Flowering Ground Covers: Pictures and Growing Tips

Flowering Hosta plantaginea
Hosta plantaginea.

Pali137/ Getty Images 

Flowering ground covers are considered something of a Holy Grail for the landscaper. They offer both beauty and function, giving your yard color while simultaneously helping you fight weeds and control erosion. If you're seeking a solution for a problem area, ground covers can get the job done without making you compromise on display value.

Many flowering ground covers bloom for only a short period of time during the spring or summer. Consequently, the best flowering ground covers have nice foliage in addition to flowers, so they look good throughout the growing season. Most flowering ground covers should be planted in a spot with full sun for best performance, but there are a few good options for areas with partial shade

  • 01 of 19

    Ground Phlox: Jewel of Spring

    Phlox flower
    Pezibear / Pixabay

    You know that spring is truly underway when you see slopes covered with ground phlox (Phlox subulata) flowers. This type of phlox is known either as "creeping phlox" or "ground phlox" to distinguish it from the much taller perennial known as "garden phlox." There are a number of colors to choose from, and many gardeners plant ground phlox in color combinations. One popular option is a pink-and-white combination reminiscent of Good & Plenty candy. 

  • 02 of 19

    Hosta: Not Just Foliage

    Hosta plants in bloom.
    Mark Turner / Getty Images

    Hosta is thought of mainly as a foliage plant, but some types can also provide an option for a flowering ground cover; thus the old name "plantain lily." Hosta plantaginea even bears fragrant flowers. Still, hosta does not win any prizes for its flowers; it is the leaves of hosta that people really love, coming as they do in a number of colors and sizes. As an added bonus, some, but not all, types of hosta like shade.

  • 03 of 19

    Candytuft: Brilliant White

    Candytuft flowers.
    Hans / Pixabay

    The floral display of candytuft plant (Iberis sempervirens) is truly dazzling, with its numerous brilliant white flowers. You can prune it back after it is done blooming to prevent it from becoming leggy. On the other hand, if you are planting candytuft behind a retaining wall, legginess may be desirable, as the foliage can spill dramatically over the wall (although you may have to tidy them up a bit by removing older leaves).

    In other situations, though, pruning is recommended. For, once its spring flowers have come and gone, only the new foliage of candytuft will give this flowering ground cover any aesthetic value.

  • 04 of 19

    Ice Plant: Long-Flowering Knockout

    Ice plant.
    Aimintang / Getty Images

    Long-flowering ground covers are a dream come true. While most flowering ground covers bloom for an extended period of time, purple or "hardy" ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) is an exception.

    Ice plant requires a soil with outstanding drainage to live up to its "hardy" label. And a surprising label it is, considering that this long-flowering ground cover hails from South Africa. While it is tempting to think it receives its name from that hardiness, "ice plant" is so called due to the way it looks: When the sunlight hits ice plant's foliage just right, the succulent leaves look like they're bejeweled with ice crystals.

    In spite of its hardiness, ice plant is not the type of flowering ground cover that a northern gardener should rely on for year-round erosion control. Instead, use ice plant to dress up an area for the summer, planting it in a place where you will be able to enjoy this long-flowering ground cover to the fullest.

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  • 05 of 19

    Sweet Woodruff Works Under Trees

    Sweet woodruff plants in bloom.
    Michael Davis/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    The only characteristic keeping sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) from being an outstanding flowering ground cover is the fact that it dies back to the ground in winter (the roots do survive underground, though). So it offers no visual interest for the winter months.

    Sweet woodruff, a white flowering ground cover, can also spread beyond the space allotted to it in a garden. In the context of discussing ground covers, however, this trait is not all bad. On the contrary, plants that are not ​aggressive spreaders can be difficult to establish as ground covers. It can be especially tough to establish a flowering ground cover under a tree, but sweet woodruff performs very well under trees.

  • 06 of 19

    Liriope Thrives in Partial Shade

    Liriope plants in bloom.
    Leoleobobeo / Pixabay

    Fortunately, for those with shady patches in need of a flowering ground cover, liriope can be grown in partial shade. Liriope spicata plant is treated as an ornamental grass by some, even though it is actually a type of lily. The common name, "lilyturf" embodies this confusion: Is the plant a lily or a grass? Do not question it; just take advantage of lilyturf's identity crisis, enjoying both its blooms and its attractive, grass-like leaves.

