13 Low-Maintenance Ground Cover Plants
Ground covers can serve a variety of purposes in landscape design ranging from adding color and texture to helping control weed growth and erosion. Ground cover plants can be added around stepping stones in walkways, bordering an artificial grass lawn, on slopes that are difficult to access or maintain, and in borders and flowerbeds to cover bare soil.
To get the most out of your ground cover plants, consider low-maintenance options that will provide the benefits of a ground cover without requiring hours of maintenance every month. This is will allow you to spend less time maintaining your outdoor living areas and more time enjoying them. Of course, you will experience this the most if you choose non-living ground covers, such as wood chips, bark, mulch, gravel, or artificial grass, but if you want a living ground cover, there are many low-maintenance options that might work for you.
To help you find the options that are best for you, here are 13 low-maintenance ground cover plants to consider.
Best in: full sun (part shade is okay but will result in fewer blossoms)
Lantana is ubiquitous in Southern California yards and may be the most popular, all-around ground cover plant in this area. It is drought-tolerant once established, it spreads quickly, attracts pollinators, requires very little care, and is a great way to add color to flowerbeds and borders. On top of all of this, it is a perennial that you only need to plant once to enjoy for years to come.
Lantana is easy to find online or at a local home improvement store or garden center. While you can start lantana from seeds, it is easier to purchase small plants at a local nursery and transplant them into your garden for faster results. When shopping for lantana, there are two main considerations: color and cultivar choice.
Flower color options include blue, pink, purple, white, red, orange, and yellow. This is an important consideration for making sure your new ground cover complements the rest of your landscaping. However, first you need to make sure you are actually buying a ground cover. Lantana comes in both ground cover cultivars and shrub cultivars, so you will need to make sure you purchase a variety that is a ground cover and will grow low to the ground.
One downside to keep in mind is that lantana is toxic to dogs, cats, and livestock.
2. Creeping Thyme
Best in: full sun, will tolerate part shade
Creeping thyme is an evergreen, aromatic, low-growing, low-water ground cover that can withstand traffic and spreads easily. This is not the kind of thyme you are going to use for culinary purposes, but it does have some other great benefits, such as releasing a natural mosquito repellent when walked on and crowding out weeds. It also tolerates poor soils, can be grown in coastal areas, repels deer, and attracts butterflies and bees. Plus, you get to enjoy pink, white, or purple blooms during the summer.
Creeping thyme is such a good grower and is so tough in traffic areas that you can plant it around stepping stones, in turfstones, bordering walkways, or as a water-saving, low-maintenance replacement for a natural grass lawn. This allows you to enjoy the look of a living ground cover without the water requirements of grass or other living options.
Creeping thyme is also a good choice for a water-saving ground cover nestled in the crevices of rock gardens.
3. Creeping Rosemary
Best in: full sun
Creeping rosemary is another option that is good to grow in rock gardens, at the top of walls to allow it to cascade over them, or as a fragrant, fast-growing ground cover. Creeping rosemary, also called prostrate rosemary, is an evergreen that grows to six to twelve inches tall. The summer blooms that stay through early fall add beautiful, purple hues to your landscaping, while foliage provides color and texture throughout the year.
This is a low-water, low-maintenance option that attracts pollinators, crowds out weeds, and spreads easily. It is drought-tolerant once established and generally needs very little care, aside from maybe having to cut it back if it becomes invasive.
An added bonus of choosing creeping rosemary is that it is an herb that can be used for culinary purposes as well. If you intend to cook with it, make sure you choose your sprigs from areas that are not used as pet restrooms and that are away from driving and parking areas.
4. Creeping Jenny
Best in: full sun to part shade
Creeping Jenny is a low-maintenance ground cover only if you have a drip system, so keep that in mind when considering this one. This one does not like dry soil, so you need to keep it moist at all times. If you have a drip system, this can work in a low-water, low-maintenance yard, but it is not a low-maintenance choice otherwise.
Those who choose to add creeping Jenny to their yards enjoy chartreuse foliage with yellow blooms that quickly covers bare soil or trails over rocks and walls. Creeping Jenny is also not appealing to deer, so this is another good one to choose for a deer-resistant garden design.
5. Cape Weed
Best in: full sun
Anything with weed in the name is probably going to be pretty low maintenance, since weeds tend to be invasive and grow well with absolutely no positive attention. But if you are looking for something that is going to grow quickly, spread easily, and require little care, an attractive weed is a great choice. Cape weed is in the sunflower family and has tiny flowers that look like daisies, so visual appeal is not a problem with this one.
Cape weed is not native to Southern California, but it has naturalized here and is drought tolerant. It also attracts pollinators and can help crowd out undesirable weeds. Cape weed is inexpensive and is a perennial, which means you can do one affordable planting, and then enjoy it for years to come.
The downsides to cape weed are that it can be invasive and it is toxic to horses, cattle, and other livestock. This means you will want to keep it away from natural grass lawns, pastures, and corrals.
