12 Evergreen Groundcovers for a Low-Maintenance Landscape

European ginger evergreen groundcover bordering a perennial garden.
My Garden Life
December 11, 2023
Table of Contents

By Kelly Miller

Evergreen groundcover plants may not be the main attraction of your garden, but they can make your landscape more beautiful, they’re generally easy to care for, and they bring life and color to winter landscapes.

The term “groundcover” usually refers to spreading plants that don’t grow very tall, but they have the potential to cover a fairly large area over time when the growing conditions are right. Groundcover plants are very versatile and may be grown under trees, around the stones in walkways, on a steep slope or hillside, or along the shaded space beside walls. Groundcover can also be used across a large section of your yard as an alternative to turf grass. Add elegance to a large combination planter by including a couple of groundcover plants where they can eventually cascade over the side of the pot.

Advantages of Growing Groundcover Instead of Turf Grass

Covering some or all of your “in-between” spaces with something other than turf grass is a simple way to make your garden more eco-friendly. Many alternative groundcover plants are also low-maintenance, attractive, and hardy.

Here are some benefits that many of the best groundcover plants offer:

  • Less mowing or no mowing at all
  • Shade tolerance and frost tolerance
  • Drought resistance and reduced water use
  • Year-round (evergreen) foliage
  • Natural weed resistance
  • Erosion control on slopes
  • A more colorful and unique aesthetic compared to turf grass or mulch
  • Flowering groundcovers may attract and support pollinators (butterflies and bees)
A mass of Cerastium tomentosum in full flower is a beautiful evergreen groundcover planted along a garden border.

Selecting and Caring for Groundcover Plants

When selecting an evergreen groundcover, choose one that grows well in your region, based on USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. Then, consider your local growing conditions. Often, groundcover is partially shaded by taller plants or structures. In those spots, it’s important to select a shade-tolerant plant. In more open areas, your list of choices can expand to include varieties that thrive in more light.

A mass planting of liriope with stalks of purple flowers.

Next, avoid plants that might be difficult to control. Some common groundcover plants, like English ivy, grow aggressively and can quickly take over an entire garden.

Another factor to consider is whether or not you require a “walkable” groundcover. An advantage of turf grass is that it holds up well under human activity. Many other evergreen groundcover plants are more sensitive. However, some are tougher than others. For example, creeping thyme is fairly resilient to foot traffic.

Blue star creeper is a good evergreen groundcover to grow between flagstone pavers.

Finally, embrace the opportunity to weave evergreen groundcover into the beauty and style of your landscape design. Select groundcover plants that complement the taller plants that they surround. For example, use very low-growing groundcover around shorter flowers or shrubs. You can also focus on color pairings, such as complementary shades of green foliage between your groundcover and featured plants. For flowering groundcovers, you can choose varieties that bloom at the same time as your other flowers and in complementary hues, such as whites with purples.

Walkway to a house bordered by flowering plants, evergreens and groundcover.

Avoiding Harmful Invasive Species

Some popular groundcover plants are fast spreaders that can overtake other parts of your property. Some, like the chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata), English ivy (Hedera helix), and big periwinkle (Vinca major), are considered invasive species in some parts of North America. If you have a large area to cover, or your location is next to a wild area such as a forest or fields, you will want to do a little research and make sure your selection isn’t invasive in your region.

To avoid planting problematic groundcover varieties, consult the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, which lists all species that are considered invasive anywhere in the U.S.

English ivy is an evergreen groundcover that become invasive by covering the ground and growing up trees.

Planning, Planting, and Maintaining Groundcover

Spring or fall are usually the best times for planting groundcovers. That means during winter or summer you should decide what plant variety you’ll be using; determine the layout and how many plants you’ll need during the winter or summer months.

The number of plants you’ll need will depend on several factors: the area you are trying to cover, the type of plant you will be growing, and how far apart you’ll be spacing the plants. Most plants have a recommended spacing that allows them enough room to get the optimum amount of light and avoid root competition for water and nutrients.  However, there may be circumstances when you want to achieve faster coverage. In those cases, use a closer spacing when planting, but don’t plant closer than 6”.  The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has a chart you can reference for determining the number of groundcover plants needed based on the square footage of area.

Recently planted clumps of pachysandra spaced appropriately to fill in as a groundcover.

Before planting, you’ll need to do some preparation work. Here are the simple steps:

  1. First you’ll want to thoroughly clear the area of weeds.
  2. After planting, you’ll need to irrigate your groundcover to help it get started, especially if you planted in spring.
  3. Once your groundcover is established, maintenance should be minimal. A healthy groundcover doesn’t require much water and provides a strong natural barrier against weed growth.
Irrigation tube runs through a new planting of pachysandra groundcover.

For more details, check out our guide on How to Plant Ground Cover Plants.

Evergreen Groundcover Plants for Regions with Freezing Winters

Here are a few terrific groundcover options you can incorporate into your lawn and garden design. All of these plants are evergreen and frost-tolerant. They’re also low-maintenance growers that exhibit dense, full growth and don’t aggressively spread.

