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What groundcovers are recommended for New England gardens?

{{gwi:2110307}}Image by: Rubby
Mazus reptans
This thread was posted by runktrun on the New England Gardening Forum, and has been added to the FAQ because of the valuable information contributed by many forum members. ======================================================================

Covering the Ground

Posted by runktrun z7a MA (My Page) on Tue, Sep 20, 11 at 18:03

I don't know if it is because of my hunch back, shy persona, or lack of coordination but I am one of those folks who at a comfortable daydreaming stride always have my head slightly hung with my eyes to the ground. If I am distracted and not really paying attention to my surroundings I would at a later date be far more able to describe what I saw on the ground than hanging from a wall or tree.
This is why I find it odd that I have for the most part shied away from groundcovers. In the two garden areas that I have used groundcovers I am head over heels with the effect and function (lack of weeding). I am presently in the process (I know bad timing) of reconstructing a couple of different areas and would love to get some groundcovers planted as well. My latest obsession is Asarum and I am wondering what your experiences have been with any type of Asarum or if you have any experience good or bad with ground covers that you might share.


Follow-Up Postings:

Posted by molie z6 CT (My Page) on Tue, Sep 20, 11 at 19:27

I was given some clumps of Asarum europeaeum two springs ago. I planted it in a shaded area along the chimney and it's thriving. It's a tough plant that does not require special care but it's slow growing so I consider it more of an accent plant in my garden.

One groundcover I have that really surprised me was Veronica Waterperry Blue. I bought a few small plants about five years ago and planted them in part sun area in front of a large rock. The blue flowers put on quite a show in the spring, covering the whole plant, and then bloomed sporadically in the summer. What I also like about this plant is the fact that the leaves change color in the cooler fall weather, kind of purple/red/green.

Last summer I moved some into two other areas. One cluster was put in a very sunny spot in my long garden. These have taken off as well and now creep over the stepping stones. The other clumps were put along the foundation at the front of our house, which gets just morning light and even less behind my Cornus Kousa 'Wolf Eyes.' The long and the short of it is that wherever I've put Waterperry, it has thrived.



Posted by nhbabs z4b-5a NH (My Page) on Tue, Sep 20, 11 at 21:02

I love the added texture and ease of care of a great groundcover. Like Molie, I find Asarum europeaeum to be a slow spreader, though it's lovely. Mine is in mostly shade. I haven't tried growing Asarum canadense which is the only other one that would be fully hardy here; the rest would be borderline at best. A. canadense has much less shiny, slightly larger leaves, but is also a charming plant that I have seen growing wild in the midwest. I do think that if I lived in a warmer zone, I would be growing some of the varieties that have variegated leaves; I think that they are stunning.

I have both Veronica Waterperry Blue and V. Georgia Blue and have found them to be good groundcovers as well, spreading, but not pushy. Cranberries make a great groundcover in ordinary garden soil and provide a shiny, fine texture along with the tiny pink early summer flowers and huge berries that last until spring. In my experience all of them are happy in full sun to about 2/3 shade.


Posted by mayalena 6 - MetroWest Boston (My Page) on Wed, Sep 21, 11 at 6:05

Hi Katy.
I am in a tiarella phase. I love the shape and color of the foliage and the wonderful early summerish bloom. I want masses of it everywhere. I have several cultivars. The ones with the prettiest red-streaked, cut foliage are clumpers, so maybe not really groundcovers. The plainer green ones, 'wherryi', spread by runners. There must be a combo of prettier foliage and spreading, but I haven't done the research.


Posted by diggingthedirt CapeCod Zone7ish (My Page) on Wed, Sep 21, 11 at 12:13

I have a half dozen varieties of asarum - some of the variegated ones are actually not asarum, but its close relatives - I've lost track of what's what. It takes a few years to get established but spreads nicely after that, at least here in zone 7. I find A. europeaeum popping up all over, not too far from the clumps I've planted. Marie has the mother of all A. europeaeum plants, with unusually big leaves. She gave me a clump a few years ago, and its leaves are definitely bigger than my other "straight" A. e. plants.

