By Fiona Cumberpatch published
Choosing the best low maintenance ground cover plants for your plot is the ideal solution if you want a lush-looking garden but do not have time for constant weeding and watering. These are plants which spread as they grow, creating a thick mat of strong foliage which retains moisture, chokes out weeds, is resistant to pests – and demands very little back in return.
There is a low maintenance ground cover plant for every type of space and climate, whether it’s an awkward slope, a dry spot in a hot region, a shady side return or a large border that’s proving too time consuming and expensive to maintain. You might prefer a neat carpet of green foliage to a riot of colorful flowers, but there is a wide choice of best low maintenance plants to suit every gardening style.
First, it is important to identify what sort of area you would like to cover because choosing the right plant for the right spot is key. Work out whether the area is mainly in sun or shade, and if the soil is damp or dry. Find out if your area has acid or alkaline soil, as in some cases, this can make the difference between a strong, healthy plant colonizing the space or a failing one that grows weakly and soon fizzles out. Once these few simple questions have been answered, it’s time to work out what will grow best with the least possible effort required.
Best low maintenance ground cover plants: 11 top picks
Reduce the amount of time required for weeding and looking after your plot by adding some of the best low maintenance ground cover plants to your planting scheme.
1. Creeping juniper
For a no-nonsense evergreen, this compact conifer, native to North America, will clothe the ground with a dense mat of prickly green leaves, no taller than 8in (20cm). It is one of the best drought tolerant plants and will cope with poor soil and sloping sites.
It bears small black or brown fruit, but the foliage is the main attraction, blue-green in spring, and a richer plum color in autumn, with a fresh, spicy fragrance. It does best in sun or light shade and you'll rarely need to think about watering plants.
Best for: banks and sloping areas
For a fast-growing all-rounder which suits almost all conditions, the periwinkle, or vinca minor is hard to beat. It has long tentacles of evergreen foliage with pretty purple, white or blue flowers which appear reliably from spring through to the autumn.
The dense root system means that it’s a good one for sloping gardens, where soil erosion could be a problem, and deer, rabbits and most pests will give it a swerve. The periwinkle is so fast growing that in some eastern parts of the USA, it’s designated as an invasive plant. The main drawback is that it is one of the most poisonous plants for dogs as well as being on the list of plants that are poisonous to cats, so this is not one for a household with pets.
Best for: All growing conditions, except constant hot sun
3. Ajuga reptans
This member of the mint family has rosettes of attractive evergreen dark green/bronze leaves and short spikes of blue flowers in early summer. It spreads fast on horizontal stems which creep along the ground, cloaking it with foliage and giving rise to one of its common names: ‘carpetweed.’ It is classed as invasive in some areas of the USA, so you will need to keep an eye on it to stop it from taking over, but it is easy to pull it out where it’s not wanted.
Best for: Shady, damp areas
4. Japanese Spurge
This is one of the best ground cover plants. It's an excellent all-rounder, with rich, glossy evergreen leaves which form neat, dense mats of cover all year round. It has clusters of tiny white flowers in early summer. A good one for filling in scrappy space under trees or shrubs where grass will not thrive. It grows in any soil, and is deer, pest and drought-resistant. Divide it every three to four years in autumn or spring.
Best for: Year-round appeal
5. Checkerberry/American Wintergreen
An evergreen, low-growing, low maintenance shrub (around 6in/15cm tall) with dark green leathery leaves which flush red in winter. Native to North America and very hardy, it has small but pretty bell-shaped flowers in summer, followed by red berries.
Try ‘Very Berry’ for really vivid scarlet ones. It will grow easily and well in moist, well-drained acid soil in full sun or partial shade. Use to fill a woodland bed, or to create pretty garden edging ideas in a backyard. It grows on creeping stems, which can be easily cut back with the sharp edge of a spade.
Best for: Creating texture with a splash of color
6. Mondo grass
Low growing, evergreen grasses are a great option for the best low maintenance ground cover plants when planted in groups. Easy care black mondo grass (ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) is a dramatic choice which is perfect for a modern garden. It forms clumps of strappy inky-purple colored leaves, and has small violet colored flowers in summer, followed by black berries.
In hot areas, plant it in part sun, and in cooler climes, it prefers full sun. It’s resistant to pets and pests, and flourishes in well drained, slightly acid soil. Each clump will cover around 10-12in (25-30cm). This plant grows in the UK and almost all areas of the USA and Australia. It’s attractive in summer, and equally in winter with a contrasting white snowy or frosty topping.
