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Hardy Ground Cover Plants – Planting Ground Covers In Zone 5

Hardy Ground Cover Plants – Planting Ground Covers In Zone 5


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Zone 5 can be a tough planting zone for many plants. The temperatures can dip below -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 C.), a temperature to which many plants can’t adapt. Zone 5 ground cover plants are a great way to keep soil warm around the roots of other plants. Planting ground covers in zone 5 also helps conserve moisture in summer, reduce weeds and add seamless beauty in broad colorful swathes across the landscape. Read on for some hardy ground cover options for your northern garden.

Hardy Ground Cover Plants

Ground cover choices must take into account the site drainage, exposure, soil type and, of course, the USDA hardiness zone. Other options such as deciduous vs. evergreen, woody vs. herbaceous, and flowering or fruiting are also part of the equation as you assess your ground cover choices. Finding the perfect ground cover for zone 5 must take all these into consideration while providing outstanding cold hardiness. Luckily, there are a host of wonderful plants that can provide varying functions and eye appeal that thrive in chilly winter climates.

In zone 5, hardy ground cover plants undergo punishing winters with not only cold temperatures, but often high damaging winds and brutally hot summers. These extremes require only the toughest plants in order to survive. Evergreen plants offer year-round color and texture. Some of the low growing conifers are perfect as ground covers. For example:

  • Many of the juniper species are hardy to zone 3 and grow just 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm.) off the ground with a spreading habit.
  • Kinnikinick, or bearberry, is a wonderful ground cover for zone 5, with attractive berries that attract birds and foliage that tends to get a reddish purple tinge at the edges as fall enters.
  • Creeping cotoneaster produces bright red berries, delicate glossy foliage and a low profile.
  • Another evergreen spreading plant is wintercreeper (Euonymus fortune), which comes in several colors.

Each of these is also low maintenance and easy to care for once established.

If you want rich jewel tones and springtime glory spread across the landscape, there are even more zone 5 ground cover plants.

  • Blue star creeper is practically indestructible. You can even walk on this plant with no damage, making it great as a lawn substitute. It produces sweet little starry flowers all through spring.
  • Try growing herbs, like creeping thyme, or succulents, such as sedum or hens and chicks, that will add interest to the garden.
  • Ice plant lives up to its name by surviving into zone 3 and putting on a color show of the most vibrant pink flowers.

Additional ground covers that will all keep the colors coming from spring through summer include:

  • Ajuga
  • Vinca
  • Basket of Gold
  • Aubretia
  • Winecups
  • Snow in Summer
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Deadnettle
  • Creeping Jenny

Planting Ground Covers in Zone 5 Shade

Add extreme winters to a shady location, and you have a problem area. It can be difficult to find shade loving plants in warmer regions but the special challenges of a zone 5 location make the task especially difficult. Fortunately, there are some heroes among plants that will thrive in low light locations of zone 5.

Pachysandrais a really outstanding plant with delicate leaves and a flair for flourishing in shade. Lady’s mantle forms dense mats over time and has elegant foliage.

Many grass-like and ferny plants are useful in full shade locations. Black mondo grass and liriopeproduce blade-like foliage and have ease of care. Brass buttons and corydalishave fern-like foliage in hues of bronze, green and eggplant. Japanese painted ferns have numerous colors in the leaves and airy foliage.

Other alternatives for shade areas might be creeping dogwood or wintercreeper. Each has a different season of interest all year around.

Zone 5 options abound for ground covers. All you have to do is look and plan ahead for a blanket of texture, greenery, fruit, flowers and color.

This article was last updated on


30 Great Zone 5 Plants to Grow

Whether you’re new to zone five or a new gardener in zone five, not all plants grow well in every USDA zone. Picking the right plants for the climate in your region is the very first step to successful gardening. Imagine trying to grow bananas when you live in Vermont that’s not going to happen, no matter how much you try.

I love living in zone five! Not only do we have all four seasons, but we also have a vast range of plants to grow. Most vegetables, flowers, and herbs grow well in this area, but some perennials cannot handle the cold temperatures each winter.

Zone five is divided into two sections: zone 5a and zone 5b. They each have slightly different planting weeks because zone 5a is northern and receives their last frost later than 5b. While each section can grow the same plants, the planting dates might vary slightly.

Zone five plants need to be able to survive temperatures no lower than -20℉. That tends to be the coldest temperature in this region. Perennials need to be tough and capable of withstanding a late frost or still be dormant in the early spring.

Let’s take a look at the best zone 5 plants to grow in your garden.

The Best Vegetables to Grow in Zone 5

First, let’s look at the best vegetables to grow in zone five. As a vegetable gardener in zone five, we can grow most veggies, but we have to plant later than those in zones 6-11. On average, the final frost comes in late April or early May, and the first frost appears in October, which gives us several months of frost-free gardening.

Here are some vegetables that grow exceedingly well in this zone.

1. Asparagus

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that produces for over 20 years when cared for properly. Plant in the early spring between March and April in a spot that has full sunlight.

2. Beets

Beets are a root crop that can be planted as soon as the ground is workable, between March and April. Make sure the soil is fluffy and free of rocks or chunks of dirt that prevents root growth.

3. Bush

Both pole and bush beans grow well in zone five. These are warm-season crops planted after the final frost in May. Bush beans produce their crop all at once, but you can plant bush beans two times in zone five before the first frost. Pole beans produce their crop over several months.

4. Cabbage

Cabbages are an annual vegetable that grows as a spring and fall crop in zone five. Plant between March and April, but you need to start the seedlings inside six weeks before transplanting outside.

5. Carrots

Carrots are a favorite root crop planted between March and April and work as a succession planting vegetable. They grow well in the spring and fall in zone five.

6. Celery

Many people bypass growing celery, but it grows well in zone five. Too many gardeners think celery is hard to grow, but it’s not. Plant between April and May, starting the seeds inside 8-10 weeks before transplanting dates.

7. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a warm-season vegetable that vines upwards and needs to be planted in May after the final frost passes. These vegetables need plenty of water, or they’ll wilt quickly.

8. Lettuce

Greens, including lettuce, grow well in zone five. Most greens, including mustards, swiss chard, and kale, grow well in this growing zone — plant between April and May.

9. Onions

Some find growing onions confusing, but they grow well in zone five. It takes two years to grow onions from seeds, but only a few months if grown from onion sets. Plant between April and May.

10. Peas

Peas are an early spring vining crop that climbs up a support system — plant between April and May and the fall. If you want to grow peas in the fall, plant them 8-10 weeks before the first frost in your area.

11. Peppers

Peppers are a warm-season crop that needs as much heat as possible. Plant the seedlings in the garden in May after the final frost date. Expect the harvest to come in August and September.

12. Potatoes

Potatoes are a popular root crop that grows well in this climate. Plant between April and May and harvest towards the late summer and early fall. Make sure the soil doesn’t stay waterlogged or the potatoes rot.

13. Pumpkins

Pumpkins are a traditional warm-season crop that should be planted in May after the final frost. It takes a long time to reach maturity, so be sure the days to maturity match this growing zone.

14. Radishes

Radishes are a simple root crop that reaches maturity in as little as 30 days. Plant between March and April, and you can seeds every two to three weeks for succession planting.

15. Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable that tastes more like a fruit with a sour taste best mixed with fruit. It needs to be planted in early spring between March and April, growing for decades to come.

16. Summer Squash

Most commonly grown is zucchini, which does well in zone five. Plant once the final frost passes in May. You can start seeds inside two weeks before transplanting outside or sow seeds directly outdoors.

17. Winter Squash

Traditionally grown due to their long-term storage ability, many winter squashes grow well in zone five. Plant these warm-season crops after the final frost in May. Check their days to maturity to be sure it matches the frost-free days.

The Best Flowers and Herbs to Grow in Zone 5

Flower gardens in zone five are full of color. Gardeners have a considerable selection to consider when planning their gardens. If you want a ground cover, consider creeping phlox, creeping thyme, violets, and stonecrop. These ground covers spread and grow like wildfire in zone five gardens.

Many herbs grow well in zone five. There are few, if none, herbs that you cannot grow in this climate, but not all perennial herbs grow well here because the temperatures might dip too low.

My herb garden is full of different plants, including basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano. Most of your favorite herbs can grow well in these zones, but a majority are annuals unless grown inside or grown in containers and brought inside.

Here are some other flowers and herbs that grow well in USDA zone five.

18. Delphinium

Delphinium grows up to six feet tall in zones three through seven. That means you need to grow them towards the back of your garden beds to avoid casting shade. These flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to their pink, blue, and purple blooms. Plant your Delphinium flowers in full sunlight and well-draining soil.

19. Echinacea

Echinacea, sometimes called purple coneflower, is a perennial herb that grows well in full and partial sunlight. This herb tolerates a range of soil, including rocky and poor, but not wet, soggy soil. Pick a spot with full to part sunlight for optimal growth.

20. Lilies

Lilies are one of the most popular flowers to grow in zone five. Not only do they attract butterflies, but the blooms are lovely and come in a range of colors, such as orange, yellow, pink, red, and white. Lilies grow best in full to partial sun and well-draining soil.

21. Salvia

These flowers grow best in full sunlight and well-draining soil, but they do well in any soil type. Salvia has over 900 cultivars, so that you can find the perfect one for your garden. The blooms are brightly colored and attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden.

22. Hollyhock

Hollyhock reaches up to eight feet tall with the proper care. Plant them in full sunlight and well-draining soil for optimal growth. Due to their height, hollyhocks are best in the back of your garden, or they’ll cast too much shade.

23. Coral Bells

For those with rock gardens, coral bells have brightly colored leaves with pink and purple dashes mixed with green to make your garden pop. The best thing about coral bells is that they’re low maintenance. If you plant them in full sunlight in zones three through nine, these plants reach up to three feet tall.

24. Chives

Here is one of the easiest herbs to grow as a perennial. Chives are the perfect cut and come again herb. You can cut whatever you need for the meal, and it’ll come back fast.

25. Hostas

When you have a garden bed that is full shade, it makes it hard to find plants to grow. Hostas are the perfect full shade plant to add to your garden beds. If possible, hostas need a bit of sun in the morning, but it’s a common plant in zones five to nine.

26. Lavender

Lavender is an iconic herb with the best scent, and gardeners in zones five through eight can enjoy it as a perennial. This herb grows well in full sunlight and well-draining soil.

27. Foxgloves

These are tubular blooms that come in pink, red, yellow, and purple. Foxgloves grow best in well-draining soil and full sunlight, but they also grow well in partial sun, partial shade, or full shade. These are tall plants, reaching up to five feet tall.

28. Bee Balm

As you might guess from the name, bee balm attracts bees and other pollinators to your garden. That makes it handy to have planted nearby. Bee balm grows best in full sunlight, but it does grow in part shade but becomes leggy over time. Pick a spot that has moist, rich soil and plant in the spring or early fall.

29. Hyacinths

If you’re looking for fragrant flowers to add to your garden, hyacinths are an aromatic blooming plant that comes in pink, purple, blue, red, pink, orange, and more! Growing well in zones four through nine, plant your hyacinths in full sunlight and well-draining soil for best results.

30. Aster

Asters are a beautiful flower known for its sweet smell that attracts pollinators. In the right conditions, it reaches eight feet tall, especially if growing in slightly moist soil. These plants grow in any type of sunlight. Asters grow well in zones three through eight.

Try Growing New Plants

The best thing about growing in zone five is that there are so many great plants to grow. While perennial plants’ list is smaller, gardeners in this zone can grow nearly any annual plant desired. That means you don’t have to limit your gardening dreams.


