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5 Reasons to Plant Herbs as Groundcovers

Stachys byzantina Click to enlarge image Stachys byzantina Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

I have a secret in my garden. My secret is so versatile it eliminates weeding, prevents soil erosion, acts as an insulator in winter, a water retainer in summer, and is low maintenance. I'm talking about herbal groundcovers. Nothing works as a ground cover better than herbs. Rambling herbs are adaptable and reproduce by themselves. They act like living mulches, eliminate weeding, prevent soil erosion, act as a soil insulator in winter and a water retainer in summer, and require very little maintenance. Their beauty and delightful fragrance are bonuses.

1. Water-wise gardening
These days, there is a lot of focus on water conservation. Gardeners in many states are facing a drought. We have been assured during less-than-optimal water table levels, the impact will reach our wallets as well as our yards. Under-planting with herbal ground covers holds moisture in the soil so that it remains available to the plant roots below instead of evaporating into thin air.  And most herbal ground covers do well without any supplemental watering.

2. Insulation
Ground covers do a terrific job in the summer of retaining moisture by shading the soil beneath them, but they are equally impressive as soil insulators in winter. The roots of this living mulch grow together to form a blanket that protects perennials and bulbs from fluctuating temperatures.  Personally, when I drop my hundred bucks in the spring on exciting new plant finds, I'd like them to last more than the season.

Vinca minor 'Bowles's Variety' Click to enlarge image Vinca minor 'Bowles's Variety' Photo/Illustration: Brandi Spade

3. Soil Erosion
Our precious plants thrive in nutrient-rich soil, so cover up that bare earth! Rain, water, and sun all contribute to soil erosion. Not only can your soil be washed away, but your plants' roots can be left exposed and vulnerable to the elements. Ground covers are excellent soil binders.

4. Weeds and Your Body
This may be my favorite reason of all: Ground covers provide state-of-the-art weed control! This is welcome news for my knees and my back, as I am no longer a young gardener. As the creeping plants grow together, they crowd out, kill off, and downright smother weeds. I haven't worked with a more effective barrier.

5. Beauty
Herbal ground covers add texture to our gardens that makes them interesting and original. They invite the senses out to play--from their texture, to their colors, to their surprising scents.

The fact that our reliable herbs make accommodating ground covers is not surprising. Herb gardeners have long sung the praises of the exhaustive positive attributes of herbs. Groundcover is just one more desirable trait that herbs offer us. I have a secret in my garden. Now the secret is in yours.

Ground Cover Herbs for Sunny Places

Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus' Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus' Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile and cvs.); 12 inches tall and wide; Zones 6-9; fruity, green-apple fragrance; daisy-like flowers, and fern-like foliage.
Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum); 6 inches tall and 18 inches wide; Zones 4-9; dark foliage; pink or lavender flowers.
Golden lemon thyme (Thymus × citriodorus 'Aureus') ; 6-8 inches tall and wide; Zones 6-9; golden leaves; strong lemon scent.
Wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus); about 3 inches, spreads indefinitely; Zones 5-9; tiny tubular flowers; spills nicely over walls, pavers, and stones.
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii); 1/2 inch tall, spreads indefinitely; Zones 6-9; tiny peppermint-scented leaves.
Wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys var. compactum); 5 inches tall and 16 inches wide; Zones 5-9; lavender flowers; glossy, deep green leaves.
Creeping pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium); 4 - 16 inches feet and 20 inches wide; Zones 7-9; has a peppermint scent; effective ant repellant for the yard; can be invasive.
Wooly yarrow (Achillea tomentosa); 10 inches tall and wide; Zones 3-8; pull your shoes off and let your feet enjoy!
Persian catmint (Nepeta racemosa); 6-12 inches tall and 18 inches wide; Zones 4-8; leaves are a gray-green color.
Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina and cvs.); 12-18 inches tall and 2 feet wide; Zones 4-8; excellent for crowding out weeds; delightful in a children's garden; plant it where you can stroke it as you walk by.
Prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'); 6-12 inches tall and 18 inches wide; Zones 8-11; honest and reliable; robust pine scent.
Bugleweed (Ajuga repans and cvs.); under 6 inches tall and up to 3 feet wide; Zones 3-9; greenish gray leaves; great for erosion control; resembles miniature lettuce leaves.

Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant' Click to enlarge image Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant' Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
Pulmonaria saccharata 'Dora Bielefeld' Click to enlarge image Pulmonaria saccharata 'Dora Bielefeld' Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner

Ground Cover Herbs for Shadier Places

Lamium maculatum 'Anne Greenaway' Click to enlarge image Lamium maculatum 'Anne Greenaway' Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum); 8 inches tall and spreads indefinitely; Zones 4-8; nice under trees; smells of freshly mown hay when crushed.
Spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum and cvs.); 6-8 inches tall and 3 feet wide; Zones 4-8; silvery-edged leaves bring light to shady areas.
Periwinkle (Vinca major and cvs. or V. minor and cvs.); up to 12 inches tall and spreads indefinitely; Zones 4-9; excellent choice for sloping ground as it binds well to the soil; whorled purple flowers.
Sweet violet (Viola odorata); 6-12 inches tall and wide; Zones 6-8; sweet scent; violet or white flowers.
Lungworts (Pulmonaria spp. and cvs.); usually 12 inches tall and wide; Zones 2-8 but varies with species; one of the first to bloom in spring; flower color often changes from reddish-violet to blue as it matures; excellent cover for shade.
Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina and cvs.); 12-18 inches tall and 2 feet wide; Zones 4-8; although on the sun list, Stachys can take partial shade.
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii); 1/2 inch tall and spreads indefinitely; Zones 6-9; on the sun list as well but takes shade nicely.
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans); under 6 inches tall and up to 3 feet wide; Zones 4-9; another plant that does double-duty in the sun and shade.


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