Groundcovers for Sunny Sites


Cerastium found at the MU. Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Haynes. 

Groundcovers, by definition, are plants that spread. They are often low-growing perennials or shrubs that unify or define landscape beds and borders. Choosing the right groundcover for a landscape is important as they often consume large areas.  There are several species to consider when selecting groundcovers for sunny sites.  There are also several species of groundcovers for shady sites (Groundcovers for Shade).  Some of the shade-loving species such as bugleweed and vinca perform equally as well in both shady and sunny sites. 

Of the sun-loving species listed below, all prefer well-drained or dry soils.  There are often several cultivars available for each species. Flower color and mature height may be dependent on cultivar.

Common Name

Scientific Name

Mature Height




Artemisia schmidtiana

Artemisia ludoviciana

1 foot tall to

2-3 feet tall

Gray/silver foliage

Basket of gold

Aurinia saxatilis

6-12 inches tall

Yellow flowers in spring


Nepeta x faassenii

1-3 feet tall

Blue/purple flowers in summer; fragrant leaves


Cotoneaster horizontalis

2-3 feet tall

Pink flowers in spring; red berries


Hemerocallis hybrids


Many flower colors and heights

Creeping Juniper

Juniperus horizontalis

1-2 feet tall

Adaptable evergreen

Creeping Phlox

Phlox subulata

6 inches tall

Pink, white, blue/purple, red, and bicolor flowers in spring

Ice Plant

Delosperma cooperi

6 inches tall

Bright pink, yellow or purple flowers in summer; succulent leaves; dry soil best; zone 5 hardy

Lamb’s ear

Stachys byzantina

6 – 18 inches tall

Soft, gray leaves; dry soils best


Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ and other species or cultivars

6 inches tall

Yellow, succulent leaves that turn reddish in fall; other species with many leaf colors; dry soils best


Cerastium tomentosum

6-12 inches tall

White flowers in late spring; gray leaves


Rhus aromatic ‘Gro-Low’

2-3 feet tall

Fragrant leaves; reddish fall color


Thymus species


Fragrant, dark green, gray or variegated leaves; purple flowers in early summer

Ornamental Grasses

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium)

Switchgrass (Panicum)


2-4 feet tall

Both with gray leaves and reddish fall color

Stachys found in Ankeny. Photo Courtesy of Cynthis Haynes. 


Some groundcovers can be considered too aggressive in the home landscape.  Avoid plants like ribbon grass (Phalaris), gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), and creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) as they may become difficult to manage or control in the home landscape.

Other G terms

Groundcovers for shade

Geraniums – common name for annual (Pelargonium) and perennial (Geranium) flowers that are popular landscape plants



Germination – growing plants from seed

            native perennials FAQs seeds-future-growth

            common annual flowers and vegetable seeds

            tree seed

            establishing a lawn from seed

Gesneriads – group of mostly tropical plants such as African violets and gloxinia

Grafting – means of propagating woody plants by combining a scion (upper portion) with a rootstock (lower portion); whip and tongue grafts


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