If you’re looking for alternatives to the usual fallbacks—English ivy, pachysandra, and periwinkle—This Old House’s Jenn Nawada offers these out-of-the-ordinary options for ground cover.

Dry Shade

Bishop’s hat (shown): Heart-shaped leaves form dense mounds 6 to 9 inches high, with delicate sprays of small flowers in spring. Zones 4–8.

Lily turf: Grass-like foliage 8 to 18 inches high sports spikes of purple flowers in late summer. Zones 4–10.

Sweet woodruff: Whorled foliage grows 8 to 12 inches tall fragrant white flowers in spring. Zones 4–8.

Full Sun

Cranesbill (shown): Bushy foliage grows up to 12 inches tall. Pink blooms in late spring attract butterflies. Zones 4–8.

Brazilian dwarf morning glory ‘Blue Daze:’ Mounding foliage 9 to 18 inches high produces purple blooms all summer long. Zones 8–11.

Bearberry: Shiny evergreen leaves birds love its red berries. Zones 2–6.

Shady Hillside

Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

Pennsylvania sedge (shown): Wavy mounds of long, grass-like leaves grow 6 to 12 inches high. Zones 4–8.

Alpine geranium: Dense foliage, 3 to 6 inches high, displays pink blooms from April to October. Needs rocky, well-drained soil. Zones 7–10.

Dwarf mondo grass: Tight, 4- to 6-inch-high evergreen clumps grow up to 12 inches across. Zones 6–10.

Moist Shade

Bunchberry (shown): Lush, whorled foliage 6 to 12 inches tall. White blooms attract butterflies red berries in fall. Zones 2–7.

Foam flower: Glossy, lobed foliage grows 9 to 12 inches high sprays of white flowers in May. Zones 3–8.

American barrenwort: The heart-shaped leaves grow 9 to 18 inches high. Zones 5–9.

High Heat & Drought

‘Dragon’s Blood’ stonecrop (shown): This deer-resistant sedum grows 4 to 6 inches tall deep-red, star-shaped flowers appear in midsummer. Zones 3–9.

Lamb’s ear: Thick, velvety leaves grow 12 to 18 inches tall. Zones 4–7.

‘Angelina’ stonecrop: Spiky, gray-green foliage about 4 inches tall has yellow blooms. Zones 5–8.

Steppable

Blue star creeper (shown): Forms a dense 2- to 4-inch-high mat with light-blue spring flowers. Zones 5–9.

Hairy rupturewort: Overlapping stems with tiny leaves reach about 2 inches high. Zones 2–9.

Creeping thyme: Stems bearing tiny, aromatic leaves reach 2 to 6 inches high, with purple flowers from May to September. Zones 4–9.


18 Best Flowering Ground Cover Plants

1. Bigroot Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum)

This old fashioned tough and aggressive perennial ground cover is a good choice for gardeners who want to grow low maintenance plants. The plant barely grows up to 1-1.5 feet tall and loves the sun. Blooms appear when the weather warms up in colors like pink, red or pale pink with interesting variegated foliage. You can also plant it in groups under the trees, the bigroot geranium is a drought tolerant plant and best grown in temperates under USDA Zones 4 to 8b.

2. Spotted Dead Nettle

Dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) is notable for both its variegated foliage and its dense clusters of flowers, which appear in a variety of colors, including white, pink and purple (depending on the cultivar). This low growing plant can be grown diversely in different climates (USDA Zones 3-10), providing it cool, moist soil and shade to part shade. However, it must be noted that dead nettle can be invasive and considered as a weed by many gardeners.

3. Moss Rose (Portulaca)

This pretty little plant with needle-like foliage and tiny colorful flowers looks absolutely stunning. It is an annual or perennial (*in warm tropical and subtropical climates) ground cover that spreads densely. The blooms come in yellow, pink, red, white, orange and many more colors. Moss rose is very tolerant of poor conditions and dry soil.

4. Helianthemum

Also called ‘Sun Rose’ or ‘Rock Rose’, this subshrub comes from the family Cistaceae and barely grows up to 1 feet tall. Providing a well-drained soil and full sun (part shade in warmer climates) it blooms happily. The showy flowers of this genus come in shades of orange, pink, yellow, scarlet, and white. There are some varieties available that bloom for a long time from spring to fall (autumn). Grows in USDA Zones 5-9, this plant usually dies back in the colder regions when the winter perks up, whereas in warmer zones it remains evergreen.

5. Lilyturf (Liriope)

Lilyturf is neither a grass nor a lily. This showy and tough groundcover has lush and deep green, grass-like foliage ordered in slightly upright tufts. Spikes of violet or lavender color flowers appear from late summer until the fall.

Lilyturf (USDA Zones 6-10) requires full sun in colder regions but in warm subtropical or tropical climate, you can grow it in dappled shade. It can be grown between tall shrubs and underneath the canopy of trees, also use it for edging walkways or as and a low border accent. Liriope ‘Muscari’ and Liriope ‘Spicata’ are two most popular varieties.

6. Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff is an excellent ground cover if you want to add fragrance to your garden. Grows best in part shade to full shade and on well-drained soil, this plant can grow up to a height of only 8-10 inches (When in bloom). It starts to bloom prolifically from mid-spring, sweet woodruff leaves also release fragrance when crushed.

7. Creeping Thyme

Thymus serpyllum is a low-growing aromatic flowering herb that is perennial and hardy in USDA Zones 4-9. Just like other thyme varieties it is edible too. This tiny plant barely grows up to 3 inches tall. It is deer resistant and an amazing alternative of grasses.

8. Brass Button

If you’re searching for a lawn substitute on which you can set foot without thinking much then consider growing brass button. It also forms yellow-golden flowers that appear from spring to summer. Brass buttons are hardy in USDA Zones 5-10 (but evergreen only in Zone 8-10), growing in temperates to subtropical climates both.

