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20 Eye-Catching & Practical Ground Cover Plants

Cover ground, bare patches and suppress weeds with these 20 plants

By Hannah Miller. Updated March 31st 2022.

Ground cover plants can be used to fill bare patches in borders, as underplanting beneath tall shrubs, as infill within rock gardens and as spillover onto paths and patios.

Some are even suitable for use on slopes, as an alternative to lawns or as a weed suppressor.

Ground covering plants are typically low growing and can compliment taller plants and even trees.

In this guide, Hannah, our co-owner and lead content creator, lists 20 of her favourite ground cover plants for UK gardens.

1) Aubrieta as Ground Cover

Aubrieta is a popular ground cover plant in the UK and is often found on sloped ground, rockeries, gravel, along path edges and even spilling over walls and boulders.

Key points:

  • A perennial that dies back in the winter before new growth appears in the spring.
  • Flowers from March to May.
  • Height: 10cm (4″). Spread: 80cm (32″).
  • Drought tolerant and prefers full sun.
  • Can also be used as infill under tulips, daffodils and alliums.

Trailing aubrieta down a boulder

Purple aubrieta along and down boulder

Purple mound of aubrieta

A mound of aubrieta along a path

2) Forget-me-Nots

Forget-me-nots are the ultimate backdrop plant, and as you can see from the photos below, the classic combination is with tulips, alliums and other taller spring-flowering plants.

Key points:

  • Easy to grow from seeds.
  • Height: 30cm (12″). Spread: 30cm (12″).
  • Grow under taller plants and shrubs or use to add a splash of colour to foliage plants such as hostas.
  • Perfect for edging along paths and patios.
  • Prefers a shaded spot or an area with dappled sun.
  • Biennial and hardy, forget-me-nots self-seed readily.
  • Blooms from April to June.
Forget-me-nots as ground cover in a border

A carpet of forget-me-nots as ground cover

Forget-me-nots as ground cover under tulips

Forget-me-nots as ground cover under tulips

3) Creeping Phlox

Often grown in rockeries in UK gardens, this popular ground covering perennial can also be grown as a carpet under taller shrubs and trees.

Also, consider planting along the edges of paths, driveways and patios.

Creeping phlox looks stunning and delightful when in bloom.

Key points:

  • The ultimate weed-suppressing ground cover plant.
  • Height: 15cm (6″). Spread: 50cm (20″).
  • Flowers in April, May and June.
  • Prefers full sun.
  • Evergreen but sometimes semi-evergreen.
  • Generally disease and pest-free and easy to maintain.
Creeping phlox ground cover in pink

Pink creeping phlox encroaching over gravel

Purple creeping phlox as ground cover in the UK

Purple creeping phlox as ground cover

4) Winter Aconites

Winter colour can be hard to come by in UK gardens, especially in more shaded areas, but winter aconites buck the trend.

Grow in partial shade or dappled sunlight for the best results.

This low growing perennial will naturalise and spread easily if located in a suitable spot such as under trees, large shrubs or a woodland setting where it acts as ground cover over bare soil.

Key points:

  • A member of the buttercup family with distinctive yellow blooms atop green foliage.
  • Very low-growing with a height of no more than 10cm (4″).
  • Flowers in late January, February and sometimes into March.
  • The foliage will die back after flowering and then reappear the following winter.
  • Avoid dry soil and choose a spot with reliably moist soil, similar to a woodland setting.
Winter aconites as ground cover in a woodland setting

A carpet of ground covering winter aconites

Overhead view of winter aconites

Closeup view of winter aconites in shade

5) Candytuft

Often grown with or as a replacement for aubrieta and sedum, this perennial is perfect for rockeries, path edges and anywhere with chalky, sandy or poor soil where many other plants struggle.

Key points:

  • Prefers full sun and is fully drought tolerant once established.
  • As a general rule of thumb; the more sun there is, the more blooms you’ll be rewarded with.
  • This ground cover plant blooms from late April to July in the UK.
  • Height: 40cm (16″). Spread: 50cm (20″).
  • Usually evergreen in the UK.
White low-growing candytuft

A carpet of ground covering yellow and white candytuft

Pink and purple candytuft flower closeup

A closeup view of purple candytuft and green foliage

6) Hardy Geraniums

Hardy geraniums (not to be confused with bedding geraniums) are a go-to plant for covering unattractive parts of the garden.

