Groundcovers are excellent choices where turfgrass is not desirable or practical. The following perennials can be used as groundcovers in partial to full sun.
Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is an 8 to 12 inch tall groundcover that can be grown in partial shade to full sun. It produces gentian blue flowers in late summer. In fall, its foliage turns a reddish bronze. Leadwort requires a well-drained soil. Plants are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.
The low, mat-forming pinks (Dianthus deltoides and D. gratianopolitanus) make excellent groundcovers. Flowers may be white, pink, or red. Most have fringed or toothed petals. Plants may bloom for 8 to 10 weeks from late spring to summer. The grass-like foliage may be green, bluish green, blue, or gray. Pinks perform best in moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Good drainage is essential. Crown rot is often a problem in wet soils. Plants should be watered regularly during periods of hot, dry weather. Remove spent flowers to prolong their bloom period and improve plant appearance. Pinks have few insect or disease problems.
While not widely planted in home gardens, hardy geraniums (Geranium spp.) are attractive, easy-to-grow perennials. Numerous species and varieties are available. Plants typically bloom in late spring/early summer. The 1 to 2 inch diameter flowers may be white, pink, magenta, purple, or blue. Several double flowering varieties are also available. Hardy geraniums commonly grow 6 to 12 inches tall. In fall, the foliage of many varieties turns to shades of yellow, orange, or red. Hardy geraniums prefer moist, well-drained soils and partial to full sun. They have few insect or disease problems.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are one of the most widely grown perennials in the midwest. They are low maintenance, long-lived, and have few insect or disease problems. Trumpet-shaped to star-shaped flowers are produced above clumps of grass-like foliage. Flower colors include yellow, gold, orange, dark red, purple, pink, and white. Cultivars vary in height from 8 inches up to 4 feet. Daylilies can be grown in partial shade to full sun.
Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia) is a good groundcover for wet sites. Moneywort is a low, creeping plant. The creeping stems root at their nodes, allowing it to spread quickly. Plants have small, circular leaves and produce 1-inch-diameter, bright yellow flowers in late spring/early summer. 'Aurea' has lime green to yellow foliage. Moneywort is suitable for wet, poorly drained sites and areas near streams and ponds. However, it does spread rapidly and can become invasive. It is sometimes referred to as creeping jenny.
The brightly colored flowers of moss phlox (Phlox subulata) are a familiar spring sight in Iowa. Moss phlox (commonly called "creeping phlox") forms dense, carpet-like mats. Plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. Its foliage is narrow, stiff, and needle-like in appearance. Flower colors include white, pink, red, blue, or purple. Moss phlox is easy to grow. It performs best in sunny areas and well-drained soils.
Stonecrops (Sedum spp.) are succulents with fleshy leaves and small, star-shaped flowers. Low growing types are excellent groundcovers. (The upright types are suitable as specimen plants.) Flower colors include white, pink, red, and yellow. The colorful foliage may be green, blue-green, bronze-red, or red. Stonecrops are easy-to-grow, long-lived perennials. However, they do require well-drained soils. Best growth occurs in full sun.
The prostrate growth habit of harebell speedwell (Veronica prostrata) makes it a suitable groundcover for areas in partial shade to full sun. The 6 to 8 inch tall plants produce small, pale to deep blue flowers from late spring to early summer. Harebell speedwell performs best in well-drained soils.
Barren strawberries (Waldsteinia fragarioides) are low-growing, mat-forming plants. The 4 to 6 inch tall plants have strawberry-like foliage. In spring, barren strawberry produces small, yellow flowers. After flowering, small inedible fruits form. Barren strawberry can be grown in partial shade to full sun. Well-drained soils are best.
Other possible perennial groundcovers include basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis), Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana), snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'), evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), wineleaf cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata), and creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum).
This article originally appeared in the August 23, 2002 issue, pp. 114-115.