9. Creeping Phlox

This ground cover has pleasant flowers that appear in pastel hues. Growing this sturdy, low-maintenance plant is possible in USDA Zones 3-8, it is the plant that can be used in landscaping to hide the unsightly slope or other difficult areas as it rambles between rocks or cascades down. It can also be used as a bordering plant around the flowerbeds.

10. Sedum

The genus ‘Sedum’ has a diverse group of ornamental succulent plants, you can grow low growing sedums as a ground cover in full sun and well-drained soil. Yellow flowers appear in summer. The best thing about sedums is there are about 400 species of them around the world that can be grown diversely in every climate.

11. Campanula Portenschlagiana

Campanula portenschlagiana or ‘Dalmatian Bellflower’ is a beautiful annual or perennial plant that forms a mat of small rounded leaves. The flowers are star-shaped, blue-purple in color that blooms from spring through summer. Relatively cold hardy but requires shelter when temperature dips below much. It grows in full sun and in the part shade too, on a fairly loose, well drained and alkaline soil.

12. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley is one of the easiest and best flowering ground covers. Its fragrant little bell-shaped white flowers grow well in shade and have long blooming period. Growing lily of the valley plant is possible in cool temperate zones in USDA Zones 2-9.

13. Vinca minor

One of the most popular groundcovers, it is a hardy plant in both cold and warm climates under USDA Zones 4-10a that spreads quickly. It blooms prolifically, is easy to grow and tolerates poor soil and drought. Provide it full sun in the cold climate and part shade in warm climates.

14. Veronica ‘Goodness Grows’

This low growing beautiful perennial blooms from summer to fall. Good for country style or cottage style garden and also suitable for containers. With its spiky blue blooms, it looks good with bright green foliage. Veronica ‘Goodness Grows’ requires full sun and regular but moderate watering.

15. Firecracker (Russelia equisetiformis)

A warm climate plant that grows best in warm temperates, subtropics, and tropics (USDA Zones 8b-11). This drought tolerant plant is loved by nectar-feeding species of birds, and by butterflies. Fluffy, errant and wispy stems and foliage cascade down and camouflages the unsightly areas. It is suitable for slopes, borders, retaining walls and containers too.

16. Lamb’s Ear

One of the best flowering ground cover plants on our list due to its thick attractive silver-grey-green foliage that forms gentle and velvety rosettes, not only the foliage, its purple colored flowers that appear from late spring are appealing too. This excellent edging plant only grows up 12 inches tall in part sun to full sun under USDA Zones 4-9.

17. Society Garlic

Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is also known as ‘Pink agapanthus’. With its edible garlic-flavored purple flowers and clump forming grass like blue-grey foliage, this tough and low maintenance ground cover is a good option for those who live in warmer climates. Suitable for warm temperates, subtropics and tropics under USDA Zones 7-11.

18. Ajuga

Ajuga, which is also called ‘Bugleweed’ is a genus of perennial or annual flowering plants. It becomes an excellent ground cover, sometimes invasive. Many of its species are very popular, especially ‘Ajuga reptans’ that spread through its runners, having attractive foliage that forms a dense carpet-like mat and deep blue flower spikes. It is possible to grow ajuga in both cold and warm climates (USDA Zones, 3-10).

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19 COMMENTS

Love the ground covers. Where to purchase? In or near Wilm. DE.19805

Any good nursery should have most of them.

Would be nice if this article also had Latin names of the plants. Thank you.

Maybe you can look up the spanish version of the plant you are interested in on the internet. Good luck!

@ alba ” Spanish version ” has NOTHING to do with a LATIN version.

Oooh, snippy! I googled Spanish name for Lambs Ear and the Latin name for Lambs ear. guess what? They up the same! Stachys byzantina. Let’s be more tolerant, share information and our knowledge.

The use of large clear images here is a plus, but thumbs up to GrowInFlorida for suggesting including botanical names on a plant-related web site. Using common names is a terribly inaccurate way of “identifying” flora OR fauna. Sadly, even many nurseries and seed sellers are dumbing down their sites by only using common names and that bodes poorly for educating laypeople and novice gardeners.

Google for the Latin names.

I love ground cover flowers especially in the areas that I have trouble growing flowers.

Great article. Just what I needed to help me decide what to plant.

I have various campanula varieties, including the one in the above article. It’s the first season. They didn’t perform as I expected. I have read to cut back after flowering which I tried with one that I purchased in a large container from a non-greenhouse company. It didn’t take to being cut back. I had to place it in a pot in order for it to restablish. Which it did but not very good. Out of the 4-5 different varieties I had, blue waterfall performed the best. How many plants are needed to cover the amount of area in the above picture. I understand that perennials don’t perform to their full potential the first year. Although, mine barely flowered nor grew much. I had some in good soil and a few in sandy soil. Any suggestions on what I should do if they survive a Boston Winter and do you advise to trim back after flowering. If so, how should they be cut back. I found it difficult to cut these plants back.

I live in area labeled 6a ( ct)
I have a steep sandy bank in full sun
I want something that flowers grows
LOW to the ground so it looks presentable not like uncared for lawn
This bank is road side aprox. 90 yards long
Once planted I don’t want fuss w it much

Me too. I’m looking for something this will crowd out weeds, will spread & doesn’t require me to climb the bank to work the garden.

Live in phx, az. What are the best flowers to plant for spring?

Please include that most of these plants are very invasive.

IMG_7124.jpeg
Can anyone tell me what this is please?

You could definitely see your expertise in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.

Very nice! I were amazed by the beauty of moss rose yesterday in a Canadian Tire shop yesterday, but no one there was able to tell me what it is. After getting home, I started google hunting. Most lists of flowering ground cover don’t contain the moss rose, your list is the first one!

is a beautiful chartreuse color and grows well as a ground cover, climbing trellises, or spilling out of containers near the pool. Jenny can become a bit invasive, but since it is so pretty, color-loving gardeners are forgiving.