Best for: A stylish, contemporary look
7. Alchemilla Mollis (Lady's Mantle)
This is a perennial, so it will retreat underground in winter, but in the growing season it offers simple-to-grow ground cover with gorgeous zesty green leaves which collect raindrops like pearls, and frothy sprays of tiny lime green flowers in summer.
It will fill gaps in low maintenance garden borders, and suppress weeds at the same time. Alchemilla self-seeds, so it spreads fast and easily. It needs very little attention, but to keep it looking fresh, cut the stems to the base once the flowers have gone over.
Best for: Cottage garden style ground cover
8. Creeping thyme
Hugging the ground with low hummocks of tiny green leaves and clusters of small purple flowers, this aromatic shrub will colonize rock gardens and soften ugly pavers and patios.
It tolerates poor soils, coastal conditions, copes with drought - and pests, deer, and rabbits (good news if you've been reading up on how to keep rabbits out of your garden or yard) will not destroy it. The only thing it does not like is soggy soil and very harsh winters.
Best for: Creating a fragrant carpet of foliage and flowers
9. Sedum spurium ‘Dragons Blood’
Looking one of the best low maintenance ground cover plants that will thrive on neglect? Look no further than this textural, mat forming evergreen perennial, with fleshy leaves tinged with red. It is also known as stonecrop, which is apt because it loves dry rocky soil in full sun or part shade.
You're guaranteed lots of interest if you plant this in your low maintenance garden, as it turns bright red in the autumn, with clusters of ruby colored flowers. Rabbits, deer and most pests will give it a wide berth. It is suitable for coastal conditions.
Best for: Rich color
Its common name is ‘Elephant’s Ears,’ which perfectly describes the shape of the large, leathery, rounded leaves of this evergreen perennial. It’s an excellent year-round plant, as the leaves change colour in winter, yet retain their shape and form.
There are many types of this plant, but ‘Bressingham Ruby’ is special because it turns to a stunning deep burgundy in the coldest months, and it has rosy red flowers in the spring.
Bergenias spread via underground stems, and they will grow well in sun or shade, in most soil types, including dry or poor ones. They need very little attention, just remove any tatty leaves and divide them up every few years.
Best for: Winter interest
If you have acid soil, heathers are a no-fuss plant which will cover the ground in a mat of evergreen foliage. There are many different types, but Calluna vulgaris ‘Gold Haze’ has yellowy green evergreen foliage, with small white flowers from late summer through to autumn. Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’ has grey/green foliage which have a purple tinge in winter.
Heathers do best in an open, sunny site with moist but not soggy soil. They need some initial attention, with watering required until they are established, but once underway, they will take care of themselves. Cut off the top third each spring to refresh the foliage. For US gardeners, they are best suited to the Pacific Northwest area.
Best for: Gardens with acid soil
Which flowers are best for low maintenance ground cover?
Elizabeth Fox, founder of The Rose Press Garden gives her suggestions for the prettiest no-effort flowers for covering a space fast.
- Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is my favourite hardy geranium and is so easy to grow. It has large, clear blue flowers over a long spell during the summer and the pollinators absolutely love it too. It can spread over 1m per plant, so put it somewhere with plenty of room. This is a perennial plant which comes back year after year. There's plenty of advice on how to grow hardy geraniums in our expert guide.
- Gypsophila repens is a lovely flower to direct sow into borders as it grows around established perennials for a soft and 'frothy' looking prettiness that is hard to find with many other plants.
- Nemophila 'Five Spot' is a super cute plant which you can direct sow around the edges of borders. This one is brilliant for low maintenance ground cover. Just sprinkle the seeds, water – and leave to grow.
What makes a good ground cover plant?
'The prime requisite of a good ground cover plant is to provide a rapid, dense cover, to suppress germination and development of weed seeds and to eliminate the need for weed control measures,' advises the RHS.
An experienced freelance journalist, editor and columnist writing for national magazines and websites, Fiona now specialises in gardens. She enjoys finding and writing about all kinds, from the tiniest town plots to impressively designed ones in grand country houses. She's a firm believer that gardening is for everyone, and it doesn’t matter if you have a single window ledge or an acre, there’s always peace and joy to be found outside. The small town garden of her Edwardian terraced house is currently a work in progress as she renovates the property, but her goal is always to fill it with flowers, climbers, colour, fragrance – and as many of her treasured vintage finds as she can possibly fit in.
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