Quick growing and often producing hundreds of blooms against a mound of dense foliage, hardy geraniums can be used to cover fading allium or tulip foliage or to fill voids.

This perennial dies back in late autumn and reappears in the spring, and is a well-known space filler. It’s often found in “top ten” plant lists as it’s so reliable and versatile.

Key points:

  • Ridiculously easy to grow and both pest and disease resistant.
  • Chokes out weeds and fills voids quickly.
  • A long flowering season, often from spring into autumn (if cut back after the first flowers fade).
  • Grow in full sun or partial shade.
  • Height: 60cm/23″. Spread: 60cm/23″.
Purple hardy geranium flowers on this ground cover UK plant

Purple blooms on hardy geraniums

Pink hardy geranium blooms and green foliage

Pink blooms against green foliage

 7) Anemone Blanda

Anemone “blanda” is another spring-flowering deciduous perennial that has the potential to create a carpet of blooms.

Daisy-like flowers appear atop short stems to 15cm (6″) with a spread of 15cm (6″).

A reliable spring bloomer, anemone “blanda” can be combined with other spring plants or underplanted taller shrubs in shaded spots.

Key points:

  • Perfect for woodland settings and under taller shrubs where there’s some shade.
  • Not to be confused with other varieties of anemone which are taller, used as cut flowers and bloom in the summer.
  • While blanda can create a carpet of blooms, it can spread aggressively so only plant where they can naturalise.
Anemone blanda flowers

Closeup of a blue anemone flowers

Anemone blanda as a ground cover UK plant

Purple blooms on an anemone blanda

8) Sedum

No list of ground cover plants for the UK would be complete without sedum.

Thick, fleshy foliage grows horizontally to form a dense mat from which pink blooms appear in the summer.

Often grown on “green roofs”, sedum is the ultimate ground cover plant and requires no special care or attention once established.

Key points:

  • Prefers a sunny spot.
  • Drought tolerant and there’s no need to water.
  • Prefers dry soil.
  • Often found on gritty soil, rockeries and dry borders as a ground covering space filler.
  • Choose from low-growing varieties which never exceed 25cm (10″) in height or choose a taller sedum up to 75cm (30″).
Pink flowers on sedum

Closeup of sedum flowers

Green fleshy sedum foliage

Fleshy green sedum foliage

9) Creeping Thyme Ground Cover

Also known as Breckland thyme and wild thyme, this dwarf, evergreen shrub was popular in the Edwardian era in the UK when it was often grown as a lawn.

While it’s rarely seen these days, it does make for an unusual ground cover plant.

Reaching no more than 15cm high and spreading 10-50cm, creeping thyme produces tiny pointy evergreen leaves and small purple blooms in the summer.

Key points:

  • Prefers full sun.
  • Mat forming.
  • It can be walked on where it then releases fragrance.
  • Perfect for gravel and rock gardens.
  • Also suitable for growing in gaps near or in paths and patios.
Mat forming creeping thyme for ground cover

A carpet of creeping thyme as ground cover – can be walked on.

Summer blooms on creeping thyme

Purple blooms rising above the evergreen foliage in the summer

10) Japanese Spurge

Reaching 25cm (10″) tall with a spread of up to 1.5m (5foot), this evergreen perennial is the ultimate mat-forming plant for ground cover.

Branches bear leathery leaves with jagged edges, and small white flowers appear in the summer.

Japanese spurge is a part of the boxwood family but is far more mat-forming and spreads more horizontally than other members of this family.

Key points:

  • Small flowers appear in the summer and make plants have stamens.
  • Best in full or partial shade.
  • Perfect for underplanting trees and tall shrubs.
  • Grow in moist but free-draining soil.
  • Evergreen foliage.
  • Perfect for north and east-facing gardens.
  • Ideal ground cover plants in UK courtyards, cottages, coastal and many flowerbeds and borders.
Japanese spurge foliage an blooms

Mat-forming Japanese spurge with white blooms on green foliage.

Green foliage of Japanese Spurge

Green foliage on Japanese spurge, a ground-covering perennial.

11) Tiarella

Tiarella is another popular weed-suppressing perennial that flourishes in shaded parts of the garden.

Green dense foliage covers ground quickly before turning rustic brown in late summer and dying back completely by late autumn; new growth then reappears reliably each spring.

There are two types of tiarella; clump-forming and runners.

Flowers, often white, appear on spiky upright stems in the spring and early summer.

