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Evergreen groundcover plants: 20 choices for year-round interest

Groundcovers are low-growing plants that serve many different purposes in the landscape. They limit weed growth, stabilize slopes, and add interest and texture to your yard. Plus, unlike lawn, groundcover plants don’t have to be mowed. However, in colder climates, many groundcovers die back and go dormant during the winter months. This leaves the ground bare and exposed, opening it up to potential weed issues and soil erosion. If you’d like to provide year-round cover for a particular garden area, turn to evergreen groundcover varieties for the job. These beautiful, hard-working plants have so much to offer.

A mixture of groundcovers provides many benefits to a garden and helps create a beautiful tapestry of textures and colors.

Why plant groundcovers that stay green all winter

The reasons for including evergreen groundcover plants in your garden are many.

  • These plants provide visual interest at a time when many other plants are completely dormant.
  • They give shelter to overwintering beneficial insects and pollinators.
  • In addition, many varieties of evergreen groundcover have fibrous roots that help limit soil erosion.
  • All year long, their green shoots help diffuse heavy rain and snowfall before it hits the soil.
  • And one last benefit of using evergreen varieties of groundcovers: they act as a living mulch, constantly shading the soil and limiting weed seed germination. Plus, established groundcovers are exceptional at out-competing many weeds.

An extra bonus of some types of evergreen groundcovers is their bloom power. While not all of these unique groundcovers produce flowers, many of them do. During the growing season, these low-growing plants are smothered in flowers that are adored by both humans and many species of pollinators.

In the early spring, creeping phlox is covered with blooms. But in the winter, it adds interest and color to the garden.

The best evergreen groundcovers for gardens

While pachysandra, ivy, and myrtle/periwinkle are among the most common evergreen groundcover plants, you’ll notice all three of them are absent from the list of varieties I’m about to introduce you to. Yes, those three groundcover species are good choices for a broad range of climates, but, well…. let’s talk frankly here… they are everywhere. If you’re anything like me, I’d much rather have a hardy, gorgeous evergreen groundcover that’s not already blanketing every other garden in my neighborhood.

And so, below are 20 evergreen groundcover varieties that are suitable for yards and gardens across much of the continent. I’ve separated them into three categories to make it easier for you to decide which ones are perfect for your piece of earth.

  1. Flowering Evergreen Groundcovers
  2. Evergreen Groundcover Plants for Sun
  3. Evergreen Groundcover Varieties for Shade

Here is a list of multiple groundcover varieties that fit into each of these three categories, along with growing information for each selection and a photo when possible.

Flowering Evergreen Groundcovers

Wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys):

This low-growing, shrubby perennial produces purple-pink flower spires in the summer. It’s drought tolerant, pollinator-friendly, and it can be pruned heavily to form a mini-hedge if you’d like to use it to edge beds, too. Wall germander grows 1-2 feet tall and is hardy to -20 degrees F. Oh, and the deer don’t like it, making it a favorite, if underused, evergreen groundcover for gardens. (Source for germander)

Flowering thyme (Thymus spp.):

There are dozens of species and cultivars of thyme that make a hardy groundcover that stays green all winter long. With most types being cold-tolerant down to -20 or -30 degrees F, flowering thyme deserves a place in almost any garden. Depending on the variety, thyme grows between 1-3 inches tall, and the fragrant leaves of culinary varieties can be used to flavor dishes. Flowering thyme is also deer resistant. (Source for thyme)

Prickly pear (Opuntia spp.):

These cold-hardy, super-cool cactus varieties make a prickly but fun evergreen groundcover. Plus, they produce open, blousy blooms in the summer that come in a wide range of colors, depending on the species and variety. While avoiding contact is a must (those spines hurt and they’re difficult to remove), if you have the right place for them, Opuntias are a real gem. Some varieties are hardy down to -20 degrees F, and most top out at less than a foot tall. Try O. basilaris, otherwise known as the beavertail cactus, if you want a great variety of cold-hardy prickly pear. (Prickly pear source)

Lilyturf (Liriope muscari):