I have a lot of dianthus, and especially like the silver foliage of cottage pinks. The others (green-leaved varieties) tend to pop up in pavement, but for some reason this doesn't bother me much.

For sunny spots, I also love the compact thymes - I collect those and some do really nicely. The bigger ones tend to be obnoxious here - lots of self-sowing and climbing up the trunks of perennials nearby, so I'm trying to root them out everywhere except in the lawn.

I used to use a lot of tunica (which now has the unlovely moniker Petrorhagia saxifraga) but it isn't as reliable a self-seeder as I thought, and it seems to be hard to find. Lovely light, bright green, feathery foliage and tiny baby's breath flowers - no idea why it isn't more popular. Maybe it doesn't classify as a ground cover -it's more of a very short perennial, since it dies back in winter?

Posted by pixie_lou 5 (My Page) on Wed, Sep 21, 11 at 13:08

Not traditional ground covers, but I'm using a few varieties of mint as ground covers in some of my gardens. Peppermint and Lemon Balm in particular. They look nice, they smell nice, and as an added bonus, I harvest the leaves for tea.

In my front white garden, I planted a bunch of carpet of snow alyssum this year - with the hopes that it will self sow for next year. It has self sown in other (unwanted) places in my garden - so hopefully this year it will self sow in an area that I want it!

The only traditional ground cover I have is Vinca Minor.

Posted by carl18 z6 NJ (My Page) on Wed, Sep 21, 11 at 13:27

Does your obsession with Asarum suggest you are only looking for shade
groundcovers? I once admired a splendid bed of Asarum in someones'
garden, only to learn it had taken over a decade to look that way, which promptly discouraged me from replicating such a look in my own garden. For sheer ease of creating - and an excellent flush of Spring bloom - it's hard to beat Vinca minor. . .and I even have success with it in full sun. Gallium odoratum creates a wonderful carpet in several spots here, but sometimes can look "tatty" at the end of summer (like this year) and does not, of course, stay evergreen - but it certainly surges back in the Spring and spreads easily if the soil is amenable. Contrary to popular opinion, my bed of Aegopodium thriving under an old silver maple is a joy, easily rejuvenated in August with a quick mowing and it bounces back until frost; the flowers are beautiful and substantial, and it's infamous "running" habit is just something you have to be aware of and prevent. On one open slope in shade with occasional shrubs, I have found a bed of Euonymus has worked well, and it is easily pruned back at any time if it overruns it's space - NOT a good groundcover in which to sprinkle perrennials, which will not prevail. Tried Lamium many times, but with zero success; Lamiastrum, on the other hand, has taken off and created a lovely bed. While I very much like the look and bloom of Ajuga, it seems not to be happy
here, so only a small patch remains.

In the sun, my two happiest experiences have been with Iberis - those 
brilliant white mats in Spring are breathtaking, and most of the minor 
bulbs can be planted underneath it - and Sedum 'Angelina', startling chartreuse carpets that take on reddish tones over the winter.

Finally, these past two seasons I've helped a friend in Philadelphia create 
a full-blown bed, not just a border, of Liriope, mostly the green-leaved 
varieties, but with a few variegated plants randomly mixed in; for added 
contrast, there is one Carex "Bowles Golden", and several Hemerocallis 
"Happy Days". . .the effect is quite lush and handsome, especially with all 
the Liriope now in bloom, but the downside is having to cut EVERYTHING 
back in the Spring. . .just another gardening trade-off!



Posted by wendyb 5A/MA (My Page) on Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 0:11

My European ginger took a few years to get going and now it is filling in fast and has a nice effect. Its in full moist shade. It's nice, but doesn't get me going.

Galax urceolata has fizzled. I liked it better than Asarum, but it didn't like me as much.

