Goodbye, Mulch! Discover the Beauty of Ground Cover Plants

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Great Ground Cover Plants You Can Grow to Replace Mulch

In early to late Spring many head to the garden center to buy bags and bags of mulch to put in their gardens. Mulch has long been the go-to for garden enthusiasts for weed control, moisture retention, and to cover bare spots.

But there’s an even more attractive and eco-friendly alternative: ground cover plants.

delosperma ground cover aka ice plant, table mountain growing in the garden with bright pink flowers.

Note:  some spell this “groundcover” plants yet after looking it up, the correct spelling is two separate words. 

These low-growing plants can enhance your garden’s visual interest while offering many practical benefits.

Let’s talk about some excellent groundcovers that can replace mulch, add life to your garden, and help control erosion.

creeping phlox in pink and lavender with text overlay: 19 ground covers to replace mulch in your garden and a few you should avoid, flower patch farmhouse dot com

I have grown each of these in my garden but there are many more ground cover choices available! A big plus with ground covers is that you can plant when you have the time.

Most of these you can plant anytime, early summer, early spring, or even late summer. (just avoid when it is very hot as the stress can hinder their getting established)

Many of these are perennial plants in most USDA growing zones. One warning, always check locally to find if any of these perennial ground covers are listed as invasive plants in your area.

The list in this article is what I have used in my gardens and found helpful in keeping my garden low maintenance but you may find native ground cover plants or others that work better in your gardening conditions.  

These are low growing ground coverings that many call steppables (for planting between stepping stones or in pathways as they create low-growing mats across the soil surface).

We will cover other low-maintenance ground cover plants that are taller in another post. Things like coral bells, mondo grass, and Japanese forest grass. 

Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)

Roman chamomile is a delightful herb that forms a dense, aromatic mat. It’s known for its daisy-like flowers and the pleasant green apple fragrance it emits when you walk on it. This ground cover thrives in sunny spots and well-drained soil, making it perfect for sunny garden paths and borders. 

A particular variety of creeping chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile ‘Treneague’)  is used in the UK as an alternative lawn, in fact, it is named Lawn Chamomile. I bet walking on that is a treat!

Zones 4a to 9b

Gorgeous groundcovers, creeping chamomile or Roman chamomile

Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

Creeping thymes are versatile drought-tolerant ground covers that produce tiny flowers and have a wonderful scent. Different varieties produce different colors of flowers. Being drought-tolerant it grows well in full sun to partial shade. Use it between stepping stones or as a lawn substitute for a low-maintenance, fragrant garden.

Gorgeous Groundcovers, Wooly Thyme

What I enjoy about creeping thyme is there are so many varieties, colors, and textures. From lime thyme to wooly thyme they all are a fast-growing ground cover for me.

In my video (linked below) I talked about a friend of mine, who has a warmer climate than I do, she states that wooly thyme is an aggressive plant for her yet in my garden it works well and it takes minimal maintenance to keep it in check. 

Hardy in zones 4 – 9 (always take USDA zoning with a grain of salt)

Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis)

Blue star creeper is a low-growing plant with star-shaped blue flowers that bloom from spring to fall. It thrives in part sun or partial shade and is ideal for covering large areas, including garden beds and pathways. It’s also tolerant of light foot traffic. 

gorgeous groundcovers blue star creeper

In my garden, this does quite well in a shady area too. Though many claim this will work in a sunny area I have not found that to be completely true, it may depend on how hot your locality gets. I could see where somewhere coastal it could do well in full sun. 

Where it did very well was under a bench where the slats of the seat provided some shade when the sun was directly overhead.

You can find this with little white flowers instead of the blue.

Reliably hardy in zones 5 – 9

Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii)

Corsican mint is a tiny, aromatic plant with small, bright green leaves. It prefers partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. This ground cover is excellent for shady spots and emits a lovely minty fragrance when stepped on.

gorgeous groundcovers, corsican mint


This is one of my favorites. USDA zones 7-9

Lamium (Lamium maculatum)

Lamium, also known as dead nettle, is a hardy ground cover with variegated leaves and colorful flowers. It thrives in shaded areas and is perfect for adding texture and color to your garden. Lamium is also deer-resistant, making it a great choice for wildlife-friendly gardens.