This clump-forming evergreen groundcover is ideal for sloped sites or for garden beds under large trees with extensive root systems. Varieties with a solid green leaf are pretty, but I find the variegated form to be extra special. Hardy down to -30 degrees F, and reaching about 6 inches tall, lilyturf produces spires of purple flowers in the spring. It’s tough and relatively fast-spreading, making it a wonderful year-round groundcover. Cut any dead growth back in the spring to generate fresh new growth each season. (Source for lilyturf)

Sedums (Sedum spp.):

The thick, succulent, drought-resistant leaves of sedums make them among the very best evergreen groundcovers. While there are literally hundreds of different varieties, if you plan to use this plant as a groundcover, look for low-growing varieties. Some of my favorites are Dragon’s Blood, Blue Spruce, and Lime Twister® because of their interesting foliage and flower colors. These ground-hugging sedums are evergreen in climates with milder winters, and semi-evergreen down to -20 degrees F. Reaching just 4 inches tall, they’re covered in blooms in late summer through fall. In my Pennsylvania garden, they’re evergreen through most of the winter.

Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens):

Once an exceedingly popular garden plant, candytuft seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years, for some unknown reason. What’s not to love about an evergreen groundcover that spreads relatively fast, is covered with clusters of white flowers, is adored by pollinators, and is hardy down to -30 degrees and perhaps beyond? The only fuss-factor with Candytuft is its desire for well-drained soils and full sun. Shearing the plant back after bloom keeps it even more compact, but the practice isn’t necessary.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata):

I have six creeping phlox plants along the top of a stone retaining wall, and everyone who visits in the spring when the plants are in bloom wants to know what they are. Extremely cold-tolerant (down to -40 degrees F!), creeping phlox is an evergreen groundcover with needle-shaped leaves that create a dense mat. The deer don’t touch it, but the pollinators sure do enjoy the blooms on this 6-inch-tall plant. (Source for creeping phlox)

Creeping phlox foliage stays green all winter long, and the plants produce colorful blooms in the early spring.

Evergreen Groundcover Plants for Sun

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans):

There are dozens of different varieties of bugleweed on the market. Some are green-leaved, while others are bronze, purple, or even variegated. There are even bugleweed cultivars with crinkled leaves. Standing just 8 to 10 inches tall and producing spires of blue-purple flowers each spring, this evergreen groundcover is showy and colorful even when it isn’t in bloom. Hardy to -40 degrees F, bugleweed “creeps” around the garden, spreading to form a thick mat. (Bronze ajuga source)

Mini mondo grass (Ophipogon japonicus ‘Nana’):

This petite groundcover plant is the smallest of the small. Though it’s only hardy down to -10 degrees F, the green tufts of mini mondo grass look spectacular in gardens. Maxing out at just 4 inches tall, it creates quick cover over full-sun areas. This excellent evergreen groundcover is also fun to use in between stepping stones and around the base of trees, instead of using shredded bark, gravel, or other mulches. (Mondo grass starter plants)

Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei):

Though this plant is a terrific, fast-growing, evergreen groundcover, it also comes with a word of warning. Some states list it on their invasive species lists, so be sure to check your region before planting this species. If you’re worried about potential invasiveness, stick with one of the variegated forms of this plant (such as ‘Variegatus’, ‘Emerald Gaiety’, and ‘Gold Splash’) as they aren’t nearly as aggressive.

Hardy to -30 degrees F, wintercreeper forms a thick, leafy mat that reaches 10 inches tall. The plant is deer resistant and easy to care for. But, like English ivy, it can readily climb trees and buildings where it may cause some damage. However, if you keep wintercreeper contained to a planting bed that’s regularly trimmed and maintained, it’s a great choice. The plant seldom produces flowers or seeds so it primarily spreads via its running branches.