20 Low-Maintenance Ground Cover Plants to Prevent Weeds From Taking Over

Fix your garden’s trouble spots with these low-growing perennials, annuals, and shrubs.

Ground cover plants are all-around problem-solvers: They retain moisture, control erosion, and provide habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies. While grass is typically the best way to fill out empty space, sometimes low-growing plants are a better — and prettier — option. There are so many options to choose from, including old favorites like Pachysandra and Vinca, as well as small shrubs, perennials, and annuals.

To make sure your ground covers get the job done (ya know, dressing up your landscape), follow the instructions on their plant care tag to give them the right conditions. FYI: Full sun means an area gets 6+ hours of direct sunlight per day, part sun is anywhere from 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight, and full shade is up to 3 hours of sun. If you're planting a shrub or perennial that you want to last from one year to the next, make sure it's suited according to your USDA Hardiness Zone (find yours here). And remember that although these ground cover plants are extremely tolerant, they still need to be watered during dry spells for the first year or two until their root systems are well-established.


Easy Ground Covers for Sun or Shade

Six choices for holding the soil when grass won't cut it.

The most widely planted ground cover in the world is – surprise – lawn. But there are very good reasons why you might want something other than lawn to carpet the ground. Maybe you hate mowing and fertilizing grass. Maybe you have a big shady area where grass won't grow. Maybe you have a steep slope that's difficult or dangerous to mow. Or maybe you find lawn boring and wish you could put something colorful in its place.

Here are six suitable candidates for you – three for sun and three for shade. In addition to being easy to grow and find, they also root as they spread to hold the soil, and don't need a lot of maintenance. You'll notice I've left out three popular ground covers – English ivy (Hedera helix) and periwinkle (Vinca sp.), because they become invasive weeds, and cotoneaster (Cotoneaster sp.), because most species don't do well that well in the South and often look cheap.


Ground Covers and Rock Garden Plants for Mountain Communities – 7.413

Quick Facts…

  • Consider the length of the growing season, soil characteristics, and exposure before selecting ground covers and rock garden plants for mountain gardens.
  • Amend your soil for best results.
  • Choose plants that are hardy to USDA zones 2 to 4. The lower the zone, the hardier the plant.

This fact sheet primarily discusses non-native ground covers and rock garden plants for mountain areas above 7,500 feet as well as highlighting some native plants not covered in fact sheet 7.242, Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado Landscapes. Flowers for Mountain Communities are covered in fact sheet 7.406.

For more information on gardening in the mountains, refer to fact sheet 7.244, Colorado Mountain Gardening Basics.

Selection

The ground covers and rock garden plants in this fact sheet have been selected because they thrive in mountain gardens and are relatively easy to find. There are many more hard-to-find species that can be tried, but we limited this fact sheet to the ones that are more readily available. Plants listed with an asterisk (*) perform best under 8,000 feet and would need a protected microclimate (south facing, protected from winter winds, with a reliable winter snow cover) to flourish at elevations higher than 8,000 feet. When selecting plants from this list, match the cultural needs of the plants to the garden site in which you intend to plant. Cultural factors to consider include soil texture and organic matter content, moisture and drainage, light exposure, and microclimate. Warm microclimates are usually found on the protected south sides of buildings, against stone walls, or on south-facing slopes. Plants listed as easy to grow are the best choices for gardeners with little gardening experience. Where information was available, we included whether the plant is resistant to deer and rabbits. Please be aware that no plant is entirely resistant a very hungry animal will eat almost anything, and there may be geographical differences in what animals will eat.

When purchasing plants from a nursery, garden center, or greenhouse, find out where the stock was grown. Stock originating from warmer climates may be less hardy. Where possible, select nursery stock originating from northern areas, especially for marginally hardy plants. Look for healthy plants with a strong but not root-bound root system.

Before selecting a plant for ground cover, consider the following items:

  • Size of area to be covered. Clumping species that do not cover large areas are generally listed for ‘rock gardens (Table 2).’ To cover larger areas, look for plants in table 1. Plants listed as ‘aggressive’ can spread widely in the landscape, especially under conditions of higher soil fertility and moisture.
  • Steepness of slope. For steep grades, use species that produce dense, fibrous roots to help prevent soil erosion.
  • Pedestrian traffic. Few ground covers, other than grasses, tolerate repeated foot traffic. Use stepping stones if needed.

Establishment

In mountain areas, the best time to plant flowers is either immediately after the last frost (particularly for borderline hardy plants) or during the rainy season. Avoid the temptation to buy plants too early – most nursery stock is grown below 6,000 feet, and the new growth may not be hardened enough to withstand the conditions at higher elevations. You may have to maintain plants for several weeks if you buy too early, which can cause the plant to decline. Before planting, acclimate plants by gradually exposing them to longer times outdoors in mountain conditions over a period of several days or weeks. This process is known as hardening off. If plants are grown outside and are from local nurseries, this is not necessary.

For optimum growth, most mountain soils benefit by amending with organic material such as compost, sphagnum peat, aged manure, or a combination. If the original soil is decomposed granite, extensive amending will be necessary to achieve an organic soil, or even a moderately organic soil as is required by some plants. If the original soil is clay, amending with organic matter or creating and planting on a berm can help to create the well-drained soils required by many garden plants (although in poorly drained soils it is best to add some organic matter each year, rather than all at once, in order to avoid salt buildup). For more information on amending soils, see fact sheet 7.235, Choosing a Soil Amendment or 7.244, Colorado Mountain Gardening Basics.

Snow cover is an excellent mulch. It allows root growth to occur during some periods of the winter. Encourage snow to drift over the root zone of young plants by placing temporary snow fences a few feet upwind of the plant.

Most ground covers require at least two years to establish themselves and become sufficiently dense to control weeds. At higher altitudes, most ground cover plants take three or more years to provide serviceable cover. None can be completely neglected even after the planting is well established.

