Native Groundcovers by Pat Naughton

Fresh mulch looks great in a landscape. It’s a lot of effort toting bags and spreading it. Woodchip mulch is flammable. Fire-wise communities discourage the use of mulch adjacent to homes. Groundcovers are low maintenance and low flammability. These native groundcovers are a good alternative to mulch.

Groundcovers for Sun

Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) is quite common in this area. It does well in sandy soil. It is drought tolerant and relatively salt tolerant. It can grow to a height of 18 inches and 10 feet wide. This evergreen is a good groundcover for a slope or rock garden.

Moss phlox (Phlox subulata) is moderately drought tolerant. It will grow to 6 inches tall. Moss phlox will produce a carpet of flowers from April to May. To promote a second rebloom, shear the plant back after it blooms. It is a semi-evergreen and may lose foliage in a harsh winter.

Groundcovers for Shade

Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) grows to a height of 2” and a width of 18 inches. It produces a carpet of yellow flowers that bloom from Spring to Summer. This plant is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well drained soils in part shade to full shade. This evergreen groundcover is well suited for a woodland garden.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) does well in partial shade to full sun. It grows in height to 8 inches and 2 feet wide. The lush carpets of green leaves are followed by blooms of little “cat paws” flowers. The blooms will produce from March to May. It prefers soil with little organic matter that drain well. This plant is typically propagated from seed indoors. After threat of frost has past, it can be transplanted after three true leaves have developed.

Use with Caution

Creeping Liriope (Liriope spicata) is not native and is very invasive. If not contained it will spread into the adjacent lawn. To control the spread of this variety, surround the bed with edging that is 18 inches deep. A better variety is Liriope muscari which does not spread. It forms clumps until well established several years after planting.

More information. More information on groundcovers can be found in the NC Extension publication Groundcovers Recommended for Coastal Southeast Landscapes. To see example of groundcovers, visit the Brunswick Botanical Garden behind the Brunswick County Cooperative Extension offices. Photos are from the NC Extension Plant Toolbox.