Nearby is Mukdenia 'Crimson Fans'. It also took several years to get going, but worth the wait. There is another cultivar I recently read about whose name escapes me but it sounded interesting.

A nice evergreen groundcover is Paxistma Canbyi. Tiny cute dark foliage. Spreads at a reasonable pace. part-shade.

Ditto Veronica Waterperry.

Love love love Geranium macrorrhizum 'Variegata'.

Posted by Rubby none (My Page) on Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 9:06

I am a Mass. Certified Horticulturist and worked at a nursery in Southern Mass for many, many years. One of the key crops of the nursery was alpine groundcovers. "Steppables" was our main marketing tool.

A couple of my favorites were Ajuga "Chocolate Chip" (Dwarf Bugleweed), Gypsophila cerastoides (Crawling Baby's Breath, Isotoma fluviatilis (Blue Star Creeper), Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides (Variegated Pennywort) and we can't forget the beautiful blue flowers of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Blue Plumbago). I love good spreading tight foliage with the added bonus of long lasting beautiful flowers.


Posted by Rubby 6 (My Page) on Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 9:12

But I did forget the best of all. Mazus reptans "Purple". Just look at it.......


Posted by debra_boston Zone 5 - Boston (My Page) on Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 11:09

Lovely thread, Runktrun! Enjoying it immensely. Looked up a bunch of the plants mentioned and I can see that I will be purchasing (or asking for them at swaps) in the very near future.

I think, as I begin to see how physical limitations will severely curtail my gardening activities in the future, some of these plants will delight me in that I can count on them year after year with little to no maintenance. I especially love that they can be used, for the most part, with bulbs, so that when Spring finally arrives, as we agonizingly wait for it, we will be treated to a riot of color and aroma from these first blooms of the spring. Here in Zone 5 Massachusetts, at the end of winter, you are dying to see anything green, including grass! A ground cover which reliably blooms and surrounds bulbs would be a joy, as the only thing currently surrounding my spring bulbs is brown dead leaves, or last year's mulch! LOL

Rubby that photo of Mazus Reptans purple is gorgeous. You are an "enabler!" Thanks for posting.
Don't let me stop you. As the British say, Carry On!



Posted by Rubby 6 (My Page) on Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 16:15

Debra, the nursery I worked at was called Quansett Nurseries. Located in South Dartmouth, MA.

If you visit this link, ……… , it will take you to their grouncover page. (Note that I took all of the pictures during the many years I was there.

Quansett supplies many of the Garden Centers throughout New England. You could special request them through your garden center and they will order them from Quansett for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Quansett Nurseries Groundcovers

Posted by silvergirl426 (My Page) on Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 19:20

I too have common asarum European. I have it in clumps, all in different shade places, all divisions from a plant originally given as a gift from WFF. As everyone else has said, it does not spread fast, but the foliage is so rounded and rich -- my library has a huge clump more or less in the sun, so go figure.
I am loving the phlox subulata -- now that they have developed some more tepid, accomodating colors. I tuck it everywhere, as it blooms so early in spring when we are just dying for color and blooms. I shy away from that brilliant magenta -- I heard that patches of it can be identified from the satellites of Google Earth!


Posted by diggingthedirt CapeCod Zone7ish (My Page) on Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 19:37

Funny you should mention sedum, Carl - after I posted I was outside admiring a bed full of low varieties of this plant. No idea what varieties I've got, but it's a very adaptable plant - the area where I have the low growing ones doesn't get much sun at all. The bed is at the base of a stone wall, and is a bit of a hodge-podge, but all sedum; no weeding needed!

I also like variegated Liriope - it's especially nice planted near Bergenia (love the common name, which is pigsqueak) because of the contrast between the foliage of the two (pigsqueak has fat, slightly fleshy, rounded, reddish leaves, and the Liriope is at the other extreme for texture, shape,, and color).

Lucia - I haven't planted Phlox subulata for the reason you mentioned. In my part of the state, there are a lot of people who have big patches of this plant, and nothing else (besides lawn) in their yards. In some neighborhoods, at a certain time of year, it's positively blinding. It hadn't occurred to me that it could also be available in less glaring colors - maybe I'll give it a try.


