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Environmentally Conscious Groundcovers

First of all, how do we at Painters define a groundcover?  We think of groundcovers as low growing, spreading perennials that require moderate to minimal maintenance to succeed. 

You may choose a groundcover for attractive foliage and to add some lushness to an area. You may want a pop of color with blooms or to simply fill a large space. Areas needing groundcover could be full sun, full shade, steep slopes, or flat rock gardens. And ideally, you are probably interested in something that requires minimal care and that will self-multiply or spread for affordability! We’ve chosen plant recommendations here that address these many needs.

Sometimes you may be able to fill part of the area by sowing seed, but it’s typically well-worth investing the upfront cost and time in planting established groundcover-friendly plants as your foundation. This is a dual investment in time and ecology, as it can mean less lawn, lawn care, or aggressive invasive plants. In this blog, we've made sure to grow, market, and include only groundcover plants that are currently considered to be non-invasive, and many are in fact native.

One overlapping category of groundcover plants are those that are helpful in preventing erosion on steep hillsides or stream banks.  While some of our suggestions will work for such situations, there are also many deeply-rooting grasses, shrubs, and trees that are ideal but do not spread like groundcovers, so we will treat those as another topic. Watch for a future blog specifically detailing our recommendations for bank restoration and stability.

Below are our favorite perennial groundcover options organized from more sun-loving to shade-loving:

Dianthus 'Baths Pink' (Pinks)

  • Perennial, full/part sun, 6" tall, 8-12" wide

  • Dainty pink blooms in late spring

  • Grass-like blue-gray foliage

Veronica peduncularis 'Georgia Blue' (Speedwell)

  • Perennial (z6-9) full sun, 4-6'' tall, 18-24'' wide

  • Petite cobalt-blue flowers with white centers bloom in spring

  • Semi-evergreen foliage turns burgundy in cold weather

  • Excellent groundcover for sharp-draining soil

  • Deer and rabbit resistant

Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii' (Blue Rug Juniper)

  • NATIVAR evergreen shrub (z3-9) full sun, 6 tall, 6-8' wide

  • Thick, dense, silvery blue foliage, at home in rock gardens or spilling over walls

  • Drought tolerant, unlike many junipers; perfect groundcover for sunny, dry, sloped sites

Gypsophila alba (Creeping Baby's Breath)

  • Perennial (zones 3-9), full sun, 4-6" tall, 12x18" spread

  • Low mat of blue-green leaves bears masses of small starry white fragrant single blooms in early summer

  • Excellent for rock gardens or cascading over walls

  • Clip plants lightly immediately after blooming to encourage re-bloom

Thymus serpyllum 'Magic Carpet' (Thyme)

  • Perennial, full sun, 1-2'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Aromatic foliage, rarely used for cooking, spreads in a tight, ground-hugging carpet; emits an invigorating scent when trodden upon (tolerates light foot traffic)

  • Smothered in pink blooms in summer, adored by bees!

  • Must have sharp-draining soil; thrives in sunny herb or rock gardens, perfect between stepping stones

Cotoneaster salicifolius 'Scarlet Leader' (Cotoneaster)

  • Semi-evergreen shrub (z5-9) full-part sun, 1' tall, 4-6' wide

  • Deep scarlet berries persist throughout winter

  • Glossy dark green summer foliage turns burgundy in cold months

  • Great on banks in mass planting or as a specimen plant

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Dwarf Blue Plumbago)

  • Perennial (z5-9) part-full sun, 6-8'' tall, 12-18'' wide

  • Profuse, vivid, sky-blue flowers mid to late summer, dark green foliage turns a beautiful bronze-red in fall

  • Deer resistant and durable -- even produces chemicals that inhibit the growth of weeds, making this a most excellent and attractive groundcover choice

Thymus praecox 'Highland Cream' (Creeping Thyme 'Highland Cream')

  • Perennial (z4-9) full-part sun, 2-4'' tall, 6-12'' wide

  • Evergreen groundcover with variegated, fabulously fragrant foliage and pink spring blooms, loved by pollinators

  • Thrives in sharp-draining soil

  • Deer and rabbit resistant; tolerant of drought and light foot traffic

  • Aka Hartington silver

Stachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet' (Lamb's Ears 'Silver Carpet')

  • Perennial (z4-9) full sun, 3-8'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Velvety soft, silvery foliage has a pleasing look and texture; excellent for sensory gardens

  • Can suffer in high humidity; benefits from a bit of light afternoon shade in hot summers

  • Great groundcover for dry, well-drained, rocky areas

Stachys byzantina 'Fuzzy Wuzzy' (Fuzzy Wuzzy Lamb's Ear)