Now, this is one I will give a stern warning about. In some areas of the country, Lamium is considered invasive. As lovely and easy to grow as it is, it is not worth risking it causing trouble. Maybe look for an alternative.

The laminum in the photo below is called White Nancy and it is marketed as non-invasive. Other varieties may also be available as noninvasive but vigorous.

White Nancy Lamium growing in the garden

Scotch Moss (Sagina subulata)

Scotch moss forms a dense, moss-like carpet with tiny white flowers. It prefers full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. This ground cover is excellent for rock gardens, pathways, and as a lawn substitute in small areas.

Scotch Moss Heart

This plant also did better for me in partial shade. Unless you keep this moist it scorches in the hot sun. Morning sun and afternoon shade have proven to be the best way to get the most from this plant.

When we went to Mendocino Botanical Gardens they had this in direct sun but they are on the coast and the average warmest temperatures are in the mid 70’s F.

When you look at different sites about this plant it says it is hardy in Zones 4 – 8 and yet it is more than happy and thriving in Mendocino which is zone 9b. It is the climate and growing conditions that make it hardy there not the zone number. That is what I mean by taking the USDA zoning information with a grain of salt.

Strawberry Plants (Fragaria spp.)

Strawberry plants not only provide delicious fruit but also make an attractive groundcover. They spread quickly, covering the ground with green leaves and white flowers.

strawberry plants growing in the garden, ground cover plants

Strawberries prefer full sun and well-drained soil, making them perfect for sunny garden beds. Mine clamber quite happily under other plants that give them some shade and they still grow and produce despite not getting full sun.

Letting strawberries run under other plants also invites birds to your garden and they will not only eat the berries but insect pests as well.

Prunella Vulgaris (Self-Heal)

Prunella vulgaris, or self-heal, is a low-growing herb with purple flowers. It’s known for its medicinal properties and thrives in full sun to partial shade. This ground cover is ideal for wildflower gardens and can help attract pollinators.

Herons Bill (Erodium spp.)

Herons bill is a hardy groundcover with fern-like leaves and small, pink, white or purple flowers.

It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. Use it in rock gardens, borders, or as a lawn alternative in dry, sunny areas.

In my garden it likes some afternoon shade.

erodium herons bill 'alba' growing between concrete pavers

Sedums

Sedums, also known as stonecrops, are succulent plants that come in a wide variety of shapes and colors. They are drought-tolerant and thrive in full sun to partial shade. Sedums are perfect for rock gardens, green roofs, and areas with poor soil.

Gorgeous groundcovers, Dragons Blood Sedum

Ajuga (Ajuga reptans)

Ajuga, or bugleweed, is a fast-spreading groundcover with colorful foliage and spikes of blue flowers. It thrives in partial to full shade and is excellent for covering large areas quickly. Ajuga is also deer-resistant and attracts pollinators.

Just a fair warning, in some gardens this plant can be a bully so plant where you can easily pull out what you don’t want. It spreads by underground runners.

Lippia (Phyla nodiflora)

Lippia, also known as frogfruit, is a hardy groundcover with small, white to pink flowers. It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil.

Lippia is drought-tolerant and can handle foot traffic, making it ideal for pathways and lawns.

Lippia is a California-native plant.

Close-up Shot of a Lippia Alba Flower

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Creeping phlox is a vibrant groundcover that produces a carpet of colorful flowers in spring. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil.

This ground cover is excellent for rock gardens, slopes, and borders, adding a burst of color to your garden.

Gorgeous groundcovers, Creeping Phlox

The photo above is the creeping phlox in my front garden, I love that it blooms when most of the garden is still dormant and it brings a carpet of gorgeous blooms to an otherwise drab scene.

