Gorgeous Ground Covers

Spring will come again but there’s no need to overlook your garden in the meantime.

Pachysandra terminals in a shady woodland garden

If things are looking stark out there, adjusting the plant palette can turn blasé into beautiful. Adding evergreen plants is an easy way to create a lush-looking winter garden in the Maritime Pacific Northwest.

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned the importance of using evergreen shrubs to provide unifying structure when perennials are dormant and deciduous trees are bare. 

This blog focuses on evergreen ground covers that make the whole garden look more vibrant, especially during wintertime.

Below are some of my favorite, easy-to-grow evergreen ground covers that will brighten up any garden.

Pachysandra terminalis sp. (Japanese Spurge) has glossy, apple green foliage that reflects light even on dark, overcast days. For best performance, plant it in rich, loose soil in dappled shade where it will get some supplemental water during summertime. A woodland environment is ideal. Once established, Pachysandra is vigorous – becoming a dense, fluffy carpet of green about 6″ high. Although not invasive, it spreads vigorously by underground roots and will quickly outgrow a small space. It can be contained by a border, but will decline if its roots have nowhere to go. Occasional shearing will promote new growth and keep Pachysandra from getting leggy.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Kewensis’ (Wintercreeper) has tiny, deep green leaves along vining stems that comprise a dense, twiggy plant. Wintercreeper thrives in average or better garden soil in a part sun location with afternoon shade. It will tolerate more sun if it gets ample water. Once established, occasional shearing will keep it looking tidy and encourage a low, dense habit. If left untrimmed, sprays of its vine-like stems may develop into unusual looking upward sweeping pointed waves that are sure to be a conversation piece.

Prunus laurustinus ‘Mount Vernon’ (Mount Vernon Laurel) has bright green narrow foliage about 4″ long. It is ideal for large areas and its stiff, pointed foliage has a bold texture that can provide excellent contrast with surrounding plantings. Although it can be grown as a small shrub, regular pruning and thinning keeps Mount Vernon laurel healthy and encourages lush new growth and good lateral coverage that forms a mat of undulating foliage about 12″ high. Like other laurel, it is not picky about soil and needs only minimal supplemental water once established.

When planting ground cover (with few exceptions) avoid dry, rocky and compacted soil unless it is adequately amended. Soil always reverts to it original form, so select plants that will thrive in the native soil if you want the best results for the least amount of work. Before planting near existing trees and plants, make sure their root mass will not be damaged by digging and that there is enough loose soil available for the ground cover to grow a healthy root system.


Planning garden upgrades this winter is a great way to prepare for spring!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

Evergreen Ground Cover For All Seasons

KruusFrontWalk10:11_2Evergreen ground cover has endless uses, from serving as a lawn substitute to creating a green cascade on a wooded hillside. During summer ground cover can create a soft backdrop for other plants; during wintertime it becomes a primary part of the garden while other plants are dormant or without leaves. Whether a lush accent at the base of a tree or planted en masse to form a carpet, evergreen ground cover provides a visual break from bare soil and dark sky.

Easy-to-grow ground covers

Some steppable ground covers, especially those that thrive in full sun, like the famous Woolly Thyme, are not picky about soil conditions and need little water. But most ground cover plants used as part of a garden plan need ideal conditions to grow vigorously, spread and fill in. For instance, Pachysandra terminalis (pictured) thrives in shade, but also needs fertile soil and some water to grow well. With glossy green leaves, it forms a 6-inch high pillow on top of the ground with surface roots that need rich soil to do well. Its green stems and shiny leaves create an interesting texture that draws the eye. Gaultheria procumbens also looks handsome at this time of year with its red berries and glossy dark green leaves. Note that, come spring and summer, most hardy bulbs and perennials will grow up through ground cover.

Containing and maintaining ground covers

When selecting ground cover, beware of invasive plants that are hard to control. Invasive ground covers typically tolerate poor soil conditions, which is why they are so tempting to plant in problem areas of the garden. They can, in fact, be an asset in large shady areas like a woodland garden where they will fill in at the base of trees where little else may grow. The less-aggressive Vinca ‘Illumination” has stunning golden variegation, making it a real standout in the landscape .

But be prepared. The more invasive ground covers must be carefully selected and completely contained. Once a ground cover gets away from you, you face an on going battle to keep it at bay. Even favorites like Vinca minor can easily overstay its welcome. Once its roots are entangled with other plants or a rockery, it can only be controlled with continuous maintenance.

Properly selected and maintained, ground cover can play an important role in your landscape. Check your garden this winter and see if you have any bare spots that would benefit from ground cover.

Contact us to learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and fall planting.