Plants for ground cover

Creeping pink and white phlox as groundcover plants

Brighten up dull areas of your garden with ground cover plants
Image: Creeping Phlox Collection from Thompson & Morgan

Does your garden have a steep bank that makes access difficult? Or trees with unsightly bare patches beneath? Ground cover shrubs and plants are the answer. Not only do they brighten up otherwise dull areas, they suppress weeds, and their roots help stabilise soil on sloping ground.

Here we explain how to prepare your soil for ground-cover planting and give you our pick of attractive, fast-growing plants for sunny and shady spots in your garden.

Prepare your soil before planting

Hand weeding plants

Completely clear the garden of weeds before planting
Image: Shutterstock

Before planting your ground cover it’s very important to thoroughly weed the area first. Do pay particular attention to perennial weeds like dandelions, ground elder and couch grass because they’ll be a lot harder to eradicate once your new plants start growing.

If hand weeding is problematic or you need to clear a large area, use a systemic weed killer which is taken down to the roots of the weed. Alternatively, if you can wait until the next season before planting, lay black polythene over the soil to kill the weeds.

Improving your soil by adding plenty of organic matter like well-rotted manure or compost, is also an excellent idea, giving your seeds and seedlings just the boost they need to get them going.

Ground cover plants for sun

Pink and white dianthus flowers

Coloured Dianthus make for beautiful ground cover plants
Image: Dianthus deltoides 'Micro Chips' from Thompson & Morgan

From annual to evergreen ground cover, there are plenty of ground cover plants for sunny spots in your garden:

Plants growing in full sun benefit from mulching in their first year to help retain moisture at their roots. If the weather is very hot and dry make sure you water your new plants regularly to help them establish. It’s also essential to keep on top of weeds so there’s no competition for nutrients and water.

Ground cover plants for shade

Yellow winter aconite flowers as ground cover flowers

Winter Aconite is easy to establish and virtually maintenance free
Image: Aconite (Winter Flowering) from Thompson & Morgan

From foliage to flowers there are plenty of colourful ground cover plants to light up a shady spot in your garden. Here are a few of our favourites:

  • Alchemilla mollis 'Thriller' – clusters of lime-green blooms create the feel of a cottage garden
  • Cyclamen hederifolium – great in a woodland setting, this plant loves dappled shade.
  • Lily of the Valley (White) – delicate bell-shaped blooms and a timeless fragrance, lily of the valley love shady, damp ground.
  • Prunella grandiflora 'Violet Flowered' – colourful, vigorous, hardy perennial that attracts butterflies and bees.
  • Winter Aconite – a woodland dweller, this relative of the buttercup multiplies to provide a golden carpet of blooms early each spring.

Be more vigilant in weeding your shade-loving ground-cover plants because being slower growing, they’ll take a little longer to establish than their sun-worshipping cousins.

These are just a fraction of the ground cover plants we have on offer, but hopefully, by highlighting a few favourites, we’ve whetted your appetite for more. Nobody said ground cover has to be boring.

For advice on gardening in a variety of conditions, visit our dedicated hub page - with gardening guidance covering dry exposed borders to shady gardens. There's plenty to learn!

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.

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