Ground covers

Ground covers can successfully substitute lawn, create borders or provide greenery beneath taller plants. They hinder the weed growth and prevent the soil from being blown or washed away, or getting too dry.

They also reduce costly and time-consuming maintenance while adding aesthetic value to the garden. Carefully selected plants according to the location, aspect, the size of the area to cover and the vigorousness of the neighbouring plants will produce the best results.

Both climbers, which are vigorous in habit and grow just as well on the ground if not given a support, and slower growing dwarf shrubs make excellent ground cover. They are resistant and undemanding and will adorn your garden with masses of foliage and/or flowers. There exist ground covers for any possible location: for semi-shade or even shade (e.g. ivy, Euonymus Fortunei, Climbing Hydrangea, Schizophragma or Vinca minor), a dwarf shrub that isn't a climber), and shady areas are often a landscaping challenge. You'll also find ground covers that will do well in a sunny, slightly drying location (e.g. Clematis from the Tangutica Group).


ph roslina clematis praecox
Clematis 'Praecox' Heracleifolia Group fills the empty space by creating an attractive ground cover (fot. Sz. Marczyński)

ph roslina clematis integrifolia
Clematis from Integrifolia Group create a colourful ground cover (fot. Sz. Marczyński)

ph roslina clematis arabella 6tyg
Clematis Integrifolia Group 'Arabella' six weeks after planting (fot. Sz. Marczyński)

ph roslina clematis arabella okrywa
Clematis Integrifolia Group 'Arabella' creates a ground cover (fot. Sz. Marczyński)

Clematis 'Praecox' from the Heracleifolia Group is the best ground cover clematis. It's a cross between (Clematis vitalba) and (Clematis tubulosa) (which is very similar to (Clematis heracleifolia)). The stems spread over the ground growing up to 3-4m long annually and in just a few weeks engulf the area with a thick carpet of foliage that smothers the weeds and prevents the soil from drying and overheating. Three-lobed, toothed, dark green leaves. Bunches of small (3-4 cm in diameter) beige-violet flowers cover the plant in July and August. Sufficiently hardy for a cool climate, like the Polish one. Depending on the area it's supposed to cover, you should either prune it hard or light. When the space you cover is quite small, it's better to use less vigorous 'Mrs Robert Brydon', which grows up to 2 m annually, has pale violet flowers and dark green glossy leaves that are bigger than those of 'Praecox'.

If the area to cover is relatively small, you can also use other herbaceous clematis, especially from the Integrifolia Group (e.g. Clematis 'Arabella' (1994), 'Alionushka', 'Sizaia Ptitsa' or 'Pamiat Serdtsa') and they will cover it with a colourful carpet of flowers.

If the area is a bit bigger, other clematis, such as the Artagene Group, the Vitalba Group, the Viticella Group or the Tangutica Group (the latter are especially recommendable for a sunny site), will do very well.


Many plants grown as climbers can also be used as ground cover, e.g. Euonymus fortunei ('Coloratus' is its most appropriate cultivar for covering large areas - it's vigorous, resistant and undemanding), Ivy, Climbing Hydrangea, Japanese Hydrangea Vine and Virginia Creeper (especially for large areas). In a milder climate, for instance a sheltered spot in western, southern or central Poland, you can use Lonicera japonica 'Aureoreticulata' (yellow-green leaves) and 'Halliana' (free-flowering over a long period, fragrant), or Five-Leaf Akebia.

ph okrywowe Euonymus fortunei coloratus jablonka
Euonymus fotunei 'Coloratus'
  • Common Ivy Hedera helix

  • 'Thorndale'. The best Ivy cultivar. Large (10 cm across), evergreen leaves are dark green with a brighter shade along the veins. Vigorous in habit, it quickly covers the ground with a dense carpet, especially in shade or semi-shade. It scales walls, climbs up trees or other supports attaining even up to 30 meters in height. It doesn't like dry and acid soil. One of the hardiest Ivy cultivars. Plant 3-5 plants per square meter.

  • Herera hibernica is another valuable cultivar worth planting in your garden. Large dark green leaves.

