20 Eye-Catching & Practical Ground Cover Plants
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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 I’ve grown it successfully on sloped ground, rockeries, gravel, along path edges and even spilled it over walls and boulders.
- 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.
I’ve grown aubrieta in a rockery before, and it cascaded beautifully over the rocks. I’ve also seen it on the tops of walls and growing in spots with poor soil and little moisture.
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.
- I’ve found them easy to grow from seeds.
- Height: 30cm (12″). Spread: 30cm (12″).
- I’ve grown them under taller plants and shrubs and used them 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.
- My forget-me-nots bloomed from April to June.
I’ve grown forget-me-nots as groundcover underneath tall spring flowering bulbs with success, and I’ve never had any issues with pests or diseases either.
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, I’ve had success planting it along the edges of paths, driveways and patios.
In my opinion, creeping phlox looks stunning and delightful when in bloom, a real eye-catcher.
- 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.
I’ve had wonderful results with creeping phlox in the past, but I did have to thin out the plant every few years as it became compacted. Other than this, I spent very little time on it and just left it to grow on its own. I’ve never had issues with pests or diseases, either.
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.
- 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.
Where I’ve seen aconites:
I’ve seen aconites thrive in woodlands throughout the south of the UK but I would only consider this plant if I had a garden big enough, which I don’t. They are likely to spread over time and colonise the space.
I have seen candytuft grown as a replacement for aubrieta and sedum as this perennial is perfect for path edges and anywhere with chalky, sandy or poor soil where many other plants struggle.
I’ve previously grown it in rockeries without issue.
- I’ve found that candytuft prefers full sun but isn’t fully drought-tolerant until it’s established.
- As a general rule of thumb; the more sun there is, the more blooms you’ll be rewarded with.
- This ground cover plant bloomed from late April to July in my garden in Surrey, UK.
- Height: 40cm (16″). Spread: 50cm (20″).
- Usually evergreen in the UK.
6) Hardy Geraniums
Hardy geraniums (not to be confused with bedding geraniums) are my go-to plant for covering unattractive parts of the garden.
Quick growing and often producing hundreds of blooms against a mound of dense foliage, I use hardy geraniums 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.
- I’ve found it to be ridiculously easy to grow and pest and disease resistant.
- It choked out weeds in my garden and filled voids quickly.
- It has a long flowering season, often from spring into autumn (if I cut it back just as the flowers fade).
- I grow in full sun or partial shade.
- Height: 60cm/23″. Spread: 60cm/23″.
7) Anemone Blanda
Anemone “blanda” is another spring-flowering deciduous perennial that I feel 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″).
In my previous garden, this was a reliable spring bloomer that never failed to put on a good show. I have combined anemone “blanda” with other spring plants and underplanted taller shrubs in shaded spots.
- 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 has the potential to spread aggressively, so only plant where they can naturalise.
No list of ground cover plants for the UK would be complete without sedum.
I have seen first-hand how the thick, fleshy foliage grows horizontally to form a dense mat from which pink blooms appear in the summer.
I have even seen it grown on eco “green roofs” where it creates a natural habitat for wildlife. Sedum is the ultimate ground cover plant and requires no special care or attention once established.
- Prefers a sunny spot.
- I’ve always found it to be drought-tolerant and have never watered it.
- From my experience, it appears to prefer dry soil.
- I’ve seen it thrive 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″).
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.
- Prefers full sun.
- Mat forming.
- I’ve run my hand over this plant before and it released a strong, pleasant fragrance.
- I’ve seen it grow well in gravel and rock gardens.
- Also suitable for growing in gaps near or in paths and patios.
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 from what I have seen, is far more mat-forming and spreads more horizontally than other members of this family.
- Small flowers appear in the summer and make plants have stamens.
- Best in full or partial shade.
- I’ve seen it perform well under 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.
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.
My recommendation is “Jeepers Creepers”, a runner that spreads up to 75cm, is scented and produces cream and reddish flowers.
- I’ve grown tiarella as a weed suppressor and have seen it thrive in shaded areas of several gardens.
- A well-known and popular foliage plant.
- I have underplanted it beneath trees, roses and other tall shrubs without issue.
