12 Ground Cover Perennials:
Weed Suppressing or Edible
When I first moved into my property, I inherited a weedy overgrown mess! Most beds were badly managed and completely full of weeds. But as previously mentioned, I was able to reclaim large swaths of land by covering the landscape beds with cardboard and wood mulch.
Once all of the weeds were snuffed out and killed, the cardboard slowly began to breakdown into the soil. The earthworms and other soil critters were able to freely move about. But this fix was only temporary. A quick reset. I would need a long term solution for weed management or else I would find myself right back where I started.
Although nothing is 100% foolproof, some approaches can dramatically reduce time spent weeding your property. Certain hardscaped features have there place. Patios and walkways can be kept weed-free through use of concrete or patio blocks. But what about our landscape beds? That's where ground cover plants or creeping perennials come into play. Some are edible. Some are much better at weed suppression than others. Here are 12 ground covers that I've tested on my lot!
12 Ground Covers
& How to Use Them in Your Landscape:
- Walkable Ground Covers That Are Easy to Control:
- Creeping Thyme
- Elfin Thyme
- Irish Moss
- Green Carpet Rupturewort
- Fast Growing Ground Covers That Can Take Over:
- Sedum Stonecrop
- Leptinella, Brass Buttons
- Sweet Woodruff
- Periwinkle, Vinca Minor
- Ground Covers That Are Edible!
- Kinnikinnick, Bearberry
- Arctic Raspberry, Nagoonberry
Video: TEN Ground Covers for Weed Control
+ Urban Garden / Edible Landscape Tour
Walkable Ground Covers That Are Easy to Control:
Each of these ground covers hold up to foot traffic pretty well. They're also not too difficult to control in the landscape.
Creeping thyme is a decent all around ground cover. For a short time, it may have pink or purple flowers when in bloom. The evergreen foliage looks nice in the Winter. Creeping thyme can handle light foot traffic. It's easy to control having a moderate growth rate. It doesn't spread through underground runners or rhizomes. As the above-ground stems spread outward, they can root into any soil they touch. It works well in open spaces that get good lighting under moist to dry soil conditions.
LIMITATIONS: Creeping thyme offers some moderate weed suppression. But it's growth is rather loose and weed seedlings may still make their way through it. Sometimes the center of the plant can get quite woody and empty in appearance. It tends to die out in spots where it gets shaded out by other plants.
Elfin thyme is a miniature cultivar of creeping thyme. It shares many of the same characteristics. However, I've found that elfin thyme handles foot traffic even better. The growth characteristics are much the same, but it forms a tighter more dense mat. Though not perfect, this slightly enhances its ability to choke out weeds.
LIMITATIONS: Elfin time still needs good lighting and will perform better in the sun. Expect die back when covered over by other plants.
Irish Moss looks lovely in the Spring when the ground is moist. It forms a lush spongy mat that feels quite soft under your feet. It holds up well to foot traffic. Irish moss makes tiny flowers that release seeds allowing it to colonize an area. This is its primary means of spreading.
LIMITATIONS: Most weeds never get established. Unfortunately though, some weed seeds can make their way in between the Irish moss plants. And when this happens, those young seedlings can be quite a pain to remove. My biggest gripe with Irish moss though is that it is not at all drought tolerant. If you cannot ensure a constant supply of moisture, then don't be surprised to see huge patches of brown where the plant disintegrates under the Summer heat. For this reason, I've begun replacing some of my Irish moss with the more drought hardy Elfin thyme.
Green carpet rupturewort is sometimes used as a grass replacement in lawns. It can handle heavy foot traffic and is quite drought tolerant once established. Most of the root system is centralized around a tap root. Its flowers are tiny and barely noticeable producing tiny seeds. This is how it spreads in the landscape and otherwise it's easy to manage.
LIMITATIONS: Green carpet rupturewort may achieve a spread of 12 inches when mature, but it does not grow too quickly. So it takes hundreds of plants just to fill a small lawn area. Buying seeds is cheap, but young plants require constant tending to ensure that weed seeds don't take over.
Fast Growing Ground Covers That Can Take Over:
These ground covers can spread quickly and may need to be placed strategically. They tend to work very well at weed suppression.
Sedum Stonecrop can really take over a space, although it's also easy to control. The plant was here when I moved in and I've become quite fond of it in rocky places, corners, crevices or even entire beds. The plant is tolerant of both shade and full sun. It like moist conditions, but also survives well during dry spells. It seems to do quite well at suppressing weeds once established in an area. In the late Spring the golden flowers on this one are strikingly vibrant!
LIMITATIONS: Sedum Stonecrop is drought resistant, but once the soil dries out, the plant loses its vibrance and looks rather bland. It can perk back up with a good watering though. Technically, this plant can handle being stepped on. But in so doing, the foliage gets a crushed, trampled look. Eventually, it springs back. But I still avoid stepping on it when possible.
