Ground covering plants generally include low-growing perennials and mat-forming vines that spread rapidly to cover areas of soil. Gardeners frequently use ground covers to add beauty or interest to the landscape, prevent soil erosion and reduce heat. If you are interested in using ground covers, select plants according to intended use, mature size, appropriate hardiness zone, general culture and potential problems.
Pigsqueak (Bergenia cordifolia), a perennial in the Saxifragaceae family, forms clumps that range from 12 to 18 inches in both height and spread. This plant is also called heart-leaved bergenia because it bears large rosettes of heart-shaped, green leaves that turn purple to bronze in the winter. Indigenous to Russia, the pigsqueak works well in USDA Zones 3 to 8. Panicles of tiny, dark pink flowers bloom in April and May. The pigsqueak plant tolerates various soils, but prefers humusy, moist soils in partly to fully shady locations. This hardy plant has few disease or pest problems. Gardeners often use pigsqueak as a ground cover in rock gardens, borders, shade gardens and woodland margins.
The ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) naturally occurs in South Africa and typically does well in USDA Zones 6 to 10. This Aizoaceae family member ranges from 3 to 6 inches in height and 1 to 2 feet in width. These drought-tolerant perennials require well-drained, dry soils in fully sunny locations. Vibrant red to purple flowers appear from June through September. The ice plant also bears succulent, green leaves covered with little, translucent flakes that look like tiny ice chips. Mealybugs and aphids occasionally feed on the foliage. Ice plant works well as ground covers for sunny borders, rock gardens and desert gardens.
The wintergreen plant (Gaultheria procumbens), a member of the heath family (Ericaceae), ranges from 3 to 6 inches in height and 6 to 12 inches in width. This broadleaf evergreen likes rich, acidic soils in partial to full shade positions. Established wintergreen plants tolerate dry soil conditions. Native to eastern North America, this plant performs well in USDA Zones 3 to 8. Wintergreen plants prefer areas with cooler climates. White, waxy flowers appear in June and July, followed by edible, red fruit. This perennial also bears scented, deep green leaves that take on purple tones in the autumn. Wintergreen plants sometimes suffer from leaf spot, mildews and aphid infestation. Gardeners often use wintergreen ground covers in rock gardens, foundation plantings and woodland gardens.
The creeping mahonia (Mahonia repens), sometimes called the creeping hollygrape, typically performs well in USDA Zones 5 to 8. This low-growing shrub ranges from 9 to 12 inches in height with spreads reaching up to 18 inches. Dark yellow flowers bloom in April, giving way to tiny clusters of edible, blue to purple berries that ripen in the summer. The creeping mahonia also bears blue-green leaves that turn purple shades in the winter. This Berberidaceae plant family member prefers humusy, moist soils that receive plenty of sun. It sometimes suffers from chlorosis in alkaline soils. Gardeners often use the creeping mahonia as ground covers in sunny garden areas.