European Ginger (Asarum europaeum)

European Ginger (Asarum europaeum)

European ginger makes a lovely groundcover with its dark green, glossy, heart-shaped leaves. This is a slow spreader, so you don’t have to worry about European ginger overwhelming surrounding plants. The foliage maintains a tidy mounded form as it spreads outward over time. Best of all the plants are evergreen, adding some color to dreary winter landscapes. Use in the foreground of a shrub or flower border, near water, or naturalized in moist woodland settings.
Prickly Pear, Bunny Ears Outdoors (Opuntia species)

Prickly Pear, Bunny Ears Outdoors (Opuntia species)

A rugged, drought tolerant species that adds incredible texture and interesting form to the landscape. The flat, paddle shaped foliage is covered with fine needles so take care to wear gloves when planting or weeding around this plant. A fun choice for containers or small spaces confined by pavement. Excellent for use in difficult spots where nothing else can survive. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts.
Blue Star Creeper, Matted Pratia (Pratia pedunculata)

Blue Star Creeper, Matted Pratia (Pratia pedunculata)

A very tough and quick spreading ground cover species that survives dry spells well. Forms a lush mat of deep green, fine-leafed foliage that is topped with starry blooms over a long season. Evergreen foliage provides a touch of green to the winter landscape. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. Looks great spilling over container edges. Perfect selection for filling in between paving stones.
Pachysandra, Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis)

Pachysandra, Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis)

A fast-spreading carpet of evergreen foliage that looks good all season. Fragrant, white flowers bloom in early summer and attract a variety of pollinating insects. The perfect choice for brightening lifeless shaded areas. A reliable groundcover for any location. Beautiful in shady borders and woodland gardens. Effective under trees where lawn has difficulty establishing.
Lambs’ Ears, Wooly Betony (Stachys byzantina)

Lambs’ Ears, Wooly Betony (Stachys byzantina)

Lambs’ ears is a splendid choice for adding soft texture to the landscape. Forms a lush carpet of silver-gray, woolly foliage that spreads quickly. The silvery foliage creates a bold contrast when surrounded by colorful flowers and green foliage plants. Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Looks great in rock gardens. Combines beautifully with small ornamental grasses. Terrific plant for butterfly gardens.
Snow-In-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

Snow-In-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

Highly valued for its woolly gray foliage. Masses of crisp white flowers have a luminous quality to them. Easy-care plant stylishly accents other bright colors. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. A reliable groundcover for any location. Tumbles beautifully over rocks, slopes, and banks.
Creeping Thyme, Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

Creeping Thyme, Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

Also known as mother of thyme this creeping species is commonly used as a fragrant groundcover and less so for cooking. Its dainty summer blooms are a wonderful nectar source for honey bees. Makes a wonderfully fragrant groundcover or container plant. Attractive in rock gardens and between stepping stones. Dried leaves may be used to flavor poultry, fish, meat and vegetables.
Scottish Moss ‘Aurea’ (Sagina subulata)

Scottish Moss ‘Aurea’ (Sagina subulata)

A golden yellow, moss-like carpet of slender leaves and stems. The foliage is enhanced by tiny white flowers in summer. A splendid choice for adding soft texture to the landscape. Makes a good small scale groundcover. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. Perfect selection for filling in between paving stones.
Bearberry (Cotoneaster dammeri)

Bearberry (Cotoneaster dammeri)

A low growing, spreading species of Cotoneaster, that is tough, good-looking and easy care. Glossy, evergreen foliage looks great year round. Dainty summer blooms are followed by tiny, non-edible, red berries in autumn. Lovely groundcover, for slopes, or drift throughout the mixed border. Great for erosion control on steep banks and rough slopes. Looks great in rock gardens.

Grass-like Evergreen Groundcovers

If you prefer a more grass-like groundcover consider one of the following options. They offer good coverage and are useful in areas where traditional turf grasses don’t do well.  

Dwarf Mondo Grass, Monkey Grass ‘Nana’ (Ophiopogon japonicus)

Dwarf Mondo Grass, Monkey Grass ‘Nana’ (Ophiopogon japonicus)

This dwarf selection is smaller in size than regular mondo grass. A great choice for shady perennial gardens that is low maintenance and durable. Grass-like leaves spread slowly to form a thick, cushiony turf. Small white to lilac flowers are followed by attractive blue berries. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. A reliable groundcover for any location. Best planted in groups. Tolerates mild foot traffic, so it’s a good choice for using between paving stones or along a walk.
Carex, Sedge ‘Evergold’ (Carex oshimensis)

Carex, Sedge ‘Evergold’ (Carex oshimensis)

Creative gardeners will love the artistic possibilities of ‘Evergold’ for contrasting color and texture. The golden grassy foliage brings a warm, relaxed feel to the landscape. Carex are care-free, cool season grasses that grow naturally in grasslands and marsh areas throughout the world. Compact form is great for edging large beds or along walkways. Can be grown in containers alone or mixed with colorful annuals. Creates wonderful texture as a mass planting in a large area and individual specimens add a soft touch to rock gardens.
Liriope (Liriope muscari)

Liriope (Liriope muscari)

Liriope is an evergreen selection that forms a dense clump of dark green foliage. Spikes of bright violet flowers bloom throughout autumn. Provides a welcome burst of color to the late season landscape. Liriope is a reliable groundcover for just about any location. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. Effective under trees where lawn has difficulty establishing.

Explore More Creative Options for a Beautiful Lawn and Garden

Don’t be afraid to be bold when it comes to filling in the open spaces in your landscape. Turf grass and mulch have some practical benefits but they’re not your only options. Many interesting groundcover plants are beautiful, low-maintenance, and eco-friendly.

For more groundcover ideas, have a look at our guide on How to Grow Gravel Gardens. Gravel suppresses weeds, reduces water use, and forms an attractive, walkable layer between garden plantings.

Close up of lamb's ear-stachys byzantina-in a gravel garden.

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