Myrtle (Vinca minor), pachysandra, ivy (Hedera spp.) and mat-forming junipers are fine ground covers, but they're not the only ones. If you're looking for alternatives that are fast-spreading or you want a mixture of low-growing plants to fill a space, choices abound. From erosion control to the rock garden, non-traditional ground covers can fill the bill. Observe the light exposure where you want coverage and amend the soil if necessary to suit the plants you choose.
Shade Ground Covers
Joe Keyser writing for the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection suggests using native plants for bio-diversity for shady spots where no lawn will grow. He suggests wild ginger (Asarum canadense) with its heart-shaped green leaves and small brownish flowers in spring. The low-growing barren strawberry (Waldsteinia ternata) is recommended by Cornell University Extension. It has long-blooming yellow flowers. An evergreen for sun to part-shade situations is the Russian arborvitae (Microbiota decussata).
Shade Ground Cover for Erosion Control
According to the University of Minnesota Extension, yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galobdolon) is a fast grower with yellow flowers. It can be invasive but is great for tough areas. The orange roadside daylily is not a ground-hugging plant, but it does take some shade and spreads fast. Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) is a native woody plant with fern-like foliage that spreads by underground roots.
Moss is becoming a legitimate ground cover. Joe Keyser suggests using moss for a Japanese effect. Mix moss with buttermilk and spray where you want it to grow The location should be in shade and the soil should have a lot of humus. Moss Acres is a moss nursery in Pennsylvania dedicated to moss gardening. To cover a large area, the nursery recommends a "moss sauce" that has mosses, water and acidifiers. Misting is crucial to moss, especially a new planting.
Ground Covers for Sun
Ground phlox (Phlox subulata) is a spring-blooming evergreen ground cover that comes in vibrant colors and will steadily spread, each plant growing about 2 feet wide. A sunny location is best. Sedums are perfect for rock gardens and are available in many textures and a variety of foliage and flower colors. Dianthus 'Firewitch' has blue foliage and fragrant pink flowers in spring, with some re-bloom possible.
Sunny Ground Cover for Erosion Control
The University of Minnesota Extension recommends using grasses for erosion control in sunny areas. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a native grass that naturalizes. Low-growing thyme (Thymus spp.) can cover a slope and interweave itself through existing grass and replace it with fragrance. It has pink flowers in summer and requires sun and well-drained soil. Try low-growing cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) for its yellow flowers and spreading habit.