Posted by ginny12 z5 MA (My Page) on Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 19:40

Groundcovers are wonderful but as always, it's the principle of right plant, right place. I tried and failed with European ginger for many years--soil was too moisture-retentive and chilly in winter. And those "steppables", a commercial term, are great in hot sunny areas but most do not do well elsewhere.

As with most things in gardening, we need to study our growing conditions before falling in love with a plant. Like others here, I am looking towards lower maintenance so groundcovers have a renewed appeal for me. I have a spread of silver-leaf pachysandra that is truly striking (and slow-growing) and zero care except for pulling out the occasional all-green leaf.

Posted by wendyb 5A/MA (My Page) on Fri, Sep 23, 11 at 8:02

Ginny, do you mean the native pachysandra procumbens? I have that too and I love it. It is barely semi-evergreen here. THis year I didn't bother cutting back the old declining foliage and it was unattractive for a short bit, but I got over it while the new filled in. The spring blooms are very delicate.

That's interesting about Euro Ginger and moisture. Mine is in a very moist area and does nicely

Posted by leslie6ri (My Page) on Fri, Sep 23, 11 at 11:04

I agree with the recommendations for the creeping Veronicas. I have 'Georgia Blue' and 'Waterperry Blue', and will try 'Blue Reflection' next Spring. Both Georgia and Waterperry look good even when not it bloom.

So far, I'm happy with Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'.

I also like some Lamium for a shady spot. They can be aggressive, I guess, but do brighten up a dark corner and will grow in difficult sites. I bought one called 'Anne Greenway' from Home Depot that looked great, --much better than it does it photos. I killed it, sigh. Hard to believe, but I did. (I really want to blame Home Depot, but...)

And Gautheria procumbens is a nice native. It needs acidic soil, but I've got two that are doing well. Little white bell flowers and red fruit. Not showy, but it is a New Englander.

I have some Phlox stolonifera --'Bruce's White' and 'Sherwood Purple' that may be nice. They were lost in deep shade and I finally got around to moving them. They may be lovely, but I won't really know until next year...

Great thread. Lots to consider for my garden. Asarum, Tiarella, creeping thymes, Dianthus (fragrant ones!)... I have no idea about tunica; will look it up. Blue plumbago! Love those blue flowers. Mazus reptans (beautiful photo!).

Posted by Rubby 6 (My Page) on Fri, Sep 23, 11 at 16:01

I try my best to stay away from Home Depot. Although they have color and their prices are cheap, all they do is strangle the "true" garden centers and the people that actually care about your garden.

It's a dying breed and Home Depot is kicking them while they are down.....

Posted by ginny12 z5 MA (My Page) on Fri, Sep 23, 11 at 18:16

The silver-edge pachysandra is the evergreen Japanese Pachysandra terminalis, Wendy. Beautiful year round. This cultivar has a white edge--very striking with variegated hostas, Japanese Solomon's seal etc. Very slow-growing compared to the all-green variety.

Must say I love "regular" pachysandra too, especially in large curving swathes. I know a lot of people turn their noses up at it and I don't know why. Especially in an area full of tree roots, it's a wonderful textural effect and horticultural solution.


Posted by molie z6 CT (My Page) on Fri, Sep 23, 11 at 22:33

Thanks all! I've been writing down many plants to remind myself next spring.

Mazus reptans was always one of my mother's favorites that I had forgotten to include the last few years. Your photo is a great reminder, Rubby! You also mentioned Isotoma 'Blue Star Creeper.' I planted that this summer and it's really taken off and is still filling out with tiny blue flowers. And yes, Iberis is such a warm strinking white in the spring!

I was encouraged to read about Gautheria procubens, a plant my husband has always admired. I should find a spot for that and then be patient, it seems.

