Creeping Plants: What They Are, Examples, Uses

There Is Nothing Weird About These Kinds of "Creepers"

Creeping phlox with lavender-colored flowers.
Creeping phlox is a classic creeping plant. 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 true creepers are smaller plants and are allowed simply to crawl on their bellies along the ground, thereby serving as ground covers. We have no interest in training them to climb, because they are just too short for that. The longest vines among them belong to creeping myrtle and creeping juniper plants. Do not be fooled by common names: Some plants with "creeper" in their names are vigorous climbers, including Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Examples of Creeping Plants

Many of the highly prized creeping plants are flowering ground covers. But some ground covers are grown as much for their leaves as for their blossoms. The creeping junipers (Juniperus) are very popular. They are ground-hugging shrubs and are valued for their evergreen foliage and ability to curb erosion. Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) is also evergreen, but it is classified as a perennial, rather than a shrub. 

Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre Angelina) has a flower head some years, 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 (Lamium maculatum) 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 (Sagina subulata Aurea) or the similar Irish moss (Sagina subulata).

But if your landscaping needs call mainly for something with showy flowers, here are eight flowering creepers for you to research further:

Note, however, that creeping Jenny is an invasive plant in North America. To keep it within bounds, grow it in hanging baskets. Also invasive are bugleweed and creeping myrtle.

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:

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

English ivy (Hedera helix) is also a widely despised vine, due to its invasive nature. Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is way too aggressive for people who want neat and orderly gardens. Opinions do vary widely, of course. Many people would push back and say that purslane and clover are very desirable plants. Purslane is edible. Unlike the other creepers that we are discussing, it is an annual, not a perennial plant.

Creeping thyme is one of the shortest flowering creepers. Another is creeping speedwell (Veronica Tidal Pool), which bears small blue flowers. Both are often 1 inch tall or less. Such plants are ideal for use around garden stepping stones or in other areas with foot traffic because walking on them occasionally will not damage them.

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:

  • Edging plants
  • In the front row of a flower border (because they will not hide the plants in back of them)
  • 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).