Ground covers reduce weeding time spent in the garden

  • Phlox subulata is covered with flowers in spring.

    Phlox subulata is covered with flowers in spring. Photos Courtesy of Diana Stoll

  • Lamium maculatum is a pretty ground cover even after the flowers fade.

    Lamium maculatum is a pretty ground cover even after the flowers fade.

By Diana Stoll

As I get older, my passion for gardening remains but my stamina isn't what it used to be. I spend as much time in the garden but don't seem to get as much done. As a result, I am always looking for ways to reduce the time spent doing garden maintenance.

Planting ground covers is one way to decrease the time needed to pull weeds.

Choosing which ground cover to plant depends on the growing conditions. Consider available light. Is it sunny or shady all day or is it sunny just in the morning or afternoon? Foot traffic is another consideration. Will it be stepped on rarely or daily?

Soil type is also important, whether it is wet or dry. Finally, think about garden design. Do surrounding plants need a ground cover with contrasting texture or foliage color?

Baltic ivy, creeping myrtle and pachysandra may be the most popular choices, but there are other suitable options.

For sunny, dry areas

There are several species of the genus Thymus commonly called creeping thyme. Creeping thymes are grown for their fine textured, aromatic, ground hugging foliage. The best way to enjoy their perfume is to walk on them. Leaves release fragrance when they are crushed.

White, pink, rose or red flowers begin blooming in late spring or early summer. Red and white creeping thyme offer green foliage; the leaves of woolly thyme are silvery; and the foliage of lemon thyme shares the scent of lemon when bruised.

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Commonly called creeping or moss phlox, Phlox subulata forms a dense blanket of needlelike foliage. Cultivars are available that bloom in white, pink, purple, blue or red in spring. Creeping phlox self-seeds without restraint, so deadhead spent blooms to direct the plant's energy to producing denser growth, instead of scattering seed, and to encourage rebloom.

Mention sedum and Autumn Joy probably comes to mind. However, there are many types of stonecrops perfect for covering ground. Gold moss stonecrop (S. acre) spreads quickly to carpet an area with its succulent pale green leaves. Tiny, star-shaped, bright yellow flowers glow in summer.

Angelina (Sedum repestre) paints the garden floor with yellow, fleshy, needlelike foliage. Weihenstephaner Gold (S. kamtschaticum) sports triangular, dark green leaves and yellow flowers. Sedum reflexum boasts blue foliage and soft yellow flowers. All bloom in summer.

For shady spots

Carpet bugle (Ajua reptans) forms a dense, weed-choking mat in both sun and shade. Beautiful blue flowers on 4- to 6-inch spikes rise in May and June. The more sun it receives the more moisture it requires.


Bronze Beauty has metallic bronze-tinted foliage. Burgundy Glow shows off pink, white and green variegated foliage. Catlin's Giant reaches 6 to 8 inches tall with bronze-green foliage. Chocolate Chip barely grows 2 inches tall and features dark, chocolate-colored leaves.

Spotted dead nettle (Lamium spp.) is ideal for dry, shady areas. White, pink or lavender flowers are borne in late spring or early summer. Some varieties feature silvery foliage that brighten dark gardens.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a delightful ground cover featuring fine-textured foliage that emerges bright green in spring and then turns dark green. Charming, white flowers bloom in May and June. It grows best in moist soils.

Yellow archangel (Lamiastrum spp.) resembles spotted dead nettle but grows in deep shade. It also has silvery-green variegated foliage but produces yellow flowers in June. Variegatum grows up to 18 inches tall, has larger leaves and vigorously spreads through the garden. Herman's Pride is just 12 inches tall, has a tidier habit and expands more politely.

Whichever ground cover you choose, mulch when planting to prevent weeds while the ground cover is getting established and to prevent frost heaving during its first winter.

• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at

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