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Native Plant Garden 10 Years In: Lessons Learned Growing Eleven Ground Covers

Finding just the right spot for each.

native groundcover woodland stone crop sedum ternatum blooming closeup
Woodland Stonecrop in Spring

In ten years with our garden, I have planted many a native ground cover and they are all good! The trick is finding the right ground cover for the right place. The native sedge so often recommended for dry shade turned out not to be so right for the heavily trafficked area between the sidewalk and the street. That sedge in shade with no foot traffic? Perfect. Golden groundsel planted among perennials in a bed with average moisture and other perennials? It took over. Planted in that tree lawn with heavy foot traffic? A great fit. It just might take a bit of trial and error. Sharing my trials and errors in case it helps inform your trials!

native ground cover pachysandra procumbens in spring
Allegheny Spurge in Spring

Allegheny Spurge

Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) is one of those native plants with all the attributes of the common ornamental. Both create a dense mat, crowding out weeds. Both bloom with small spiky white flowers in spring. Both thrive in part and full shade. One of the big plusses of native pachysandra is the foliage through the year. It morphs from brownish green to silver to green and has amazing variegation in the leaves.

Lesson Learned: It's a classic. A tree overhead lost a large limb and opened up a two hour period of sun in the afternoon. During drier periods, the pachysandra flopped. While the pachysandra recovered each evening, over time it might succumb so shade is key!

several native blue wood sedge in summer in a native plant garden
Blue Wood Sedge

Blue Wood Sedge

Blue wood sedge (Carex flaccosperma) is a low growing clumping carex. It grows in shade, part shade and sun in a variety of soils. In our garden, these are evergreen adding color in the coldest months.

Lesson learned: This is a strong choice if you want a versatile carex that will spread. New clumps will form near the original plant after a couple of years. The plants are shallow rooted and easy to dig up and spread around. It can also be divided as you would a perennial.

native Christmas fern in summer
Christmas Fern

Christmas Fern

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is a two to three foot high semi-evergreen fern. It is often touted as both a great ground cover and a good plant for dry shade. Both are true in my experience. It can be challenging though to cover a lot of ground due to the cost and number of plants needed.

Lesson learned: To get the most mileage out of my Christmas ferns, I relocated them to moist shade. These ferns seem more robust the more moisture they have. The more robust they grow -- the less ferns needed.

native dwarf crested iris in bloom
Dwarf Crested Iris

Dwarf Crested Iris

Short dwarf crested iris grows in shade and part shade in medium to moist soils and blooms well in both. It is short, reaching just 6" in height. It grows by rhizomes and spreads nicely once established. It blooms in mid-spring.

Lesson learned: It's a ground cover! At first, I wasn't sure where to plant such a short iris but if you think of it as a ground cover it's easy to find places. It also works well on a slope.

native golden groundsel and Virginia bluebells in bloom in spring in urban garden
Golden Groundsel and Virginia Bluebells

Golden Groundsel

Golden groundsel, sometimes called golden ragwort, (Packera aurea) is a very easy to grow, early blooming native perennial.  It grows in shade, part shade and partly sunny locations and tolerates dry, medium or wet soils. The basal foliage is about 6 inches high and when it flowers in spring, the stalks are about 2 feet high. Those rosettes make a great ground cover year round.

Lesson learned: In more moist areas, golden groundsel establishes quickly and spreads readily by both seeds and clumping. If a spreading carpet is not your goal, you can plant golden groundsel in drier areas and cut off the flower heads after the petals begin to fade to limit its spread. Excellent for the tree lawn between our sidewalk and street and also for slopes!

native ground cover green and gold in bloom
Green and Gold

Green and Gold

Green and gold  (Chrysogonum virgnianum) is a semi-evergreen short ground cover that grows in shade to part sun in average to moist soils. It quickly forms a carpet, blooms with a flush of yellow flowers in spring and blooms sporadically through the rest of summer.

Lesson learned: A couple of years back, I said green and gold "looks fragile but it is not. Ours gets occasional foot traffic and seems none the worse for wear." Well, during the recent very dry summer it almost completely faded away. It was also getting more sun than in previous years. I don't know whether it was affected by the drought, the additional sun or both. Either way, shade seems best.

native ground cover for sun pussytoes


Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) is a very low growing, silver colored ground cover for sunny, dry conditions. I planted plugs in compacted clay fill in a sunny, very dry location and two years in, it created a carpet.

Lesson learned: This ground cover needs sun, As the shrubs in the vicinity grew and created shade, the pussytoes began to slowly wither away.

native seersucker sedge as ground cover
Seersucker Sedge

Seersucker Sedge

Seersucker sedge (Carex plantaginea) is evergreen in our garden and spreads once established. It grows in full and part shade in average mositure soils. Once it gets established the clumps grow and spread. The wider leaves give it a strong stature for a sedge too!

Lesson learned: If your seersucker sedge is yellowing, check to see whether it is getting too much sun. A bit too much sun without regular supplemental water is the only issue I've experienced.

Lesson learned: this truly is a no maintenance plant!

native woodland stonecrop growing along edge of path
Woodland Stonecrop & Heuchera Frosted Violet

Woodland Stonecrop

Woodland stone crop, also sometimes called three leaf stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), is short, 3 to 6" tall and evergreen. Woodland stonecrop grows in sun or shade though does best where there is some shade during the day. It grows in average or moist soils. It needs no maintenance and tolerates drought. It is evergreen. You can read more here.

Lesson learned: Nature has its own plans!I have planted it in several paces where I intended to create a sort of moss carpet effect. It will grow there for a season or so and then it makes up its own mind. The stonecrop pops up in some of the most delightful and unexpected places like along the path above. It is such a small plant though, I can't see a downside.

native violets blooming in spring
Native Violets


Native blue violets (Viola sororia) flower in early spring. Scientists say this provides native insects pollen at a very crucial time. Violets are a strong ground cover which easily create a carpet of dense green heart shaped leaves.

Lesson learned: As you probably know, this spreads both by underground rhizomes and seed. I tried to keep it to either side of a grass path edged with 6" deep steel edging and it did not work. I am just fine with it seeding in the lawn because but if you are not, this may not be the ground cover for you.

Lesson learned: In late summer, in dry conditions, the foliage fades. To keep it green all growing season, full shade is the best bet.

native ground cover wild ginger close-up
Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger

The heart shaped leaves of wild ginger (Asarum canadense) create a green carpet preserving soil moisture and blocking weeds in shady areas.  The plant dies back in winter and reemerges in spring with a small maroon flower.

Lesson Learned: Patience. This ground cover just takes a while to spread bit once it gets established, it will spread!

Happy Ground Covering.


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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