Plants listed below in Table 1 with an asterisk (*) are best suited for areas below 8,000 feet, or in a protected microclimate. Plants listed as “easy to grow” are most suitable for new gardeners.

Bloom time: E = early season M = mid season L = late season.

Exposure: FS = full sun PS = part sun SH = full shade.

Moisture: L = low water needs M = moderate water needs H = high water
needs (including saturated soils).

Table 1. Ground covers mountain communities.
Scientific Name
Common Name
Bloom Time Exp. Moist. Color Height x Width Comments
Achillea tomentosa
Woolly yarrow
M FS L Yellow 6-12” x
18”
Easy to grow, mat-forming plant. Deeply cut gray-green foliage covered with long hairs. Rock gardens, front of borders, path edges. Deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils.
Ajuga reptans*
Bugleweed,
Carpet bugle
E FS-PS M Purple, blue 3-6” x
10-12”
Mat-forming plant which spreads by runners that root at nodes. Best choices: ‘Bronze Beauty’ (bronzed foliage), ‘Atropurpurea’ or ‘Purple Leaf’ (deep red foliage), ‘Chocolate Chip’ (compact, chocolate-purple and green foliage), the green leaved A. reptans may be hardy to 10,000’. May invade lawns if planted nearby. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Arabis spp.
Rockcress
E FS M White, pink 6” x
8-10”
Mat-forming plants with flowers in dense clusters. Best choices: A. alpina, and A. caucasica. Rock gardens. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Arctostaphylos sp
Kinnickinnick
Manzanita
E PS-SH L-M Pink Varies Mat-forming plants with small, glossy, evergreen leaves. Urn-shaped pink flowers in spring followed by small red berries. A. uva-ursi is a good choice for dry shade.
Cerastium tomentosum
Snow-in-summer
E-M FS-PS L-M White 4-6” x
18-20”
Easy to grow. Forms dense mats of silvery grey foliage. Bears masses of small flowers. Aggressive. Rock gardens, path edges. Deer and rabbit resistant. Most well-drained soils.
Delosperma spp.*
Ice plant
Varies FS L Yellow, apricot 3” x
6-12”
Easy to grow. Mats of small succulent green leaves with star-shaped flowers. Best choices: D. nubigenum (Hardy yellow ice plant), D. basuticum ‘Gold Nugget’, ‘Mesa Verde’ (Plant Select®). Rock gardens, path edges. Well-drained soils.
Euonymus fortunei var. radicans *
Common winter
creeper
N/A PS-SH L-M N/A 1-2’ x
3-6’
Deep green leaves with scallop-toothed edges, may remain evergreen. Trailing habit, or will climb if given support. Other choices: E. fortunei var. coloratus (Purple-leaf winter creeper) turns purplish in winter. Erosion control. Well-drained soils.
Fragaria spp.
Wild strawberry
E FS-PS M White,
pink
2-6” x
18-24”
Glossy dark green leaves with three leaflets, spreads by runners. Best choices: F. vesca (Alpine strawberry, some cultivars runnerless) & F. virginiana are native. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Galium odoratum *
Sweet woodruff
E PS-SH M White 8-12” x
8-12”
Fragrant plants have slender erect stems with whorls of narrow leaves and tiny star-like flowers in loose clusters. Rock gardens, woodland gardens. Can be aggressive. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Geranium sp
Hardy geranium
E PS-FS L-M Varies Varies Spreading mounds of lobed leaves with white, pink, or blue flowers. Best choices: G. macrorrhizum and G. sangineum. Moderately organic soils.
Lamium maculatum
Dead nettle,
Spotted dead
nettle
E-M PS-SH M Pink, white, purple 6-18” x
18-24”
Easy to grow. Thick mounds of spreading stems with variously marked leaves. Woodland gardens. Deer and rabbit resistant. Can be aggressive. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Lysimachia nummularia*
Creeping Jenny, Moneywort
E-M PS-SH M Yellow 2-6” x
6-9’
Easy to grow. Trailing stems spread quickly by rooting at the nodes. Fragrant flowers. Other choices: ‘Aurea’ has golden foliage. Aggressive in moist sites, may invade lawns. Woodland gardens, erosion control. Deer and rabbit resistant. Most soils.
Marrubium rotundifolium
Horehound
N/A FS L N/A 4” x 12” Mat-forming plants, rounded hairy gray-green leaves with silver edges. Needs warm microclimate. Front of borders, path edges. Rabbit resistant. Lean (low organic matter) well-drained soils.
Paxistima myrsinites
(P. myrtifolia)
Mountain love
M FS-PS M Red 8-12” x
15-20”
Evergreen low growing shrub with small, shiny, leathery leaves. Flowers inconspicuous. Low hedges, path edges. Well-drained soils.
Phlox subulata *
Moss phlox,
Creeping phlox
E FS M Varies 6” x 18” Forms mats of needle-like leaves. Profuse flowering. Protect from winter sun and wind. Rock gardens, wall pockets, path edges. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Polygonum affine
(Persicaria affinis)
Himalayan
fleeceflower,
Border jewel
M-L FS-PS M Rose-red 12” x
18-24”
Mat-forming deep green lance-shaped leaves are mostly basal, turn red in fall. Dense erect spikes of flowers. Informal borders, erosion control, can be aggressive. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Potentilla verna var. nana (P. tabernaemontani,
P. neumanniana)
Spring cinquefoil
E FS L-M Yellow 3-6” x
12-18”
Easy to grow. Horizontal rooting branches form mats. Buttercup-like flowers. Rock gardens, path edges, wall pockets, between paving stones, can be aggressive. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Sagina subulata
Irish moss,
Corsican pearlwort
M FS-PS M White 1-2” x
12-18”
Dense, compact moss-like mats and tiny flowers. Wall pockets, between paving stones. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Sedum spp.
Stonecrop
Varies FS L-M Varies 3-6” x
6-12”
Easy to grow. Choices listed here are mat-forming plants with succulent leaves of various colors and shapes. Foliage of many species turn bronze or red in the fall. Stems often root at the nodes. Best choices: S. acre (Goldmoss) small bright green leaves with yellow flowers S. album (White stonecrop) small green leaves with tiny white to pinkish flowers S. divergen (Spreading stonecrop) egg-shaped leaves which vary in color from green to red, yellow flowers S. kamtschaticum (Kamschatka stonecrop) triangular green leaves, yellow flowers age to red S. spurium (Two-row stonecrop), leaves fan-shaped, can be aggressive. Variety ‘Dragon’s Blood’ has purple leaves and reddish-purple flowers. Front of borders, path edges, between paving stones, wall pockets low maintenance. Well-drained soils.
Thymus spp.
Thyme
E-M FS-PS L-M Purple, pink, white, red 2-3” x
12-24”
Easy to grow. Mat-forming plants. Best choices: T. pseudolanguinosus (Woolly thyme) woolly grey leaves, sparse blooms. Will tolerate some foot traffic and dry shade. Root rot can be a problem in heavy, wet soils. T. serpyllum (Creeping thyme, Mother of thyme) numerous varieties. Aromatic roundish dark green leaves, can be used for seasoning. T. praecox (Creeping thyme) tiny rounded leaves on trailing stems. Numerous varieties. Deer and rabbit resistant. Path edges, wall pockets, paving stones, erosion control. Well-drained soils.
Veronica spp.
Speedwell
E FS-PS L-M Purple, blue 1-4” x
18-30”
Easy to grow. Mat-forming plants with small flowers. Best choices: V. liwanensis (Turkish veronica, Plant Select®) shiny deep green leaves, may be evergreen, most soils V. pectinata (Blue woolly veronica) woolly gray-green leaves, may be evergreen, can be aggressive, deer and rabbit resistant, well-drained soils critical V. prostrata (a.k.a. V. rupestris, Harebell or Prostrate speedwell) vigorous trailing plants, most soils. Attracts butterflies. Path edges, front of borders, trails over walls, wall pockets, dry rock gardens.
Vinca minor *
Common
periwinkle
E PS-SH L-M Blue, white 4-6” x
12-15”