  • 07 of 19

    Basket-of-Gold Gives Rich Color

    Yellow alyssum plant growing out of stone wall.
    Lydie Gigerichova/Getty Images

    One common name for Aurinia saxatilis is "yellow alyssum," but do not confuse this flowering ground cover with the annual that goes by the name, "sweet alyssum." Yellow alyssum is a perennial. To avoid confusion, perhaps a better common name for this perennial ground cover is "basket-of-gold" (or simply use the scientific plant name).

  • 08 of 19

    Vinca Is Vigorous

    Vinca plant in flower.
    Domeckopol / Pixabay

    Whether you love it or despise it, there is one thing you can say for Vinca minor: It is a vigorous grower. This vine is a flowering groundcover that will thrive in shade, and there's no denying that vinca bears an attractive flower.

    So why would anyone despise this plant? Vinca is a victim of its own success. It spreads so well as a ground cover that some people find it too aggressive (indeed, it can be an ​invasive plant).

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  • 09 of 19

    Thyme: Fragrant Creeper

    Creeping thyme in bloom.
    Hsvrs / Getty Images

    Some types of thyme ground cover (Thymus) flower profusely, albeit minutely. An example is the ​so-called "red" thyme, although its flower color is really more of a pink or lavender. A bonus in using thyme ground cover is that it is one of the fragrant plants, although the intensity of smell will depend upon variety (the smell comes from the leaves, not the blooms).

  • 10 of 19

    Cotoneaster: Tall Ground Cover

    Berries of Cotoneaster x suecicus 'Coral-Beauty.'
    Cotoneaster x suecicus 'Coral-Beauty' is just one of many types of cotoneaster. Gillian Plummer/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

    Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) is a shrub, but its horizontal growing habit invites use as a tall ground cover of sorts. It does not stay nearly as short as another "horizontal" plant, Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii'. Nevertheless, cotoneaster can be useful when you wish to "cover ground" by employing a mixed planting in which the heights are staggered. This can produce a more interesting planting than one with a single type of ground cover. If the idea appeals to you, remember to grow the cotoneaster in the back row so that it does not shade the shorter ground covers.

    While cotoneaster does flower in the spring, it is not grown primarily for its flowers. But attractive berries succeed the flowers, and it is for these berries that cotoneaster is mainly grown. Also, the leaves are colorful in fall.

  • 11 of 19

    Yellow Archangel or Arch-Devil?

    Yellow archangel (image) is invasive. But it has yellow flowers and bicolored leaves.
    David Beaulieu

    Yellow archangel is a type of dead nettle (or "deadnettle") that has yellow flowers. The plant is a perennial ground cover. There are four features to admire about yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon):

    1. It bears attractive flowers.
    2. The leaves of yellow archangel are variegated.
    3. It thrives in partial shade.
    4. Yellow archangel is a moderately drought-tolerant perennial.

    If your goal is a low-maintenance yard, yellow archangel's drought-tolerance (once established) could be a major selling point.

    Unfortunately, these fine features will be negated for some by its aggressiveness. Yellow archangel, which can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, has wound up on many invasive plants lists in the U.S. It is not native to North America; rather, it hails from Europe and Western Asia.

    Such aggressiveness is a double-edged sword in landscaping. On the one hand, we do want a ground cover to spread across a patch of bare ground, thereby aiding us in our weed-control efforts. On the other hand, we become annoyed when a plant spreads to a place in the landscape where we do not wish it to grow. There is no pleasing us sometimes.

  • 12 of 19

    Dragon's Blood: Foliage Plant

    Dragon's blood plant
    Brian Carter / Getty Images

    Dragon's Blood stonecrop (Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood') is related to Autumn Joy. Both exhibit the succulent stems and leaves characteristic of the stonecrops. But unlike Autumn Joy, Dragon's Blood stonecrop hugs the ground. Stems, leaves, and flowers can be red, depending on the variety of Dragon's Blood that you plant and the conditions in which you grow it.

