Flowering Groundcovers Brighten the Yard
Accent your lawn and landscape with a splash of color.
A well-kept lawn is the hallmark of a handsome home, but flower gardens and accents are what provide the true focal points of the yard.
Every gardener loves the color that blooming perennials bring to a garden. Flowering perennials are the workhorses of the landscape, bringing colorful blooms year after year. Herbaceous perennials such as asters, coneflowers and penstemons are favorites because they are easy to grow and always bring a dependable show of blooms. But there’s one category of perennials that are often overlooked when homeowners shop for plants: groundcovers.
“Flowering groundcovers are an indispensable element of any well-designed garden,” says David Salman, chief horticulturist of HighCountryGardens.com. “Low-growing perennials may be short in stature, but when placed in the right spots they fill in the gaps in a yard and garden with colorful blooms and attractive foliage.”
Low-growing groundcover plants are great for using as alternatives to turfgrass lawns (especially in shady areas). Groundcovers are especially well suited for filling the spaces between flagstone and pavers. These diminutive plants are also great for creating a “living mulch” that cools the ground and suppresses weed growth.
Six Colorful Choices
Here are six great flowering groundcovers that Salman recommends as a tough and beautiful addition to any garden.
Veronica liwanensis (Turkish Speedwell) — Veronica liwanensis is one of the showiest blue-flowered groundcovers, which accounts for its popularity. The plant is native to the mountains of Turkey (hence the common name, Turkish speedwell). The stems of evergreen foliage root as they spread across the soil and cover themselves with bright blue flowers in late spring. This is a vigorous, fast-growing species that thrives in difficult climates throughout USDA Zones 4-8.
When not in bloom, the round, glossy evergreen leaves creep across the garden, creating a thick green carpet.
Turkish speedwell can be used to create a low-maintenance groundcover “lawn” that tolerates occasional foot traffic. With the first hint of warmer weather to come, the small but numerous spikes of flowers paint the garden blue like a reflection of the sky. With a little extra water, Veronica liwanensis reblooms lightly later in summer. This plant appreciates afternoon shade in hot summer climates. At maturity, each plant reaches 2 inches tall and 18 inches wide.
Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet (Creeping Hummingbird Trumpet) — Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet is a vigorous perennial groundcover that blooms in mid- to late summer with a profusion of bright orange trumpet-shaped flowers that lasts for weeks. Spreading with underground stems, this beautiful plant is perfect for slopes and cascading over the edges of raised beds. Regular watering when in bloom keeps the flowers coming.
Plant Creeping Hummingbird Mint in well-drained, compost-enriched soil. ‘Orange Carpet’ prefers some afternoon shade, especially in warmer climates at lower elevations. Wait until spring to cut it back just above ground level to prevent the plant from drying out during dry winters. This is an original selection by High Country Gardens founder and chief horticulturist David Salman. Each plant grows 4-6 inches tall and 15-18 inches wide.
Delosperma ashtonii ‘Blut’(Blut Ice Plant) — ‘Blut’ is one of the very best cold hardy Ice Plants. With its vigorous growth habit, durable evergreen foliage and summer-long display of deep magenta-red flowers, it is an invaluable groundcover. It is a drought tolerant (xeric) plant.
Delosperma ashtonii ‘Blut’ hugs the ground, only reaching 1 inch tall and 15-18 inches wide. This new variety of ice plant was discovered by nurseryman Kelly Grummons (owner of Timberland Gardens, Arvada, CO) growing as a volunteer seedling in his gravel driveway. ‘Blut’ has attractive deep green, slightly flattened leaves that grow to form a nice flat mat of evergreen foliage. Blooming through the summer months, this beauty has the most intensely magenta-red flowers ever seen in this genus. Once established, grow this plant in hot and dry conditions to intensify the flower color. It’s showy, but it cannot tolerate foot traffic.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Hardy Plumbago) — Hardy Plumbago is one of the most versatile groundcovers for cold climates, performing well in both sun and shade. Plumbago (also commonly known as Leadwort) is an easy-to-grow groundcover that’s well suited for average, medium and well-drained soils. It blooms in late summer with deep blue flowers, and then the foliage turns burgundy-red in the fall.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides is well-suited for full sun in cooler climates, but it also grows well with afternoon shade in hotter climates. Plumbago spreads by rhizomes and can be somewhat aggressive in optimal growing conditions. (It can cause contact dermatitis if skin is exposed to its vesicles, so it is advisable to wear gloves when pruning the plant.) It goes dormant in winter, leafing out in spring. Hardy Plumbago grows in USDA Zones 5-9, but in Zone 5 add winter mulch. It’s usually 6-8 inches tall and 18 inches wide.
Cotula ‘Tiffindell Gold’ (Creeping Gold Buttons) — Tiffindell Gold is a groundcover that can be used in flower beds or as a lawn substitute. This plant was discovered growing on the rugged hills surrounding Tiffindell—South Africa’s only alpine ski area. A vigorous grower with deep, water-seeking roots, ‘Tiffindell Gold’ has soft, inch-high emerald green foliage and an impressive display of golden button-like flowers that illuminate the garden beginning in late spring.
Deadheading extends the bloom season through the summer. This perennial is a wide spreading, low-care groundcover whose stems root as they spread to make a weed-resistant mat of foliage. It is invaluable for carpeting large patches in perennial beds or as a grass replacement in low traffic areas. It even looks good in the winter as its foliage is evergreen. Plant ‘Tiffindell Gold’ in any well-drained soil. It is drought resistant, so it’s a good choice for dry areas of the landscape. USDA Zones 5-10.
Delosperma Fire Spinner(Fire Spinner Ice Plant) — The Delosperma Fire Spinner is an astonishing sight in full bloom. It has vibrant tri-colored flowers of orange, red and lavender that are unique in the world of perennial flowers. In late spring, its profuse tri-colored flowers cover the tight evergreen mat of succulent foliage.
A heat-loving groundcover, this ice plant is best grown in full sun and well drained sandy-loam soil. Fire Spinner is perfect for use in raised beds and in waterwise landscapes to plant into gravel mulch. (It will quickly cover the gravel.) One look at this groundcover in full bloom and it’s obvious why it was a 2011 Plant Select winner. Plant it in USDA Zones 5-8.
All of these easy-to-grow groundcovers are available from High Country Gardens, a top online source for beautiful plants that thrive in even the most challenging conditions. For more information on plants and gardening, visit www.highcountrygardens.com.