Shiny dark green leaves on trailing stems which root, may be evergreen. Pinwheel shaped flowers. Banks, woodland gardens, erosion control. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Plants listed with an asterisk (*) are best suited for areas below 8,000 feet, or in a protected microclimate. Plants listed as “easy to grow” are most suitable for new gardeners. Bloom time: E = early season, M = mid season, L = late season. Exposure: FS = full sun, PS = part sun, SH = full shade. Moisture: L = low water needs, M = moderate water needs, H = high water needs (including saturated soils).
Table 2. Rock garden plants for mountain communities.
Scientific Name
Common Name
Bloom Time Exp. Moist. Color Height x Width Comments
Acantholimon spp.
Prickly thrift,
Prickly
dianthus
E-M FS L White, pink 6-8” x 18” Unusual evergreen mounding plant with sharp or prickly leaves. Narrow spikes of small flowers. Evergreen. Best choices: A. hohenackeri, A. armenum, and A. litvinovii. Deer and rabbit resistant, rock gardens. Coarse, well-drained soils.
Alchemilla spp.
Lady’s mantle
E-M FS-PS M Yellowish green Varies Easy to grow. Mounding plant with rounded, lobed leaves. Best choices: A. mollis, A. alpina is mat-forming and spreads by runners. Rock gardens, front of borders, path edges. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic soils.
Allium schoenaprasum
Chives
E FS-PS L Pink 8-10′ x
10′
Clumps of narrow, onion-smelling leaves with roundish pink flower clusters. Rock gardens. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moist soils.
Alyssum spp.
Alyssum
E FS L-M Yellow 2-3” x
12-14”
Easy to grow. Gray hairy leaves and fragrant, yellow flowers in dense trailing clusters. Best choices: A. markgrafii, A. wulfianum, and A. montanum (Mountain alyssum). Coarse well-drained soils.
Arenaria montana
Mountain
sandwort
E-M FS-PS M White 1-3” x 6” Easy to grow. Dense mats of slender leaves topped by few-flowered clusters. Use to fill gaps between paving blocks. Rock gardens and front of borders. Can reseed. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Armeria maritima
Sea thrift
E FS L-M Pink white, rose 6-8 “ x 1’ Small mounding plants with narrow stiff leaves. Multiple rounded flower heads in tight clusters. Shearing faded blooms prolongs flowering. Rock gardens, front of borders. Lean (low organic matter) well-drained soils.
Aurinia saxatilis
Basket of
gold
E FS L Yellow 8-12” x 12-18” Easy to grow. Grayish foliage spreading into clumps. Rock gardens, front of borders, trails over walls. Deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils.
Bergenia cordifolia
Pig squeak
E PS M Pink 6-12” x
2-4’
Clumps of leathery leaves turn red in the fall. Spreads slowly. Subject to winter burn and early spring frost damage. Woodland gardens. Deer and rabbit resistant. Organic soils.
Campanula carpatica*
Carpathian
harebells
M-L FS-PS M Blue, white 6-8” x
10-12”
Low growing mounded plants with bell-shaped flowers. Best choices: ‘Blue Clips’ and ‘White Clips’. Rock gardens, front of borders, path edges. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Dianthus spp.
Pinks
Varies FS M Red, white, pink Varies Green or blue-green foliage forming grass-like clumps. Long-blooming often fragrant flowers. Best choices: Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) a biennial which reseeds readily, D. plumarius (Cottage or Grass pinks), D. gratianopolitanus (Cheddar pinks), and D. deltoides (Maiden pinks). Cut flowers, rock gardens, wall pockets. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Epimedium spp.*
Barrenwort
E PS-SH M Purple, pink, white 6-12″ x 9-12″ Elegant airy plants with flowers shaped like bishop’s hats. Best choices: E. grandiflorum and E. x rubrum. Slow to establish, cut back old stems in spring. Rock gardens, woodland gardens. Deer and rabbit resistant. Organic soils.
Gypsophila repens
Creeping
baby’s
breath
M FS L White, pink 4-6” x 12-18” Easy to grow. Trailing stems with small blue-green leaves. Rock gardens, wall pockets. Well-drained soils.
Heuchera sp.
Coral bells
M FS-PS L-M White, pink, red Varies Clumps of lobed leaves with erect sprays of tiny flowers. Some have variegated leaves. Best choices: H. splendens and H. sanguinea (Plant Select: ‘Snow Angel’). Many of the newer hybrids are not hardy. Moderately organic soils.
Iberis sempervirens
Perennial or
Evergreen candytuft
E FS L-M White 8-12” x
18-24”
Easy to grow. Narrow shiny dark green leaves. Path edges, rock gardens. Deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils.
Juniperus spp.
Juniper
N/A FS L-M N/A Varies Easy to grow. Green or blue-green foliage on prostrate shrubs. Best choices: J. horizontalis (Creeping juniper) has numerous varieties such as ‘Bar Harbor’ mat forming, ‘Plumosa’ mounding feathery foliage with a plum color in winter, ‘Blue rug’ a.k.a., ‘Wiltoni’ very low dense mat of silvery blue foliage. J. sabina (Savin juniper) soft bright green foliage ‘Broadmoor’ dwarf with gray-green foliage, ‘Buffalo’ bright green feathery foliage, J. sabina var. tamariscifolia mounded with blue-green foliage. All are susceptible to vole damage. Center leaves may die with too much snow cover. Well-drained soils. Do not plant junipers within 30 feet of a house in fire-prone areas
Leontopodium alpinum
Edelweiss
M FS L-M White 4-10″ x 12-15″ Small clump-forming plant with gray-green leaves and woolly star-shaped “flowers.” Rock gardens. Well-drained soils critical.
Myosotis spp.
Forget me not
E PS-SH M Blue with yellow center 10-15″ x 10-12″ Profuse dainty flowers. Best choices: M. sylvatica (a.k.a., M. alpestris) is upright, reseeds readily. M. palustris (Marsh forget me not) is prostrate, spreads by runners. Woodland gardens. May need winter protection. Organic soils.
Penstemon spp.
Penstemon
Varies FS L-M Varies Varies Narrow leaves and tubular flowers. Low-growing choices for rock gardens and ground covers: P. linariioides mat forming with blue flowers, P. pinifolius (Pineleaf penstemon) long-blooming red flowers, attracts hummingbirds. Needs warm microclimate. Other, less commonly available choices: P. fruticosus, P. crandalllii, P. teucrioides. Rock gardens, wall pockets. Rabbit resistant. Lean (low organic matter) well-drained soils.
Pulmonaria spp.
Lungwort
E PS-SH M Blue, pink, white 8-18″ x 18-24″ Elongated foliage with silver or gray spots or other markings. Flowers on many varieties fade from pink to blue all in the same cluster. Best choices: P. saccharata (Bethlehem sage) ‘Mrs. Moon’ has large green leaves with silver spots, P. x ‘Roy Davidson’ has light blue flowers. Shady borders or woodland gardens. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Saponaria spp.
Soapwort
Varies FS L-M Pink 9-10″ x 12-15″ Best choices: S. ocymoides (Rock soapwort), easy to grow, dark-green leaves on trailing stems, profuse spring bloomer. Rock gardens, trailing over walls. S. lempergii ‘Max Frei’ late bloomer, needs warm microclimate. Rock gardens, front of borders. Both deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils.
Saxifraga spp.
Saxifrage
E-M FS-PS L-M Varies 6-8″ x 6-12″ Small rosettes may be hard or moss-like often evergreen. Flowers have five petals. Best choices: tufted saxifrage, S. caespitosa mossy saxifrage, S. ‘Purple robe’, S. ‘Peter Pan’. Winter protection may be necessary. Rock gardens, wall pockets. Deer and rabbit resistant. Lean (low organic matter) well-drained soils.
Sempervivum spp.
Hen and chicks,
Houseleek
N/A FS-PS L N/A 2-12″ x 6-15″ Easy to grow. Rosettes of variously colored fleshy leaves. New plants form around parent plant which then dies after flowering. Numerous varieties. Rock gardens, containers, wall pockets. Well-drained soils.
Stachys byzantina
(S. lanata)