  • Perennial (z4-8) full-part sun, 8'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Forms a dense carpet of soft, fuzzy foliage, perfect for sensory gardens; spikes of lavender blooms early summer

  • Great groundcover or edging plant; thrives in dry, lean, well-drained soil

  • Drought and juglone tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant

Phlox subulata 'Multiple Varieties' (Creeping Phlox (Thrift))

  • NATIVE cultivar, part/full sun, 3-6" tall, 12" wide

  • Semi-evergreen foliage spreads into a dense groundcover, often out-competing weeds & grass

  • Profusion of early blooms welcomes spring to the garden

Delosperma cooperi (Hardy Ice Plant)

  • Perennial (z6-10), full sun, 3-6" tall, 12-24" spread

  • Evergreen succulent foliage makes great ground cover

  • Magenta pinkish-purple flowers late spring-frost

  • Drought tolerant, low maintenance

Sedum ternatum 'Larinem Park' (Stonecrop)

  • NATIVAR perennial (z3-9), full sun-full shade, 3-4'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • More tolerant of shade and moist soil than other sedums

  • Excellent groundcover for rock gardens, woodland edges, or dry shade (needs more moisture in full sun)

  • Dainty white spring blooms support early season pollinators

Sedum 'Angelina' (Stonecrop)

  • Perennial (z3-11) full sun-part shade, 4-6'' tall, 6-12'' wide

  • Evergreen lime-green needle-like foliage turns orange in cold weather

  • Yellow flower clusters in summer

  • Low maintenance, year-round color; thrives in sharp-draining soil

  • Known for being able to out-compete weeds

Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevan's Variety' (Bigroot Geranium)

  • Perennial (z3-8) full-part sun, 10-12'' tall, 18-24'' wide

  • Abundant clusters of pink-purple flowers late spring through summer

  • Semi-evergreen, fragrant, light green foliage takes on purples tones in fall

  • Effective at choking out weeds; ideal attractive groundcover

Pycnanthemum muticum (Short Toothed Mountain Mint)

  • NATIVE perennial (z3-9) full-part sun, 2-3' tall and wide

  • Fragrant leaves smell of spearmint

  • Silver bracts add ornamental appeal; not overly aggressive but will spread

Pycnanthemum flexuosum (Appalachian Mountain Mint)

  • NATIVE perennial (z6-8) full-part sun, 2-3' tall, 3-4' wide

  • Aromatic, silvery white flowers on sturdy, upright stems summer-long

  • Red-tinged foliage in fall

Lindernia grandiflora (Blue Moneywort)

  • Tender perennial (z6a-9b) full sun-part shade, 2-3'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Fast-growing spreader or ''spiller''; dainty blue-violet flowers spring through summer

  • Native to wetlands of the Southeast; thrives in wet soil, can be submerged in water

Coreopsis auriculata ''Nana'' (Dwarf-Eared Coreopsis)

  • NATIVAR perennial (z4-8) full sun-part shade, 6-9'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Easy care, deer resistant groundcover with yellow spring-summer blooms; evergreen foliage turns burgundy in fall

  • Thrives in moist, well-drained soil; not as drought tolerant as other coreopsis species

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry)

  • NATIVE evergreen shrub (z2-6) full sun-part shade, 6-12'' tall, 3-6' spread

  • Slow-growing groundcover; drought tolerant

  • White-pink blooms, red berries

Hypericum calycinum (St. John's Wort)

  • Perennial (z5-9) full sun-part shade, 12-18'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Cheery yellow-blooming groundcover

  • Best blooms in full sun, but tolerant of a wide range of conditions

  • Rapid spread by underground stems; evergreen in mild winters

Campanula carpatica 'Deep Blue Clips' (Spreading Bellflower)

  • Perennial (z4-9) full sun to part shade, 6-8'' tall, 8-12'' wide

  • Deep blue, upward-facing, bowl-shaped flowers spring-summer

  • Compact mound of dainty foliage, excellent for edging and containers

  • Prefers well-drained, lightly moist soil

Lithodora diffusa 'Blue Star' (Lithodora)

  • Perennial (z6-8) part shade-full sun, 6-12'' tall, 2-3' wide

  • Vigorous semi-evergreen groundcover with brilliant blue star-shaped blooms; a lovely summer-blooming complement to the spring bloom of creeping phlox

  • Tolerates full sun in cooler climates; appreciates afternoon shade in hot summers

  • Thrives in rich, moist, acidic, well-drained soil

Ajuga reptans 'Chocolate Chip' (Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip')

  • Perennial (z3-10) full-part sun, 3'' tall, 9-12'' wide

  • Dwarf variety with deep maroon, evergreen foliage, violet-blue flower stalks in spring