Our recommendation is “Jeepers Creepers”, a runner that spreads up to 75cm, is scented and produces cream and reddish flowers.

Key points:

  • A popular weed suppressor and often seen in shaded parts of gardens.
  • A well-known and popular foliage plant.
  • It can be underplanted beneath trees, roses and other tall shrubs.
  • Height: 30cm/12″. Width: 40cm/16″.
  • Grow in full or partial shade or light dappled sun.
  • Requires little to no care.
Tiarella underplanted beneath a shrub

This tiarella is underplanted beneath a shrub as ground cover and to suppress weeds.

Green tiarella foliage

Tiarella foliage is often used as ground cover where it fills voids quickly.

12) Lamb’s Ear

Lamb’s ear is another classic ground cover plant and is popular in the UK, where it fills space with dense, thick, velvety foliage that’s been described as woolly.

We recommend “silver carpet”, which as the name suggests, is the best variety for ground cover.

Spiky stems with purple flowers are thrown up in the summer, but they don’t distract from the low-level foliage, which is what lamb’s ear is known for.

Key points:

  • Performs best in full sun.
  • While the flower spikes can reach just over a foot (30cm) tall, the foliage stays close to the ground, usually 15-20cm (6-8″).
  • Spreads between 0.5m and 1m (20-40″).
  • Often grown under roses.
  • lamb’s ear is evergreen in milder parts of the UK, otherwise it’s deciduous but dies back late in autumn for a short dormant period.
Soft velvety foliage of lamb's ear

The soft velvety foliage of lamb’s ear grows to a height of around 20cm and spreads 0.5-1m.

Lamb's ear foliage as ground cover

Vertical stems arise in the summer and hold small purple blooms above the ground-covering foliage.

13) Hostas

While hostas are an all-you-can-eat buffet for slugs and snails, they provide some of the most eye-catching foliage of any plant, and there are hundreds to choose from.

Typically a shade-loving plant, green hostas are often found under tall trees and in north and east-facing gardens.

Hostas with yellow leaves cope with sunlight better, but all varieties prefer moisture-retentive soil.

Key points:

  • Performs best in the shade but look out for sun-tolerant varieties.
  • A great space filler and weed suppressor.
  • Grow singular plants to fill space or plant en masse and let the leaves overlap to create a carpet of ground cover.
  • Flowers are small and aren’t noteworthy compared to the foliage.
  • Watch out for slugs; you may need to put in place slug traps and treatment products.
Hosta foliage as ground cover

A quick and reliable way to cover huge areas of ground is by planting hostas en masse.

A potted hosta with foliage and flowers

Vertical stems hold beautiful blooms that never distract from the ground covering foliage.

14) Bearberry as Ground Cover

Bearberry is a low-growing, evergreen dwarf shrub offering vigorous growth.

The fruits are favoured by bears, hence the name, but also by wildlife, especially birds.

Key points:

  • The leaves on this evergreen shrub may turn purple in the winter before becoming green again in the spring.
  • It’s a versatile plant that can be grown as ground cover, for trailing down walls, as edging around paths and patios or on slopes and banks for erosion control.
  • Grow in full sun to partial shade, this shrub is drought tolerant and easy to grow.
  • Small rounded, leathery dark green leaves are complemented by small white flowers from late spring to mid-summer.
  • Fruits appear in summer and ripen red by autumn.
  • Leaves may turn purple in the winter.
  • Height: up to 30cm (12″). Spread: up to 1.5m (5ft).
Bearberry foliage as ground cover

Bearberry is an evergreen shrub with a vigorous trailing and spreading habit.

Bearberry foliage and fruit

Carefree foliage of bearberry and red summer fruits that turn red in the autumn.

15) Erica Carnea

Also known as the “versatile heather”, this hardy shrub makes for excellent ground cover in various soils.

Evergreen needle-like foliage reveals pink and purple blooms in winter and early spring.

Easy to grow in full sun or partial shade, this heather is the best of the bunch for covering ground all year round.

Key points:

  • Lime tolerant.
  • A spreading evergreen that’s versatile and can be grown in cottage gardens, rockeries, on banks and slopes, in coastal regions and in pots.
  • The flowers are urn-shaped and appear white, pink and purple.
  • Height: up to 40cm (17″). Spread: up to 50cm (20″).
  • Prefers well-drained soil.
Erica carnea as groundcover

Planted en mass, heathers, and in particular “erica carnea” make excellent ground cover in full sun.

