There are many reasons for seeking out spreading plants. Many provide attractive ground cover to fill extensive spaces, perhaps under trees or large shrubs. They also smother weeds, reducing this time-consuming chore.
Finally, they eliminate much maintenance for busy people and the young at heart. In short, the sensible use of ground cover plants can give you more time to enjoy your garden.

Attractive, non-invasive ground cover plants are detailed in this guide.

Many of the plants mentioned below can be viewed on our Plant Finder.


These are plants that, at the most, are only a few inches high but grow as a dense mat to smother weeds:
  • Acaena (New Zealand Burr): form tight mats of dense foliage with insignificant flowers. Height 1″. Spread 18″-24″
  • Ajuga (Bugle): rainbow, bronzed or variegated ground-hugging leaves. 7-10cm bluish flowers in late spring. Thrives in sun or quite deep shade.
  • Arabis: white, purple or pink spreaders and trailers including some with variegated foliage. Height 6cm. Spread up to 12cm. 
  • Aubretia: similar to Arabis, thriving particularly in lime soils, on sunny banks or in wall or path crevices. Height 7-10cm. Spread 30cm.
  • Cerastium tomentosa (Snow in Summer): a dense, mat-forming invasive plant with silver-grey narrow leaves and white cup-shaped flowers in May and June. Height 6-10cm. Spread 60cm or more.
  • Dryas octopetala: mat forming evergreen sub-shrub that has prostrate woody stems that bear lustrous mid to deep green oblong-ovate leaves. White saucer shaped flowers 1″ across appear in June and July. Height 7-10cm. Spread 60cm.
  • Hedera (Ivy): Ivies can be used where large areas of low ground cover are required particularly in shaded positions under trees or large shrubs. They will smother small plants or shrubs and spread over wide areas. The variegated forms are best planted in south or west facing positions. Plant 40-60cm apart.
  • Helianthemum (Rock Rose): low growing dark green or silver leafed alpines with bright, long flowering rose-like blooms. Height 7-10cm. Spread 60cm.
  • Lamium (Dead Nettle): variegated evergreen nettles that grow in sun or full shade and appreciate some moisture. Various forms, height 10-30cm with purple, pink, white or yellow nettle flowers. Some varieties are rather invasive.
  • Lysimachia (Creeping Jenny): creeper with green or golden leaves with bright yellow butter-cup shaped flowers in June and July. Thrives in any ordinary moist garden soil, in sun or partial shade. Height 10cm. Spread 50cm.
  • Oxalis: quickly spreading range of plants for sun or partial shade in any well drained soil, preferably enriched with peat or leaf mould.
  • Pachysandra terminalis: ideal sub-shrub for partial or deep shade. Tiny white flowers appear in April. Deep green leaves but variegated, less vigorous form also available. Height up to 20cm. Spread 50cm.
  • Phlox (Alpine Varieties): ideal for trailing over rocks. Lilac, pink or white flowers according to variety. Height 6-10cm. Spread 50cm.
  • Polygonum affine: pink or red flowering creepers which maintain their brown leaves all winter. Height 12-24cm. Spread 40cm.
  • Saponaria ocymoides: vigorous grower forming a dense green mat with bright rose-pink flowers from July to September.
  • Saxifraga: particularly S. umbrosa (London Pride) with thick mid to dark green or variegated leaves and star-shaped pink flowers. Height 15cm. Spread 30cm.
  • Sedum acre (Stone Crop): fleshy quick spreaders with pink or yellow flowers. Ideal for tumbling over rocks in a large maintenance free alpine garden or to grow between crazy paving. Height 6-10cm. Spread indefinite.
  • Symphytum grandiflorum (Comfrey): a rapidly spreading species which gives good ground cover under trees and shrubs. Drooping white tubular flowers are produced in April and May. Height 12-20cm. Spread 50cm.
  • Thymus (Thyme): creeping aromatic herbs, ideal between paving slabs. Height 6-10cm. Spread 30cm.
  • Vinca (Periwinkle): range of ‘greater’ and ‘lesser’ varieties, ideal for banks or shady positions. 
  • Viola odorata (Sweet Violet): fragrant flowerers in early spring which self-seed. Tolerate sun or shade. Height 10-15cm. Spread 30cm.
  • Waldsteina: a real creeper with strawberry-like leaves and yellow flowers in spring. Ideal for dry shade. 




