There is no better way to fill-in large garden areas quickly than with the right mix of spreading plants.
If you have a lot of area to cover and are looking for a low maintenance, inexpensive way to do it, then look for perennial groundcover plants that will return year after year. There are plenty of groundcovers that will form a dense mat of vegetation in either sun or shade in just a growing season or two—the only problem is that many of those plants are also found on lists of the most invasive species throughout the country. Rather than plant something that is known to spread where it is unwanted (and become next to impossible to eradicate), choose from one of the more well-behaved—but still fast-growing—plants below.
Yarrow is one of the few groundcovers that tolerate foot traffic almost as well as a lawn. The six-inch (15 centimeter) tall ferny foliage spreads quickly and the 12 to 18-inch tall (30 to 45 centimeter) flowers—which come in colors ranging from white to yellow to crimson red—are a feast for the eyes, as well as for butterflies, throughout the summer. This sun-lover is hardy to -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 degrees Celsius). USDA zones 4 to 9.
Ajuga thrives in moist, partly shaded places, creeping along quickly with its spatula-shaped leaves and petite flower stalks to form a lush four-inch (10 centimeter) deep carpet in no time. Purple-tinged varieties, such as ‘Burgundy Glow’, are among the most popular, creating a striking contrast with the surrounding greenery. Hardy to -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 degrees Celsius). USDA zones 4 to 9.
Creeping Phlox does well in sunny locations and is great for erosion control on slopes. This low-growing plant stays around six inches (15 centimeters) tall and it comes in many flowers colors, such as white, pink and blue. You can expect a spectacular show of color in late spring and early summer, when it’s solidly covered by tons of flowers. This drought tolerant choice is hardy to -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 degrees Celsius). USDA zones 4 to 8.
Lambs’ Ears is grown for its soft, velvety foliage—just like, you guessed it, a lamb’s ear—but it also happens to be a tough, fast-spreading plant capable of colonizing poor, dry soil in a hurry. It’s a great choice for planting in a sunny rock garden where the six-inch (15 centimeter) mat of foliage will soften the boulders as it fills in all around them. Hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees Celsius). USDA zones 5 to 8.
Rock Rose is one of the best groundcovers for arid regions—it sprawls into a one to two-foot (.3 to .6 meter) tall groundcover, covering large swaths of sunbaked earth, even with minimal irrigation. The crinkly leaves are full of essential oils that cause them to shimmer in the sunlight and the colorful flowers (shades of pink, purple and white, depending on the variety) bloom almost endlessly during the warm months of the year. Some Rock Roses grow into shrubs, so look for varieties like ‘Sunset’ that stay two feet (.6 meter) tall or less for use as a groundcover. Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius). USDA zones 9 to 10.
If one of these five plants don’t strike your fancy, then check out more than a hundred groundcover plants in our Plant Library to find the exact one that’s right for you.