Leptinella brass buttons is a beautiful, innocent looking plant that can grow quite aggressively. Its soft, fernlike texture creates a low growing carpet that completely envelopes the ground. I started out with a single 4" pot and easily divided it many times over before finally integrating it into a couple beds. Once colonizing an area, it works reasonable well at keeping out weeds.
LIMITATIONS: Leptinella brass buttons look rich and luxuriant, but also requires a reasonable supply of water. If the ground dries out, they will look withered and unsightly. Be aware that these things spread by underground rhizomes. You need to restrict them with some sort of edging or choke points or they will take over everything!
A few plugs of sweet woodruff can fill in an area fairly quickly. Every year it pushes it boundaries, growing further at the edges. The leaves have a very interesting pattern. Being very deer resistant, it is always left alone. And I'm extremely pleased with its ability to suppress weed seeds!
LIMITATIONS: Sweet woodruff does not look so good in areas that dry out. And it can get crushed underfoot, so I don't ever step on it. As with leptinella, be thoughtful about where you place this so that it doesn't creep into areas where you don't want it.
Periwinkle is also known as bowles or running myrtle. The evergreen leaves grow on lanky stems that can root where they touch the ground. The quick growth rate is ideal for filling in large areas. The plant tolerates high heat and will grow in the shade. It is resistant to both deer and rabbits.
LIMITATIONS: Periwinkle can have disease issues including stem blight and root rot. Watch out for discolored leaves and black stems, removing and destroying infected plants. Water infrequently, only when needed. Generally, periwinkle will spread vigorously once established. Be sure to select your planting location carefully.
Ground Covers That Are Edible!
For those you enjoy edible landscaping, here are a few ground cover plants that produce an edible fruit.
Strawberries are a fun, edible treat that can be grown right alongside the rest of your plants. A dense, well managed patch can cut down on some of your weeds, though not entirely. They're easy to tuck into the edges of beds or under blueberry bushes. I've grown them in mulched soil. But they can even be grown over top of smaller ground cover plants like leptinella brass buttons. They make daughter plants by mean of runners which can be spaced in a way to fill in the base of a bed.
LIMITATIONS: Strawberries are a cultivated crop that needs a certain amount of care to thrive. After a few years, the oldest plants need to be removed, making way for the younger more productive ones. Obviously, this is not a plant for walking on.
Kinnikinnick is supposed to be a good ground cover plant for erosion control. Its woody stems are long and lanky. The only way I was able to get it to spread was through "layering" where I buried branches into the ground so they would take root. The plant is supposed to have an edible berry, though mine has sometimes been barren from year to year. It needs to get nice and dense before doing much to cut down on weeds. Eventually I'll be phasing mine out and allowing periwinkle to take over.
LIMITATIONS: Although you can get kinnikinnick to spread, it's not very quick to root. So the long lanky branches tend to just rest on the ground and flop around. I wouldn't expect to walk on this very much. Some branches may turn brown and need pruned out.
Lingonberries are popular in Europe and Newfoundland. The plants are small perennial evergreen shrubs that do well in acidic soil. They can colonize a space through underground stems or rhizomes. I've grown some at the base of my blueberries. Truth be told, I'm not that impressed by the fruit though. As a matter of personal preference I eventually began replacing them with strawberries.
LIMITATIONS: Lingonberries are not intended for walking. They're not very effective at weed suppression. Varieties can vary in size, but it's probably more appropriate to think of them as short woody shrubs. Mine were never very fast to spread.
I would use arctic raspberries similarly to lingonberries. They can be fit in underneath taller edible plantings as way to maximize the food production of your space. Arctic raspberries are extremely cold hardy. They will spread through underground runners. A well established plot should even work at reducing weeds.
LIMITATIONS: Tuck these out of the way where they won't be trampled on. Mine had foliage damage from worms so they're not entirely "pest-free."
Other Weed Control Strategies:
Some types of ground covers or creeping perennials can do an amazing job at outcompeting and crowding out weeds. But they're not the only plants that can serve that purpose. Mounding or clumping perennials can get larger and will create more of a focal point in your landscape. Many of these plants will also choke weedy vegetation, cutting down on much of your weeding and even the need for mulch.
A well positioned hosta bed can become so dense that there's no open soil for weed seeds to take root. Large fern clusters can shade out young weed seedlings preventing them from getting established. A large patch of alliums, like chives or garlic chives, require very little maintenance
As appealing as it may seem to have a verdant jungle for a garden, stuffed to the seams with vegetation, we also need points of access. So how can we keep our walkways and patios free from weeds as well? Good use of patio blocks and stepping stones can do the trick. These hard surfaces won't allow any weeds to grow. That just leaves the cracks, which can pose their own challenges.
Selecting good hardscape materials will ensure you always have a path to walk on. And placing desirable ground covers in between, can make sure weeds don't get the opportunity to move in. Brick patios can be quite appealing until they start to get overgrown by grasses and weeds. I've been able to reclaim my area by putting down plastic and then applying smooth all purpose gravel on top. More than 10 years later the area remains pristine, completely weed free!