No one mentioned Houttuynia. I've always thought the colors and form striking but have been afraid to plant it because I've heard it goes wild. Is that true?

This spring I moved my variegated Lirope into more sun and they are fantastic. I've never had so many tall blooms as this year.

At a local garden center (I also prefer those to the big box stores though I certainly have bought things at Home Depot, etc.) I did find a very strange, tiny little creeper called Leptinella 'Platt's Black.' You hardly notice it at first because the leaves are brown like the dirt but with a bright green at the tips. It spreads along and forms a dense mat, like a moss crossed with a fern, and has crept between the stones leading to the garden shed.



Posted by runktrun z7a MA (My Page) on Sat, Sep 24, 11 at 9:44

I was so excited by the responses yesterday regardless of a good steady rainfall I ran off to one nursery and picked up Veronica prostrate 'Aztec Gold' and Veronica spicata 'Blue Carpet'. The tag describes V 'Aztec Gold' as A Terra Nova introduction, displaying sunproof brilliant gold foliage that spreads into congested mats. Coupled with Bavarian blue flowers in late spring. It makes a masterful combination.
I am back out today on the prowl for ground covers so I quickly made a list of suggested plants to bring along with me. If I missed adding any suggested plants to the list it was unintentional so please feel free to make any corrections. Thanks kt

1. Veronica Waterperry Blue, Georgia Blue and Blue Reflection 
2. Asarum europeaum 
3. Asarum canadense 
4. Veronica Georgia Blue 
5. Cranberries 
6. Tiarella 
7. Variegated Asarums 
8. Dianthus � cottage pinks 
9. Thyme 
10. Tunica (Petrorhagia saxifrage) 
11. Vinca minor 
12. Gallium odoratum 
13. Aegopodium 
14. Lamiastrum 
15. Lamium 
16. Iberis 
17. Sedum 'Angelina' 
18. Liriope 
19. Galax urceolata 
20. Mukdenia 'Crimson Fans' 
21. Paxistma Canbyi 
22. Geranium macrorrhizum 'Variegata' 
23. Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip' 
24. Gypsophila cerastoides 
25. Isotoma fluviatilis 
26. Hydrocotyle sibthorpiodes 
27. Ceratostigma plumbaginoides 
28. Mazus reptans �Purple� 
29. Carpet of snow alyssum 
30. phlox subulata 
31. Bergenia (love the common name, which is pigsqueak) 
32. Lamium'Anne Greenway' 
33. Gautheria procumbens 
34. Pachysandra terminalis 
35. "regular" pachysandra 
36. Leptinella 'Platt's Black.'

Posted by wendyb 5A/MA (My Page) on Sat, Sep 24, 11 at 10:18

Good luck with V. 'Aztec Gold'. I hope its improved over my V. 'Goldwell'. I'm still waiting for the spreading mat or any blooms. I've tried 2 locations.

That's a good list to carry around. Thanks for publishing that. I wish we could rate them 1-5 and show an aggregate User Rating and then sort by User Rating. Hmmm, that would be a good exercise for my website development training.

Could also use a column for sun/shade/pt-sh too.

Posted by molie z6 CT (My Page) on Sat, Sep 24, 11 at 18:36

I copied and saved the list and was going to add my own notes next to the names. Wendy, you have a great idea about rating the plants as to opinions, sun vs. shade, flowers and growth habits or even the zones in which they are grown. Website development is way beyond me!

I also thought of one new groundcover I forgot to add to my list. It's Thymus 'Highland Cream' which has cream-edged foliage. It flowers pink, stays low, and grows slowly. I have it between paving stones.



Posted by diggerdee z6 CT (My Page) on Sun, Sep 25, 11 at 20:24

I love groundcovers! I think I have tried almost every one I have ever come across, lol. That's quite a list there - everything from ground-creepers to taller ones. I have not, however, tried asarum because it is rather pricey and spreads so slowly.

