "Creepers"

Image of a creeping phlox with lavender-colored flowers.
It's a classic look: a creeping plant (here, the creeping phlox called Phlox subulata) spilling over a stone wall. David Beaulieu

Creeping plants or "creepers" are generally considered to be small, viny plants that grow close to the ground. They are sometimes called "procumbent," as well.

In cases where their vines are long enough and you wish to have them climb a structure, you need to guide them (train them) and secure them to a support if they are to achieve much height at all. In this sense, they differ from "climbers," which are another class of vine.

For example, you could tie the vines to the structure loosely with twine. Even some plants that tend naturally to grow more upright often need such help.

But most creepers are smaller plants and are allowed simply to crawl on their bellies along the ground, thereby serving as ground covers. One has no interest in training them to climb, because they are just too short for that. Those are the kinds that are focused on in the present article. Special emphasis is put on perennials. The longest vines among the plants listed below belong to creeping myrtle and creeping juniper plants. 

Examples of Creeping Plants:

The eight examples of creeping plants cited in the list below qualify as flowering ground covers. But some ground covers are grown as much for their leaves as for their blossoms. The creeping junipers are very popular. They are ground-hugging shrubs and are valued for their evergreen foliage.

 Japanese spurge is also evergreen, but it is classified as a perennial, rather than a shrub. Angelina stonecrop has a flower head, but most people do not grow it for the blooms (which they sometimes remove). What gardeners adore about Angelina is its golden-chartreuse leaves. Spotted deadnettle is valued almost equally for its flowers and its variegated leaves.

For a totally different look (and a plant that stays about as short as a plant possibly can), try Scotch moss or the similar Irish moss. But here are eight flowering creepers for you to research further:

  1. Phlox subulata
  2. Phlox stolonifera
  3. Creeping Jenny
  4. Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum, for example)
  5. Bugleweed
  6. Creeping myrtle
  7. Dragon's blood sedum (Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood')
  8. Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

Note, however, that creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is an invasive plant in North America. To keep it within bounds, grow it in hanging baskets. Also invasive are bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) and creeping myrtle (Vinca minor).

In fact, many creepers are not necessarily desirable plants to grow. Some are among the common lawn weeds, in the opinion of many people, such as:

  1. Creeping Charlie (but a variegated type, Glechoma hederacea 'Variegata,' is sold for landscaping use).
  2. Purslane (Portulaca olearacea).
  3. Bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).
  4. Clover (Trifolium spp.).

Opinions do vary widely, of course. Many people would push back and say that purslane and clover are very desirable plants.

Landscaping Uses

The general use for a creeping plant is as a ground cover. Those that bloom heavily not only serve practical purposes (erosion control, weed-suppression, and more) in this role, but also add great beauty to the landscape.

Creeping phlox (P. subulata and P. stolonifera), in particular, can furnish dynamic color displays. Many gardeners love the look of it cascading down a slope in spring, when it is in bloom. Because they stay low to the ground, other logical uses for creeping plants are as:

  1. Edging plants.
  2. In the front row of a flower border (because they will not hide the plants in back of them).
  3. Fillers to grow in between garden stepping stones.

Some of the well-behaved ones, such as dragon's blood sedum, may be suited for use in rock gardens (but make sure that the water needs of the plant in question match those of the surrounding plants).