Plants that blot out the light and tend to spread and so deter weeds from growing:
  • Alchimellia mollis (Lady’s Mantle): leaves with shallow rounded lobes and serrated edges. Yellow-green frothy flowers which self seed. Ideal for flower arranging. Height 30-50cm. Spread 40cm.
  • Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears): glossy, leathery leaves that sometimes turn red in autumn. White, pink or red flowers early in the season. Ideal spreader for shade. Height 20-40cm. Spread 40cm.
  • Brunnera macrophylla: sprays of Forget-me-not like flowers with matt green or variegated hairy leaves. Self seed readily. Ideal for ground cover under trees. Height 30-50cm. Spread 40cm.
  • Convallaria (Lily of the Valley): if it enjoys its shady position, will flower every year producing white or pink flowers. Spreader. Height 15-20cm. Spread 50cm.
  • Dianthus (Carnation / Pink): ideal for chalk.
  • Epimedium (Barrenwort / Bishop’s Hat): semi-evergreen perennial for attractive leafy ground cover in semi-shade. Height 30cm. Spread 40cm.
  • Geranium (Crane’s Bill): vary greatly in stature and in habit. Free flowering, white to blue.
  • Hosta (Funkia / Plantain Lily): many different types all grown for their attractive deciduous foliage. Excellent ground cover in moist positions in sun or shade.
  • Pulmonaria (Lungwort / Soldiers & Sailors): hardy herbaceous perennials that tend to be evergreen, some with white spotted leaves. Flowers, blue, pink, red or white. Slow spreaders. Height 30cm. Spread 30cm.
  • Stachys lanata (Lambs Tongue): hardy in coastal areas. Soft “wooly” leaves and spikes of purple flowers in July. Needs any well drained soil. Height 30-50cm. Spread 30cm.
  • Tellima: ‘ever-red’ perennial with leaves like Heuchera, slowly spreading. Insignificant flowers, better in shade. Height 30cm. Spread 45cm.
  • Tiarella (Foam Flower): dense mass of heart shaped evergreen leaves. Height 20cm.
  • Tolmiea menziesii (Piggy-back plant): produces young plants on leaves. Shade. Height 2cm. Spread 6cm.


  • Berberis: low growing varieties of these dense prickly tough shrubs once established.
  • Cistus (Sunrose): many varieties are low growing and hardy with ‘rose’ like flowers.
  • Cornus canadensis: rapid coloniser and ground coverer making dense mats, height 15cm. Leaves wine-red in autumn. Lime hater.
  • Cotoneaster: many evergreen and deciduous low growing creepers and spreaders are ideal.
  • Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ / ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’: the principal varieties that provide a silver or gold carpeter, height 46-60cm. Chalk.
  • Erica (Heather): winter flowerers tolerate chalk, summer performers are lime haters and so need to be planted in Ericaceous compost in a pot if your garden is chalky. 12-20cm.
  • Gaultheria procumbens: evergreen berrying creeping shrubs. Lime haters. 7-10cm.
  • Genista (Broom): ideal spreaders to clothe sunny banks in varying heights and forms.
  • Hypericum (St Johns Wort): an excellent semi-evergreen low growing smotherer.
  • Juniperus (Juniper): the low growing kinds like ‘pfitzeriana’ are wide spreading.
  • Potentilla (Cinquefoil): various forms that have different coloured flowers all summer. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.
  • Roses: new strains of garden roses especially the ‘County Series’ including ‘Sussex’ provide excellent ground cover.
  • Senecio greyii: wide-spreading grey leaved shrub for sunny, dry positions.
  • Ulex (Gorse): blaze of golden flowers April-May. Excellent to cover banks. Any soil.
  • Vaccinium (Bilberry): lime hating low spreader.
We try hard to stock as many of these plants as possible but cannot guarantee availability.
Please ask a member of our friendly and knowledgeable plant teams for advice.