  • Climbing Hydrangea - Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris. Large (10 cm across) green leaves turn yellow in autumn and fall in winter. A good ground cover for shade or semi-shade. It climbs up porous supports by means of adventitious roots and may attain a height of even 20 meters (0,5-1m annually). It doesn't like dry and alkaline soil. Fully frost-hardy. Plant 2-4 plants per square meter.

  • Japanese Hydrangea Vine - Schizophragma hydrangeoides. A good ground cover plant for shade or semi-shade. Green leaves. White flowers appear in July. It can climb up porous supports by means of adventitious roots and achieve a height of 10 meters (0,5m annually). It'doesn't like dry and alkaline soil. Plant in a sheltered spot, with the density of 2-4 plants per square meter. Its cultivar 'Moonlight' has silvery grey shading on the upper surface of the leaves. 'Roseum' has pale pink flowers and dark green leaves with a reddish tinge.

ph roslina parthenocissus quinquefolia okrywowa
Parthenocissus quinquefolia as a ground cover (fot. Sz. Marczyński)

ph roslina aristolochia durior okrywowa
Aristolochia durior as a ground cover; Wrocław Botanical Garden (fot. Sz. Marczyński)
  • Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia. A vigorous climber that grows up to 1-2 meters annually. It can be used as ground cover, especially for large areas in sun or semi-shade. Leaves are green in summer and turn crimson in autumn. Undemanding, healthy and fully hardy. Plant 1-2 plants per square meter.

  • Thicket Creeper - Parthenocissus inserta. A fully hardy, healthy and vigorous climber (1-2 m of annual growth). It can be used as ground cover, especially for large areas in sun or semi-shade. Leaves are green in summer and turn crimson in autumn. Plant 1-2 plants per square meter.

  • Japanese Honeysuckle - Lonicera japonica. Healthy and undemanding evergreen climber that makes good ground cover. Plant 1 plant per square meter. It may freeze during harsh winters. Its cultivar, 'Halliana' produces fragrant flowers in grand profusion and over a long period. Due to its vigorous growth (1-2 m annually) it is recommended for covering large areas. 'Aureoreticulata' has yellow-green leaves and is moderately vigorous in habit (1m annually). Plant in a sheltered spot.

  • Five-Leaf Akebia - Akebia quinata. It grows up to 5-6 meters tall (1-3 m annually) by twining round a support. When left without support, the stems will creep over the ground, take roots and spread. It will do well in any moderate soil. It's quite expansive and as such it's particularly useful in big gardens and for covering large areas. Plant in semi-shade, 1-2 plants per square meter.

Dwarf shrubs, especially Vinca minor, also make good ground cover.

  • Vinca minor. An evergreen dwarf shrub with small, 3 cm across, deep green leaves. Stems grow between 30 and 80 cm annually, spread over the ground and take roots forming a dense mat. It bears attractive flowers that vary in colour: blue in the species and blue, purple and white in the cultivars. It's best grown in partial shade or shade and in moderately moist soil. Plant 10 plants per square meter. Sufficiently frost-hardy.
    • 'Alba' - white flowers.

    • 'Atropurpurea' - violet-purple flowers.

    • 'Gertrude Jekyll' - shining white flowers, the most valuable white-flowered cultivar.

    • 'La Grave' - blue flowers, attractive glossy leaves. Vigorous and easy to propagate.

    • 'Plena' - double blue flowers.

    • 'Ralph Shugert' - blue flowers, white-margined leaves. An excellent cultivar for both sun and shade.

Planting. Proper site preparation is essential. Remove all weeds, rubble and anything else that may obstruct the growth of the plants. Spread evenly the organic matter, such as manure or compost, on the soil and incorporate it. The plant density depends on the growth habit of the selected plants. Finally, it's good to spread pine bark over the ground between the plants.

Maintenance. You must consider watering system. Drip or trickle irrigation system that uses a special tube laid just beneath the ground is best to this end. Encourage the growth of the plants by fertilizing every spring (in April). All the stems that grow up too high or spread excessively should be cut back.