- Height: 30cm/12″. Width: 40cm/16″.
- Based on my experience, it should be grown in full or partial shade or light-dappled sun.
- The tiarellas in my previous garden required very little attention and could largely be left to grow on their own.
12) Lamb’s Ear
Lamb’s ear is another classic ground cover plant that I’ve had success with. I’ve seen it fill space with dense, thick, velvety foliage that I can only describe as woolly.
I 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.
- When I grew it I found that it 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″).
- My lamb’s ear spread between 0.5m and 1m (20-40″).
- I have seen it grown successfully under roses.
- Lamb’s ear is evergreen in milder parts of the UK such as where I live but sheds its foliage in cooler parts of the UK.
While I love growing hostas for their huge and distinctive foliage, I’ve found in my garden they are an all-you-can-eat buffet for slugs and snails! So much so that I stopped growing them. Maybe you will have better luck but you need a slug control plan in place.
Typically a shade-loving plant, I have grown them under tall trees and in north and east-facing aspects of my garden.
Hostas with yellow leaves are known to cope with sunlight better, but all varieties prefer moisture-retentive soil.
- I feel that they perform best in the shade but look out for sun-tolerant varieties.
- A great space filler and I’ve used them as a weed suppressor in the past.
- 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 will need to put in place slug traps and treatment products.
14) Bearberry as Ground Cover
Bearberry is a low-growing, evergreen dwarf shrub offering vigorous growth.
Daniel, our lead landscaping consultant here at DIY Gardening, has specified this plant on several projects he worked on in the UK.
Bears and birds love the fruits so it will attract wildlife.
- 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 I have seen grown as ground cover, for trailing down walls, as edging around paths and patios and 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.
- I like how the leaves turn purple in the winter.
- Height: up to 30cm (12″). Spread: up to 1.5m (5ft).
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.
I’ve always found this heather easy to grow in full sun or partial shade and have never had issues with pests or diseases.
- Lime tolerant.
- A spreading evergreen that’s versatile and I’ve seen it grown successfully 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.
Planted en mass, heathers, and in particular “erica carnea” make excellent ground cover in full sun.
16) Lithodora Diffusa
A low-growing, 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.
It’s also known as Gromwell.
- Mat forming.
- Flowers in late spring through to mid-summer.
- Based on my experience and from locations I’ve seen it thrive, I think it will perform best in acidic soil, gravel gardens, rockeries and when mixed with warm/Mediterranean plants
- Height: up to 15cm (6″). Spread: up to 60cm (24″).
- Prefers full sun in a south or west-facing garden.
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, I found that it prefers moist soil and full or partial sun but dislikes overly hot temperatures.
I’ve grown creeping jenny over the edges of pots and large troughs in the past, and the trails are certainly eye-catching and distinctive.
- 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.
- From experience, I know that it dislikes overly dry soil.
18) Hens and Chicks
I’ve seen these grown in 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.
- This fleshy succulent is perfect for dry garden areas, and I’ve seen it in dozens of gravel gardens.
- Based on my knowledge, it will grow best in full sun or part shade.
- Prefers dry soil but will tolerate medium moisture provided it’s free draining.
- Is almost entirely free of pests and diseases, just like many other succulents and cacti.
- Best grown in groups, and mosaics can be created with careful planning.
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.
There are hundreds of plants in my local woods, and I’ve seen first-hand how they cover the ground quickly.
- 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).
This perennial, often short-lived, blooms profusely in spring and summer with star-shaped white flowers and yellow antlers in the centre.
I’ve found that the foliage is of particular interest, green in autumn and, as the name suggests, white in spring and summer. I’ve seen it grow to a height of around 30cm (12″) and a spread of 90cm (36″).
- Deciduous, this perennial loses its leaves in the winter.
- Self-seeds and I’ve seen it spread 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.
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Meet The Author: Hannah Miller
Hannah is a former NHS administrator, mother of two and keen qualified gardener who loves growing new plants and experimenting in the garden.
She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.
This year is all about pollinators, and Hannah has set herself the goal of only buying new plants that attract pollinators; she aims to make the garden as bee and butterfly friendly as possible.
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