6. Ice Plant
Best in: full sun
Ice plant is a low-water, low-maintenance, drought-resistant succulent that does well near the coast and in inland areas. It generally has blossoms in summer and fall, and the blooms are most commonly pink, yellow, purple, or white. It can thrive in poor soil and is a good choice as an easy ground cover for hillsides and slopes.
An added benefit of choosing succulents is that you can easily take cuttings and plant them to help your ice plant spread faster.
It may be toxic to some livestock, so be mindful when planting it near pastures or corrals.
Best in: full sun or part sun (some varieties tolerate part shade)
There are many varieties of stonecrop, such as sedum ternatum and sedum spurium. Stonecrops are evergreen perennials that spread easily and are drought tolerant once established. Some flower for part of the year, and some change colors depending on the season. Like other succulents, you can help your stonecrop cover more ground faster by taking cuttings and planting them.
As the name indicates, stonecrop does well in rocky soil, so if you have had difficulty getting other low-maintenance ground covers to thrive in a rocky area in your yard, you might want to give stonecrop a try. You may also want to consider stonecrop if you are looking for ground cover plants that thrive near the coast or are that a good fit for deer- or rabbit-resistant gardens.
8. Creeping Phlox
Best in: full sun
Creeping phlox is a good ground cover choice for hillsides, slopes, retaining walls, rock gardens, or bordering walkways. This is a good-looking ground cover that really shines when it adds beautiful colors to your outdoor living areas with its spring blooms.
Creeping phlox prefers well-draining soil, but it will tolerate the clay soil that is so common in Southern California. It is drought-tolerant once established but will need some extra water during extended periods of drought. Aside from this, creeping phlox requires little care to thrive.
9. Crested Iris
Best in: part sun, part shade to full shade
Most of the options on this list require full sun or part sun, so it is worth including crested iris if only for the fact that it is perfect for those shady spots in your yard that you are having a difficult time landscaping. It is also drought-tolerant once established and requires little care to thrive. It can do well in rock gardens and offers a different look than most of the options on this list due to its longer stems that are host to purple flowers in spring.
Crested irises spread well and are a good choice for folks who need plants that deer and rabbits won’t eat. They do, however, attract butterflies and bees, so other plants nearby that need pollinators will benefit from having crested irises in your garden.
10. Lamb’s Ear
Best in: full sun, part sun, part shade
Lamb’s ear is an evergreen perennial with soft, attractive leaves that are a silvery green hue. In spring and summer, you will also get to enjoy spikes with purple or pink flowers. As long as they are planted in well-draining soil in a spot that gets full sun to part shade, they will require little care to thrive. As with most plants, you will need to water them regularly until established, after which they are drought tolerant but will need a little extra water in extended dry periods.
Lamb’s ear self-seeds, so you can rely on this for it to spread to cover more ground. If this method of spreading is not working fast enough, you can also propagate them by dividing and transplanting the plants in spring or fall.
As an added benefit, lamb’s ear has a variety of folk medicine uses that may be of interest to those interested in home remedies.
11. Japanese Spurge
Best in: part shade to full shade
Japanese spurge is another one of those options that is so low maintenance because it is basically an invasive weed. This means that if you have a large area away from desirable plants that you would like to fill quickly with a living ground cover, Japanese spurge might be your plant. If not, you might be better off with a different option on this list.
Japanese spurge is an evergreen perennial that spreads quickly to form a dense mat that produces white flowers in summer. It is drought-resistant, tolerant of poor soil, and a good choice for deer-resistant landscaping.
It is worth including here because it does well in full shade and part shade and requires essentially no care to thrive, but it should be noted that this one should be used with care and should only be used in areas where it will not harm native plants or trees.
Best in: part shade or full shade (will tolerate full sun if it is not too hot)
Before we say anything about the virtues of periwinkle, it is important to point out that households with pets should not plant this anywhere that animals could possibly access. Periwinkle is toxic to both cats and dogs and is particularly deadly for dogs.
If you do not have pets in your household and are looking for a fast-growing, low-maintenance ground cover, then periwinkle is one you could consider. It is considered invasive in some areas, so that is good evidence that you can count on this evergreen perennial to fill large spaces quickly. It is particularly good for helping to control erosion on slopes and is good for gardens designed to deter deer and rabbits.
You will get white, blue, or purple blooms in spring, summer, and fall, and will enjoy the green foliage throughout the year.
13. Creeping Juniper
Best in: full sun
Creeping juniper is an evergreen conifer that spreads to form a dense mat. It provides attractive colors and texture throughout the year and is good both on flat ground and used to help control erosion on slopes. It is drought tolerant, requires very little care, and gives off a nice fragrance that you and your guests will enjoy.
Since creeping juniper is drought tolerant and thrives in hot, dry climates, it is a good choice in areas where you have had trouble getting other ground covers to grow. This might include areas that are not reached by your irrigation system or parts of your yard that tend to be particularly hot and dry.