Lithodora (Lithodora diffusa)

Lithodora is a stunning groundcover with brilliant blue flowers and evergreen foliage. It thrives in full sun to partial shade and well-drained, acidic soil. Lithodora is perfect for rock gardens, borders, and as a groundcover for slopes.

blue flowers of lithodora ground cover

The color of the flowers are actually a richer deeper blue, the camera seems to want to blow out the colors.

Baby Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii)

Baby tears form a delicate yet dense mat of tiny, bright green leaves. They prefer partial to full shade and moist, well-drained soil. This delightful plant is ideal for shady spots, containers, and terrariums, adding a lush, dainty touch to your garden.

This one brings such a rich look to the underplanting of shade-loving plants without being intrusive.

baby tears ground cover growing between stones

Ice Plant – Delosperma

Delosperma, also known as ice plant, is a succulent groundcover with fleshy leaves and bright flowers that can be pink, purple, orange, or yellow. It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. T

This is the lower growing specimen and not the big chunky plant, and is perfect for coastal gardens and areas prone to drought.

delosperma table mountain aka ice plant in the garden
delosperma 'fire spinner' aka ice plant ground cover, close up of its orange and pink flowers

There are a lot of choices, I have had Table Mountain (fuschia pink flowers), Peridot (yellow flowers) and Fire Spinner (orange and pink).

Herniaria Glabra (Rupturewort)

Herniaria glabra, or rupturewort, is a tough, low-growing groundcover with tiny green leaves and small, inconspicuous flowers. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. This ground cover is ideal for rock gardens, pathways, and as a lawn substitute.

This is also called Green Carpet which is a very good name for it.

Veronica Repens (Creeping Speedwell)

Veronica repens, or creeping speedwell, is a low-growing ground cover with small, white to blue flowers. It thrives in full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.

This fast-spreading low growing plant is perfect for rock gardens, pathways, and borders, adding a delicate touch of color. I love the chartreuse color of this one as compared to its greener counterparts.

Repens creeping veronica in a six pack container

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)

Creeping Jenny is a vigorous groundcover with round, chartreuse leaves and small, yellow flowers. It thrives in full sun to partial shade and moist soil. Creeping Jenny is perfect for borders, containers, and areas where you want a splash of bright green yet a word of caution, it can become quite a bully or pest in areas that get a lot of moisture, like the Pacific Northwest.

creeping jenny growing in the garden

Benefits of Using Groundcovers

  • Weed Suppression: Groundcovers form dense mats that prevent weeds from taking root. Who doesn’t want to stop weed growth?
  • Moisture Retention: They help retain soil moisture, reducing the need for frequent watering.
  • Soil Erosion Control: Groundcover roots help stabilize soil, preventing erosion on slopes and hillsides.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: These plants add color, texture, attractive foliage, and an appealing fragrance to your garden, enhancing the overall beauty of your outdoor spaces.

Here are some ground cover plants I would avoid using:

English Ivy: this is not a good choice as it becomes invasive in many areas. It can be great in pots or containers but is not a good idea in the ground. We have tall evergreen trees that have been compromised and damaged by ivy that has taken over and now the trees must be taken down. 

Sweet Woodruff: This plant is loved by many yet it grows quickly and in the right conditions can become invasive. 

Vinca Minor: I have a variegated form of this in my garden and I do love it. For some folks it is great to grow on steep hillsides to help with cover and erosion but it also can become quite a thug in the garden that gets watered.

By choosing ground covers instead of mulch, you can create a lusher, more vibrant garden that’s easier to maintain and environmentally friendly. Many flower which helps pollinators. Try incorporating some of these ground covers into your garden and enjoy the benefits they bring!

I wish you Happy Ground Cover Growing!

Hi, I’m Pamela

I am a 40-year master gardening enthusiast who loves to share the simple tips, tricks, and inspiration I have learned from personal experience.
My goal is to cultivate the love of gardening and help make your gardening life more enjoyable!
a Garden Friend!

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