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The Best Ground Cover for All Soil Types

By Cindy Quarters
Ground cover can add interest and color to a site. Ground cover can add interest and color to a site.

Ground-cover plants are generally short and spread to fill an area, often reducing the amount of maintenance required in the site. As with other plants, ground covers often do best in specific soil types. Choose ground covers for your yard with consideration as to whether they grow best in sandy soil, loamy soil or clay soil.

Sandy Soil

Sandy soil typically lacks nutrients, making it tough for plants to find enough nourishment to survive. It also drains rapidly, drying out quickly. Ground cover planted in sandy soil needs to be able to tolerate those conditions.

Common Bearberry

A woody evergreen that grows well in rocky or sandy soil, the 'Massachusetts' variety of the common bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi '_Massachusetts')_ doesn’t get over 12 inches in height, but it spreads as much as 6 feet. Over time, the plant creates a thick mat of tiny, glossy leaves that turn from green to purplish when winter arrives. It puts out small, bell-shaped, pink leaves in spring. In some climates, it produces bright-red berries that persist through winter. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 6.

Barren Strawberry

The barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) is a low-growing ground cover that is very tolerant of sandy, dry soils. It reaches less than a foot tall and sprouts stalks with small yellow flowers each spring. Its fruits resemble strawberries but are inedible. (REF 3) This plant is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7.

Moss Rose

The moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora) is an annual ground cover that grows up to 3/4 of a foot tall. It has blooms from June until frost hits. Flowers may be yellow, rose, red, white or orange. Moss rose is very tolerant of poor conditions and dry soil.

Loamy Soil

Loamy soil holds nutrients well and generally provides a rich environment. It drains well. So plants don’t get soggy, but it doesn’t drain as fast as sandy soil so doesn’t dry out as quickly. Many types of ground covers thrive in loamy soil.

Bugleweed

'Burgandy Glow' Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow') grows no more than 2 to 3 inches tall with different colors of foliage depending on its variety. This plant prefers well-drained soil that is rich and loamy. It puts out tiny, blue flowers early in spring. It is generally hardy in USDA zones 4 through 10, though some varieties may differ slightly from that.

Coralbells

Coralbells (Heuchera sanguinea) need well-drained, loamy soil that is rich in organic matter. This ground-cover plant blooms almost all summer, putting forth 1-foot-tall stalks that have clusters of colorful flowers. It requires irrigation during dry periods. The plant tends to grow in clumps, and the bell-shaped flowers stand above the leaves. (REF 2) It is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.

Creeping Zinnia

The creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens) is an annual that produces an abundance of bright yellow flowers from June until the first frost. This plant typically grows from 1/4 to 1/2 foot in height and requires very little maintenance. It does best in average soil and full sun.

Clay Soil

Clay consists of small particles that can easily become compacted. It doesn’t drain well. This means that it is often soggy, plus air cannot readily reach plants' root zones in clay soil, causing many plants to die. Ground cover planted in clay soil must be able to withstand the frequently damp environment.

Creeping Sage

Creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis) is very tolerant of clay soil but may die if exposed to the sun on hot days for any length of time. It is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10. Creeping sage spreads across the ground and can end up growing up to 10 feet across. It The leaves of the plant get no more than about 1 inch above ground, but the blue-violet flowers that arrive in late spring and early summer stand up to 6 inches tall.

Shrubby Cinquefoil

The shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa), also known as bush cinquefoil, is very tolerant of many kinds of soils and can grow in compacted clay, wet and other soils. It can reach up to 4 feet in height and produces small yellow, white or pink flowers each spring. Pruning is needed over time to remove dead branches and preserve the plant’s appearance. (REF 3) It is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 7.