  • Excellent for small spaces; doesn't spread as aggressively as species

Ajuga reptans 'Mahogany' (Ajuga 'Mahogany')

  • Perennial (z4-11) full sun-part shade, 3-6'' tall, 12-18'' wide

  • Dense, rapidly spreading groundcover

  • Leaves emerge black-burgundy and mature to deep mahogany

  • Spikes of lavender-blue blooms in spring

Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchellus 'Lynnhaven Carpet' (Robin's Plantain 'Lynnhaven Carpet')

  • NATIVAR perennial (z3-8) part shade, 1' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Showy, pale lavender, aster-like spring blooms, fantastic for a wide range of pollinators

  • Larger foliage than the species, mat-forming habit; excellent groundcover for dry shade

  • Thrives in poor, sharp-draining soil; tolerant of full sun in moister condition


Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy' (Dead Nettle)

  • Perennial (z3-8) part-full shade, 6-8'' tall, 2-3' wide

  • Variegated silvery-white, heart-shaped leaves with green margins; beautiful groundcover

  • White blooms spring to summer; cut back after flowering to stimulate new growth

  • Prefers moist, well-drained soil

Lamium maculatum 'Orchid Frost' (Dead Nettle)

  • Perennial (z3-8) part-full shade, 6-10'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Mat-forming groundcover with variegated heart-shaped foliage

  • Pink-purple flowers in late spring and later rebloom

Chrysogonum virginianum (Green and Gold)

  • NATIVE perennial (z6-8) full-part shade, 3-6'' tall, 18-24'' spread

  • Yellow blooms April-October, with a lull during hottest months

  • A great shade groundcover

Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff)

  • Perennial (z4-8) part-full shade, 6-12'' tall, 10-18'' wide

  • Fragrant and vigorous groundcover for moist, shady areas

  • White star-shaped flowers in late spring

  • Creates a carpet of green foliage, can naturalize if conditions are right

Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny Spurge)

  • NATIVE perennial (z4-9) full-part shade, 6-10'' tall, 1-2' wide

  • Semi-evergreen, silvery mottled foliage

  • Fragrant flower spikes in spring

Carex pennsylvanica (Pennsylvania Sedge)

  • NATIVE perennial (z4-8) part-full shade, 8-12'' tall and wide

  • Tiny brown flowers in spring mature to sac-like bracts

  • Semi-evergreen; deer resistant and easy to grow

Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern)

  • NATIVE perennial (z4-8) full-part shade, 3-4' tall and wide

  • Thrives in rich, wet woodland

  • Needs consistently moist soil

Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich Fern)

  • NATIVE perennial (z3-7) part-full shade, 2-5' tall, 3-4' wide

  • Tall, majestic fronds resemble ostrich feathers; thrives in rich soil with constant moisture


Perennial (z3-9), part-full shade in general, though some are bred for more sun tolerance

Leaf sizes range from 2" long to over a foot, and most varieties feature mid-summer bloom spikes of white or purple, many quite fragrant.

The size of the plant can range drastically, but most range from 1-2.5’ tall and 1.5x3.5’ wide. 

While hostas can handle our native soils, they do best in richer, more fertile soils and with good drainage - so for best performance and size, you definitely want to amend your soil.

Hostas are often beloved by both deer and slugs - we carry many cultivars that are slug resistant, but deer are another story (we recommend frequent applications of Green Screen around your beds).  We carry a range of leave colors, shapes, and sizes along with variation in the total plant size.  Some of our favorites include:

Big Daddy (24x36") - Often described as the best blue hosta, and also one of the larger ones.  The foliage emerges blue-green, and matures to a chalky blue with thick seersuckered leaves that are deeply cupped.  Exhibits good slug resistance.

Guacamole (22x38") - Very large leaves are a rich apple green with avocado colored margins, though summers and more sun exposure can turn them more gold green. Very fragrant lavender blooms, a faster grower than many, and good sun tolerance.

Some unique options we have this year include: Captains Adventure (a true collector’s hosta with very unusual leaf variegation), Golden Tiara (a different habit from most - profuse, small golden variegated leaves form a dense border), & Blue Mouse Ears (tiny, adorable, rich blue-green). 

Phlox divaricata 'May Breeze' or 'Blue Moon' (Woodland Phlox)

  • NATIVAR perennial (z4-8) full-part shade, 12-15'' tall and wide

  • Lovely, fragrant, white or purple-blue spring blooms, perfect for filling in around bulbs or perennials

  • Forms large colonies over time; drought tolerant once established

Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger)

  • NATIVE perennial (z4-6) full-part shade, 6-12'' tall, 12-18'' wide

  • Cup-shaped, purplish brown flowers appear in spring

  • Attractive groundcover for shade


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