Gardeners who use stepping stones or who have a lot of space to fill often employ ground covers, spreading plants that stay low to the ground and form a dense mat of greenery. Gardeners have many choices when it comes to ground cover, from flowering plants to evergreen conifer plants that can thrive in a range of conditions. Ground covers often grow where no other plants will, and they can add beauty as well as hide troublesome areas.
Russian Arborvitae (Microbiota decussata) is a spreading evergreen shrub native to Siberia. Frequently utilized as a ground cover in Europe, Russian Arborvitae rarely gets above 2 feet tall, though it will spread outwards as far as you will let it. It has flat sprays of sharp, scale-like needles that turn reddish-purple in cold weather. Tremendously cold hardy, the plant does well in partial shade, though it will also tolerate full sunlight. Russian Arborvitae isn't particular about soil, though it should be grown in moist, well-drained areas. It thrives in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 to 7.
Native to Eastern Europe, Aaron's Beard (Hypericum calycinum), also called Creeping St. John's Wort, is a semi-evergreen plant commonly used as a ground cover for inhospitable areas. In summer, Aaron's Beard erupts with brilliant yellow flowers that continue on into fall. The spreading plant, which can reach 1 foot tall, grows in a range of conditions from full sunlight to almost complete shade. Grow Aaron's Beard in well-drained, sandy soil. It grows in USDA zones 5 to 7, preferring cooler and wetter areas, although it often can survive the heat down to zone 9.
Growing between 6 and 12 inches off the ground, China Pink (Dianthus chinensis 'First Love') is a dense ground cover notable both for its deep blue-green foliage and its fragrant pink flowers, which can be plucked for bouquets. The plant grows in a range of well-drained soils, from alkaline to neutral. China Pink will tolerate full sunlight or partial shade, and the plant will grow in moist or dry soil. It thrives in USDA zones 5 to 8a.