I've tried lamium and just have no luck with it. Love it, but it sadly does not love me. I also killed off Anne Greenaway... three times. The one that held on the longest was White Nancy, which looked wonderful in spring under blue hostas, but it is fading fast.

I even killed off ajugas, except for a plain ol' variety I got at a swap. I love it in the hosta bed its in, and keep an eye on it when it wants to escape.

Speaking of escaping, I am also loving Golden Creeping Jenny. I have it in a small (about 4' x 2') bed surrounded by a sidewalk, a brick patio, and a driveway. Figured it was safe to try there!

I also have the Georgia Blue Veronica. I got some at a swap and wasn't aware it was a groundcover. But it is lovely in spring, and spreads nicely without being overly aggressive. I am planning on moving it out of its bed and putting it in place of the blue creeping phlox that I've supplemented for ten years and am finally giving up on.

Did I mention I tried phlox?... maybe I should get a few tips from the folks at the local Wendy's. They have an amazingly beautiful swath of it.

Sedums - wonderful! I've got kamschaticum planted on a slope, put there by mistake when I thought I was buying and adding to my Westeinphaler (sp??) Gold. So I have half WG and half kam. I like both, and will just separate and add to each. Wonderful foliage, takes abuse, needs no care, nice carpet, pretty flowers, nice winter interest. What more can you ask for?

I also love chrysogonum. I have Pierre, which really forms a nice mat with cheerful yellow flowers in spring.

Tried gaultheria procumbens several times and just can't get it to grow - too expensive to keep trying.

Also a big fan of sweet woodruff, iberis, and yes, pachysandra. I don't know why so many people dismiss pachysandra. It really does have a beautiful leaf, is so low maintenance and easy, grows in lots of situations, and stays evergreen. What's not to like? I guess it's dismissed because its so common, but I have to put in a vote for it.

There are one or two on that list I have not tried... yet...



Posted by nhbabs z4b-5a NH (My Page) on Sun, Sep 25, 11 at 21:22

I hate to tell you, Katy, but most Veronicas that I have grown are messy plants, ranging from pretty to stunning when in bloom and a liability when not. Veronica prostrata and Veronica spicata are both species I have grown and though I still have one of them (can't remember which off the top of my head) I am considering shovel pruning it. The gorgeous blue for 2 weeks doesn't make up for the tangled sprawl the rest of the year.

V. peduncularis includes both Waterperry Blue and Georgia Blue, and I like this species. As mentioned above, it looks nice even when not in bloom. It coexists well with others while spreading well and has very nice flowers that cover the plant in midspring. The texture is much less coarse than any other Veronica I have grown.

Astilbe chinensis pumila is a great ground cover for shade since it grows densely enough that there is no problem with weeds invading, but it only spreads slowly. It has typical astilbe leaves, but a bit smaller with quite short stems. Mine is about 4 inches tall except when it blooms (August & September) with slightly mauvy pink blooms. I have it in a bed with hosta and it fills in where the hostas don't completely block out light.

One more groundcover for shade that I love is a native, partridge berry, Mitchella repens. It has tiny round dark green leaves with whitish veins, white flowers in spring, and bright red berries that are larger than the leaves and frequently last all winter. It likes shade and spreads, but is never obnoxious; very neat and totally ground-hugging.

Wendy - if you can put a groundcover survey on the web, that would be great! I'd fill out my views of the ones that I have grown. You might want to add a column for hardiness since there are several of these that I probably can't grow. Having a good combination of opinions would be such a great source of available info.

Posted by molie z6 CT (My Page) on Mon, Sep 26, 11 at 18:33

I second the suggestion to put my views of groundcovers on the web especially as they relate to hardiness.

Posted by claire z6b Coastal MA (My Page) on Tue, Sep 27, 11 at 17:30

All sorts of wonderful groundcovers mentioned here. I'd just like to put in a plug for the various ornamental strawberries and the native Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). Pretty little flowers and even some fruit if the critters don't get there first. A very informal groundcover that spreads happily but is easily controlled.




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