Black mondo grass (Ophipogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’)

Black mondo grass is among the coolest looking evergreen groundcover plants available, though technically, it’s not green. This small grass-like plant has bronze to black, thick, grass-like leaves. It’s winter-hardy down to -20 degrees F, and its foliage color creates a beautiful contrast with other garden plants. Black mondo grass produces spires of dark purple flowers in the summer that are sometimes followed by black berries. I love to see this plant used in masses. Though full sun is recommended, it will tolerate some shade. (Black mondo grass source)

Creeping juniper (Juniper horizontalis):

There are many different cultivars of this low-growing needled evergreen bush that are used as groundcovers. Reaching about 18 inches in height, creeping juniper varieties are resistant to both deer and rabbits, and require very little maintenance. Each plant spreads several feet wide and may produce blue “berries” (seed cones) once the plants are established. Tip blight can sometimes be problematic on creeping junipers, so use care to make sure your pruning equipment is properly disinfected with a spray disinfectant before doing any pruning on these plants.

Rock cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis):

The soft sprays of green leaves on rock cotoneaster make this one of the loveliest of all evergreen groundcover plants. Plus, in the spring, small, white to pink flowers are produced all along the stems, followed by red berries in the fall. There are several different cultivars of rock cotoneaster, but all reach just 2 to 3 feet in height, making them a great choice to cover sloped areas of the garden. Hardy to -20 degrees F, this shrub groundcover may be only semi-evergreen in very cold climates.

Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum):

Hens and chicks are hardy, succulent plants that are prized for both their drought tolerance and cold hardiness. Though they aren’t grown for their flowers, hens and chicks do occasionally produce spires of colorful blooms in summer. Various cultivars are available in a wide range of foliage colors and forms, but none grows taller than about 8 to 10 inches in height. Hens and chicks add a great amount of interest to the winter garden, and can be readily spread by digging up the offsets and moving them around the garden. Most hens and chicks are hardy down to -30 degrees F. (Sources for green, red, cobweb, blue, and green wheel hens and chicks)

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-rusi):

A beautiful evergreen groundcover that produces clusters of dark red berries, bearberry’s leaves are a dark, glossy green. Fully hardy all the way down to -40 degrees F, this evergreen groundcover spreads via low, arching branches. Reaching just 6 to 12 inches tall, birds and other wild creatures are attracted to the berries. Though it’s not recommended for hot, southern gardens, bearberry makes a excellent erosion control planting in northern gardening zones. (Source for Bearberry)

Evergreen Groundcover Varieties for Shade

Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata):

With its arborvitae-like needles and soft texture, Siberian cypress is a shrubby evergreen groundcover for shady areas. Though the needles are green in the spring and summer, come fall, they turn a gorgeous bronze-orange. These plants make serious slope covers for shady garden sites and are hardy down to -40 degrees F. Mine reach about 18 inches in height. (Siberian cypress source)

Creeping raspberry (Rubus calycinoides):

Also called crinkle-leaf creeper, this evergreen groundcover is pest free and deer resistant. White flowers are produced along arching, creeping stems in the spring, followed by small inedible fruits. The crinkled leaves are shaped like miniature lily pads and produced along the branches flatly. Reaching just 6 inches in height, creeping raspberry is hardy down to -10 degrees F and will show some dieback during particularly cold winters. In the autumn, this low plant turns a brilliant red. (Creeping raspberry source)

Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens):

Ok, so remember when I said that I wasn’t including pachysandra on this list of evergreen groundcovers? Well, even though Allegheny spurge is in the genus Pachysandra, it’s a good bit different from the thick, glossy pachysandra most gardeners are familiar with. Allegheny spurge is a native of the U.S. and is hardy to -20 degrees F, though it’s semi-evergreen, not fully evergreen, in the coldest hardiness zones. The fragrant blooms are white and frothy, making this an ideal cover for shady sites. Unlike traditional pachysandra, this plant does not develop issues with scale insects, though leaf blight can sometimes strike. For the best results, plan to trim any dead leaves off in the early spring to make way for new growth.