Lamb’s ears
M FS-PS L-M Purple 8-12″ x 12-18″ Easy to grow. Dense ground-hugging rosettes of soft, woolly white leaves. Spreads by runners. To preserve quality of foliage, remove flower stalks. Best choices: ‘Silver Carpet’ does not produce flowers, low maintenance ‘Big Ears’ (‘Countess Helen von Stein’) has larger leaves. Can be aggressive. Front of borders, cut and dried flowers. Deer resistant. Well-drained soils.
Teucrium canadense
Wild germander
M FS-PS M Creamy purple-pink 12-24″ x 24-30″ Upright, woody-based unbranched stems covered with toothed dark-green leaves. Loose spikes of two-lipped flowers. Spreads by rhizomes. Attracts bees. Path edges, low hedges. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Viola spp.
Violet, Pansy
E-L FS M Varies 4-8″ x
6-12″
Plants with smooth wavy-edged leaves and pansy-like flowers. Best choices: V. cornuta (Tufted Pansy) slender-spurred flowers, many varieties, may perform best with winter protection, may reseed V. corsica (Corsican violet, Plant Select®) prolific purple flowers, reseeds readily V. tricolor (Johnny jump-up) small reseeding annuals, numerous varieties. Front of borders, woodland

* I. Shonle, Extension agent, El Paso County. 2/08. Revised 10/20.


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