    Although this plant is listed as a flowering ground cover, do not go out of your way to grow it unless you think you will appreciate its stems and foliage. Its flowers do not last long enough (and are not large enough) to qualify as an outstanding feature for this ground cover. But its stems and foliage can look quite nice in rock gardens, for example.

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  • 13 of 19

    Angelina Sedum: Skip the Flowers

    Angelina sedum against a backdrop of red mulch.
    David Beaulieu

    Angelina sedum (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina') is a stonecrop plant that produces a yellow flower. And while its flower head is not, in itself, unattractive, many gardeners find something awkward about the way it hovers so far above this ground-hugging plant. But do not let that stop you from growing Angelina sedum. If you agree that the plant's floral display is not its best asset, just cut off the flowers and bring them inside and display them in a vase. Angelina sedum is grown for its succulent foliage, which is chartreuse most of the year, with hints of pink (or even red) in winter.

  • 14 of 19

    Ajuga: Fast Grower or Nuisance?

    Ajuga plant
    Jo Whitworth / Getty Images

    Do you think people use botanical names just to show off? If you study the botanical name of bugleweed, you may end up changing your mind. Bugleweed's botanical name is Ajuga reptans. Whenever you see reptans (Latin for "creeping") in a botanical name, consider it a warning that you may have difficulty controlling the plant, as it may be an aggressive spreader (a euphemism for "fast-growing ground cover"). Bugleweed is just that, capable of spreading at the speed of light and choking out everything in its path. Consider yourself warned. Growing this plant in the landscape is not always advisable.

  • 15 of 19

    Pachysandra: Shade Lover

    Pachysandra ground cover in bloom.
    Dference / Pixabay

    A shade ground cover, Pachysandra terminalis can also tolerate dry shade. The added distinction of "dry" tells you that pachysandra can be used under trees, where there can be a lot of competition for water. As a bonus, this shade ground cover is also a deer-resistant plant, which is probably why you will see a lot of pachysandra if you drive through Connecticut (U.S.), where deer pests run rampant.

  • 16 of 19

    Climbing Hydrangea Is a Ground Cover, Too

    Climbing hydrangea vines covering a fence.
    Photos Lamontagne/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    There are relatively few large, vigorous, hardy ground cover plants that are both good bloomers and shade-tolerant. Climbing hydrangea vines are among them. Unlike most ground covers, these hydrangea vines are true climbers. But that does not mean that they can't function as ground cover plants as well. 

    Climbing hydrangea vines (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris) are a very popular choice when gardeners need a big plant that will tolerate shade. In fact, in hot climates, hydrangea vines actually prefer a location with at least partial shade. Elsewhere, they will do just as well in more sunny areas. The plants will bloom more profusely if they receive optimal sunlight.

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  • 17 of 19

    Lamb's Ear: Adore the Fuzz

    Closeup of dew on lamb's ear leaves.
    Georgia Glynn Smith/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Although it does send up a flower stalk (and a tall one, at that), lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) is grown more for its foliage than for its flowers. Lamb's ear bears silver foliage. The leaves are soft and fuzzy to the touch.

  • 18 of 19

    Snow in Summer, Not Winter

    Closeup of snow-in-summer plant showing two flowers.
    Chris Burrows/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Cerastium tomentosum, better known as "snow-in-summer," is a full-sun ground cover featuring two desirable traits. It is a flowering ​groundcover with white blooms (as its common name suggests), and like lamb's ear, it has silvery leaves. Snow-in-summer has one downfall: while it is a perennial, it is short-lived.

  • 19 of 19

    Wildflower Lovers Love Wild Violets

    Closeup of flowers of Viola sororia.
    Sunniva Harte/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Whether wild violets (Viola sororia) are valued as flowering ground covers or despised as common lawn weeds is really a matter of opinion. You will consider them the latter if your aim is to grow a well-manicured lawn. Understandably, though, lovers of wildflowers are fond of the plants. If you fall into the latter camp, be sure to group a large number of these plants together to create the best possible display. They are small plants with small flowers, so a stray wild violet growing here or there does not make much of an impact.