European ginger (Asarum europaeum):

Few evergreen groundcover plants are as striking as European ginger. The thick, glossy, rounded heart-shaped leaves of this low-growing plant make a luscious groundcover. Though the plants are slower growing than some other groundcovers listed here, they are still worth including in your garden. Tolerant of even the shadiest sites, European ginger reaches 6 inches tall and is hardy down to -30 degrees F. The blooms are nondescript, and the leaves are deer resistant. Avoid planting European ginger in hot southern climates where it suffers even in the shade.

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides):

Christmas ferns make beautiful statement plants in their own right, but they also make a wonderful groundcover when planted in a thick mass. Fully hardy to -40 degrees F and reaching up to 2 feet in height, they’re fully shade-, deer-, and drought-tolerant (hooray!). The evergreen fronds of Christmas ferns look beautiful when dusted with winter snow and provide a lot of winter interest to shady sites. (Source for Christmas ferns)

Meet more of our favorite evergreen groundcovers in this video:

As you can see, there are many evergreen groundcover varieties for all types of garden conditions. I hope you’ll find one or more on this list to include in your garden.

To discover more great plants for your landscape, check out the following posts:

Do you have any other evergreen groundcover plants to add to our list? Tell us about them in the comment section below.

Reader Interactions

Comments

Great choices! Love Marlberry ‘Chirimen’, Ardesia japonica ‘Chirimen’ for shade! Low maintenance. Evergreen, small pink flowers, and red berries at Christmas time. Purple Queen, Tradescantia pallida for full sun. Deep burgundy color. Bromeliads for shade or sun.

Love your presentation and you’ve given me great ideas. I’m in NC zone 7b and some of your “sun” selections require part shade here. Thanks for noting that a few don’t work well in the south. Also, please consider carex for shade such as the stunning Everillo Carex (chartreuse). Deer love Everillo…..sigh. And Ogon acorus for 365 days of perfection, clumping, takes sun or shade, and deer-proof. Huecheras tend toward be evergreen here….wonderful selections available.

I’d like to add a vote for Campanula portenschlagiana. Dense neat evergreen leaves and a profusion of purple bellflowers over a long period. One of my all time favourite plants.

Thank you for the inspiration! I’m in MN; great seeing cold-hardy beautiful ground covers.

I live in Las Vegas/Henderson NV area. Article helpful, but please always use Zone numbers. We are 9A-9B. Awfully hard to keep flowers but am trying several groundcovers with blooms. Thank you.

Hi Marie –
I don’t include zone numbers in my articles here because we have readers from around the world and most countries have their own hardiness maps and don’t use the US zone map. Instead, I include the lowest temperature a plant will tolerate to specify its winter hardiness. For warm climates like yours, a bit of extra research is required to determine the heat tolerance of plants since it’s difficult to include that information in every article and with every plant.

I have an evergreen whose name I have forgotten. I will try to describe it…tough dark green short needles which grow along a “stem” (which can get quite long). It seems to be a spreader and grows outward, not upward. I just wonder if this rings a bell. If not I will snip some and take it to a nursery.
Thanks’
Karin in Iowa!

Hi Karin – Unfortunately, from your description, I’m not sure what it is. I think taking it to a nursery for ID is a great idea!

DIANA ATTIE says

THANK YOU FOR THE BROAD, INFORMATIVE OVERVIEW: PARTICULARLY WITH REFERENCE TO DEER RESISTANT GROUND COVER. THEY DON’T TOUCH SEDUM OR PACHYSANDRA. YOU COULD MENTION THE LOVELY WHITE EDGED PACHY.

I live in TN, and have landscaped my back yard hill with a variety of shrubs. To help with erosion, and the cost of mulching every year, I am looking for a ground cover to use between the shrubs. Mostly sunny locations. Do you have any recommendations?

Any of these discussed in the article would work.

Megan J Villa says

I was hoping to see your opinion on Peanut Grass. I’m looking for a perennial evergreen groundcover to fill my full sun 100’x30′ slope of a backyard.

I am very impressed in your organizational skills! I absolutely love how you categorized everything, and then (very simply) gave me the info for each category &/plant. This is exactly the layout of an article that makes it easy for a researcher to read. Thank you for your work! I now have a much clearer idea of what options I have. I wish all the best to you