Regional Picks: Tough Ground Covers – Northern Plains

Fine Gardening - Issue 150

1. Canadian Wild Ginger

Name: Asarum canadense

USDA hardiness zones: 2 to 8

Size: 6 to 8 inches tall, spreading indefinitely

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Although big heart-shaped leaves are the main attraction with this North American native, its curious bell-shaped flowers are another bonus. A moderate spreader, Canadian wild ginger forms a dense mat of fresh foliage from early spring through summer. While many shallow-rooted ground covers collapsed during the 2012 drought, this one made it through without a whimper. Better yet, deer don’t touch it, and diseases don’t seem to bother it.


2. Kyushu Meadow Rue

Name: Thalictrum kiusianum

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 4 to 6 inches tall and 8 to 12 inches wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moisture-retentive soil

Just for fun, I keep a mental tally of perennials noted for their extended bloom time; for years, Kyushu meadow rue has topped the list. From late spring though late fall, not a day goes by that this spreader isn’t awash in a froth of light lavender starbursts. Kyushu meadow rue also fairs well unsheltered through winter; withstands drought, even though it prefers an evenly moist soil; and isn’t deterred by annual division, so I can share this one with friends.


3. Pennsylvania Sedge

Name: Carex pensylvanica

Zones: 3 to 8

Size: 8 to 10 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; average soil

I would grow this sedge for its graceful cascading habit alone, but the fact that it performs admirably in light to dense shade with scant moisture makes Pennsylvania sedge all the more endearing. Its light green blades are evergreen, forming a splendid foil for spring ephemerals. This North American native spreads gently by shallow rhizomes to form solid colonies and can take light foot traffic without flinching. Though delicate in appearance, this sedge is tough in demeanor.


4. ‘Waterperry Blue’ Speedwell

Name: Veronica ‘Waterperry Blue’

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 3 to 5 inches tall and up to 18 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Many of the upright veronicas resent our hot, muggy summers, becoming mildew magnets and losing their foliage prematurely. ‘Waterperry Blue’ speedwell puts all those varieties to shame. In our gardens, it’s been a perfect ground cover in all regards, letting us literary walk all over it without a single complaint. In cool weather, its green foliage has accents of bronze, and in spring, blue flowers dot the plant and often reappear later in the season.


Steve Kelley is the owner of Kelley & Kelley Nursery in Long Lake, Minnesota.

Photos: #1 and #3, Michelle Gervais; #2, Bill Johnson; #4, Doreen Wynja

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