Flowers on erica carnea

Pink, off-white and purple urn-like blooms appear in the winter against evergreen needle foliage.

16) Lithodora Diffusa

A low-growing but ground-covering evergreen shrub, lithodora diffusa reaches no more than 15cm in height but spreads up to 60cm.

Expect abundant 15mm star-shaped flowers amongst small hairy leaves.

Also known as Gromwell.

Key points:

  • Mat forming.
  • Flowers in late spring through to mid summer.
  • Performs best in acidic soil, gravel gardens, rockeries and with warm/Mediterranean plants
  • Height: up to 15cm (6″). Spread: up to 60cm (24″).
  • Prefers full sun in a south or west-facing garden.
Gromwell, aka Lithodora diffusa

Blue star-shaped blooms against green mat-forming, ground cover foliage.

Creeping gromwell, aka Lithodora diffusa

Low growing but spreads up to 60cm and produces hundreds of small blooms.

17) Creeping Jenny

This hardy perennial produces gold and green lobe-like leaves which are on display throughout the year in all but the harshest of winters.

While creeping jenny is a popular ground covering plant, it’s equally at home trailing over the edges of pots and walls.

As a native UK plant, it prefers moist soil and full or partial sun but dislikes overly hot temperatures.

Key points:

  • Cup-shaped golden flowers appear in June, July and August.
  • Has both a crawling and cascading habit.
  • Evergreen in most parts of the UK.
  • Height: up to 10cm (3″). Spread: up to 1m (3′).
  • Prefers full sun or semi-shade.
  • Dislikes overly dry soil.
Creeping jenny growing along the ground

Yellow/green foliage of creeping jenny.

Creeping jenny in a plant pot

Creeping jenny over a pot’s edge.

18) Hens and Chicks

Perfect for dry, stony and gravelly garden areas such as rockeries, gravel borders and patches; hens and chicks form colonies and make an excellent ground cover plant in the UK.

This mat-forming succulent perennial produces rosettes of fleshy foliage of several colours and shades, including green, purple and red.

The main rosette (hen) puts out stems in all directions, which then produce offspring (chicks), which then form roots of their own, thus helping the colony to grow.

Key points:

  • This fleshy succulent is perfect for dry areas of the garden and is often found in gravel gardens.
  • Grow in full sun or part shade.
  • Prefers dry soil but will tolerate medium moisture provided its free draining.
  • Is almost entirely free of pests and diseases, just like many other succulents and cacti.
  • Best grown in groups, mosaics can be created with careful planning.
Hens and chicks starting to colonise a rockery

Hens and chicks starting to colonise a rockery.

Closeup of a hens and chocks colony as groundcover

Closeup of a compact hens and chicks colony.

19) Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Asarum europaeum) is a slow-growing, evergreen (sometimes deciduous) creeping perennial that produces a carpet of kidney-shaped, glossy foliage.

While usually grown for their foliage, small purple blooms appear in the spring but are typically hidden under the leaves.

Key points:

  • Height: 15cm (6″). Spread: 30cm (12″).
  • Prefers full or partial shade.
  • Likes woodland conditions, ideally with a rich but free-draining soil.
  • Easy to grow and generally pest and disease-free, but watch out for slugs.
  • Creates a dense carpet of foliage which make this one of the best ground cover plants in the UK.
  • Ginger scented rhizomes (not edible).
Mounds of wild ginger
A carpet of wild ginger foliage

20) Snow-in-Summer

This perennial, often short-lived, blooms profusely in spring and summer with star-shaped white flowers and yellow antlers in the centre.

The foliage is of particular interest, green in autumn and, as the name suggests, white in spring and summer. Expect a height of around 30cm (12″) and a spread of 90cm (36″).

Key points:

  • Deciduous, this perennial loses its leaves in the winter.
  • Mat-forming.
  • Self-seeds and spreads with ease.
  • Grow in full sun; this is the perfect ground cover plant for bright areas of the garden.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Prune off stems after flowering to prevent them from setting seeds.
Snow-in-summer ground cover plants
Closeup of snow-in-summer ground cover plants

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This guide to the best ground cover plants was created by Hannah Miller and was published on DIY Gardening on the 31st of March, 2022.

Discover more content at Hannah’s Corner.

Hannah is a keen amateur gardener, mother and former NHS administrator.

She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.

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Author Hannah Miller

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