Top 10 Ground Covers & 9 Places To Plant Them

12/15/2023 | Ken Davis Ground Covers, Perennials, Shrubs

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

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Mountain landscapes are difficult for plants, especially if you want to keep them low maintenance.  In an arid climate where rock lawns are the norm because growing conditions are challenging, ground- hugging plants are the perfect solutions.

Check the internet, and you will find a lot of bad advice for mountain gardens. You really must verify the sources and confirm that info with local garden centers. But, hey, that’s why this column has so many loyal readers every week!  Thank you:)

This list of the best groundcovers is based on selections of local gardeners who shop here at Watters. This is not an all-encompassing plant list, merely the most popular ones found in many of our area neighborhoods. Botanical name and online links are provided so you can reference more varieties and even buy online for 2024 delivery.

Sunny Spots

This is the most challenging growing spot in every local yard. High altitude sun, persistent wind, and extra heat reflected off of retaining walls and rock lawns make sunny spots especially challenging.

Friesland meadow Sage, Salvia nemorosa

Gro-Low Fragrant Sumac, Rhus aromatica

Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle, Lonicera x brownii

Tom Thumb Creeping Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster adpressus

Blue Chip Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis

Emerald Gaiety Wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei

Fragrance Where People Gather

Whether from their foliage or blooms, some plants just give off more pleasing scents than others.  Fragrant plants should be used in specific parts of our yards/gardens. They always please guests visiting over a glass of wine on the patio, at a backyard BBQ, and, this time of year, sitting by the fire pit. Here are my favorite locals that smell better than most.

Corsican mint, Mentha requienii

Walker’s Low Catmint, Nepeta faassenii

Red Creeping Thyme, Thymus praecox

Firewitch Dianthus, Dianthus gratianopolitanus

Hall’s Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica

Flower Carpet Red Groundcover Rose

Arp Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis

Star Jasmine: Trachelospermum jasminoides

Halo Violet Perennial Violet, Viola cornuta


A backyard that is a sheer wall, or a hill covered in granite boulders has its own challenges. Choose plants with strong roots, and they will help hold the soil together and in place, controlling erosion.

Honeybelle Honeysuckle, Lonicera x brownii

Coral Beauty Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster dammeri

Blueberry Delight Juniper, Juniperus communis

Eichholz Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster dammeri

Wine Periwinkle, Vinca minor

Huntington Carpet Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis

Star Showers Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Balboa Sunset Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans

Bearberry Kinnikinnick, ArctostaphylosManzanita

To Soften Walls

So many raised beds and walls are sterile and in need of softening. These ground covers ease and can even disguise too strong lines of hardscaping elements.

Pristar Deep Blue Bellflower, Campanula carpatica

Illumination Dwarf Periwinkle,Vinca minor

Rock Crest, Aubrieta

Snow Hill Meadow Sage, Salvia sylvestris

Sunsparkler Dazzleberry Sedum, Sedum Dazzleberry

Raspberry Surprise Dianthus

Thorndale English Ivy, Hedera helix

Roman Beauty Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis

Cranberry Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster apiculatus

Where Weeds Grow

The goal in areas with a high concentration of weeds is to use plants that will overtake and squeeze out weeds.  Here’s a list of some ground covers that are so hardy they can choke out all weeds, even the most persistent.

Pink Cat Catmint, Nepeta nervosa

Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia

Red Wings Creeping Phlox

Elfin Thyme, Thymus serpyllum

Angelina Stonecrop, Sedum rupestre

Bowles Periwinkle, Vinca minor

Creeping Oregon Grape, Mahonia repens

These plants have high moisture contents, so are far less prone to catch fire. Growing a ground cover for the purpose of fuel reduction is often overlooked, but definitely should be worked into the gardens in areas that are prone to wildfires.

White Flowered Chocolate Vine, Akebia quinata

Streibs Findling Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster dammeri

De La Mina Verbena, Verbena lilacina

Prostrate Rock Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis

Madison Star Jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides

Bronze Carpet Stonecrop, Sedum spurium

Prescott Gold Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans

Red Wall Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Ground covers make excellent replacements for the classic green lawn, but they can’t tolerate the amount of traffic for sports and other activities as turfgrass will. How often do you use that patch of grass for a rousing game of croquet? Do your dogs patrol your yard until a path is worn into their routes? Here are the plants that can withstand a certain amount of traffic and still keep a landscape looking good.

English Thyme, Thymus vulgaris

Blue Chip Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis

Chocolate Mint, Mentha piperita

Wine Common Periwinkle, Vinca minor

Hot & Spicy Oregano, Origanum vulgare

Parthenocissus tricuspidata

Animal Resistant/Proof

As we build ever more deeply into the forest and mountain valleys, we encounter wild creatures that see our gardens as their personal buffets! This list is of low-profile plants that mountain-dwelling animals find utterly distasteful. Some even have a repellant effect.

Woolly Thyme, Thymus pseudolanuginosus

Compact Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia aquifolium

Big Ears Lamb’s Ears, Stachys byzantina

Pineapple Mint, Mentha suaveolens

Mondo Grass, Ophiopogon japonicus

Huntington Carpet Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis

Cherry Truffle Sedum

Variegated Lemon Thyme, Thymus citriodorus

EnduraScape Dark Purple Verbena

Engelman Ivy, Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Shady Spots

Spots under a tree, or a deck, or eaves need something that ‘pops’ to bring darkened spaces alive. Here are my local favorites that outshine the rest in a shady spot.

Burgundy Glow Carpet Bugle, Ajuga reptans

Creeping Bramble, Rubus calycinoides

Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum

Duckfoot Ivy, Hedera helix

Royal Cape Plumbago

Tidal Pool Speedwell, Veronica

Grace Ward Lithodora, Lithodora diffusa

Bowles’ Common Periwinkle, Vinca minor

Until next week I’ll be helping local gardeners with Gift Cards and selecting groundcovers here at Watters Garden Center.