11 Pollinator-Friendly Ground Covers

Ground cover plants are often chosen for aesthetic considerations, such as to introduce new colors or textures into a landscape. Or, they can be chosen for practical purposes to cover ground where turf grass does not thrive or is not practical. For example, areas of a yard that are deeply shaded may be a good spot for an alternative shade-tolerant ground cover plant, such as ajuga or pachysandra. Steep slopes that are difficult to mow may also be a good area to plant a ground cover. In arid climates where the high-water demands of grass are problematic, an alternative ground cover may replace grass entirely.

When covering large expanses of ground on the landscape, the initial cost will be much greater than for sowing grass seed, but ground covers may save you money in the long run, since they eliminate expenses such as extensive feeding, watering, and lawnmower fuel and maintenance.

Big Leaf Aster, Aster macrophyllus Big Leaf Aster
Benefits: BEES, BUTTERFLIES
Height: 1 - 2 feet
Bloom Time: August, Sept
Sun Shade: Partial Shade
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Dry, Medium
Color: White
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Big Leaf Aster (Aster macrophyllus) is the perfect plant for shady areas with less than perfect soil. Drought tolerant, it thrives in both dry sand and heavy clay soils that possess a modicum of organic matter. Spreads by rhizomes to form a ground cover. Great for stabilizing shaded hillsides and slopes. Big Leaf Aster hosts the larva/caterpillars of the Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos).
Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum) Mistflower
Benefits: BUTTERFLIES, BEES
Height: 1 - 3 feet
Bloom Time: July, Aug, Sept, Oct
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Partial Sun
Zones: 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist
Color: Blue, Violet
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum) is an eastern U.S. native. Covered with blue-violet flowers from late summer until frost, it is low growing, creeps rapidly by rhizomes and makes a fine groundcover for shade. Also grows luxuriantly in full sun when provided with adequate moisture.
Goat's Beard, Aruncus dioicus Goat's Beard
Benefits: BUTTERFLIES, BEES
Height: 3 - 6 feet
Bloom Time: May, June
Sun Shade: Partial Shade
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist, Wet
Color: White
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Goat's Beard, Aruncus dioicus, is a large feathery plumes of flowers rise from pinnately compound leaves. Goat’s Beard is an excellent choice for a background plant in a border or woodland garden. Spreads slowly by rhizomes to form attractive patches. Host plant to the Dusky Azure Butterfly.
Obediant Plant (Physostegia virginiana) Obedient Plant
Benefits: BEES, BIRDS, BUTTERFLIES
Height: 1 - 2 feet
Bloom Time: August, September
Sun Shade: Full Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist
Color: Pink
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: The Obediant Plant (Physostegia virginiana) makes a great groundcover for damp soils. This showy member of the mint family thrives in moist soil and creeps rapidly by rhizomes to keep weeds at bay. An excellent groundcover for wet areas that are difficult to mow, plant it with Great Blue Lobelia for a great late summer color combination.
Purple Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucrata Purple Poppy Mallow
Benefits: BEES, BUTTERFLIES
Height: 1 foot
Bloom Time: Apr, May, June, July, Aug, Sept
Sun Shade: Full Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Dry, Medium
Color: Pink, Purple
Spacing: 3 feet
Description: Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata), or Winecup, has masses of chalice shaped magenta flowers on trailing, deeply lobed foliage. Excellent as a rock garden plant or ground cover, each plant can spread up to three feet in width. Callirhoe involucrata fits well into formal gardens as well as naturalized areas. It looks great trailing over a wall.
Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense Canadian Wild Ginger
Benefits: BUTTERFLIES
Height: 3-5 inches
Bloom Time: Apr, May, June
Sun Shade: Partial Shade
Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam
Soil Moisture: Moist
Color: Green, Purple, Red, Brown
Spacing: 3 inches
Description: Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is a low, colony-forming perennial bears a pair of large, velvety, heart-shaped leaves. Growing at ground level in the crotch between 2 leafstalks is a single darkish red-brown to green-brown flower. The solitary flower is at ground level, hidden below the leaves.
Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana Wild Strawberry
Benefits: BEES, BIRDS, BUTTERFLIES
Height: .25 - .5 inches
Bloom Time: Aprill, May, June
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Partial Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Dry
Color: White
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is the tastiest of wild strawberries! Small stalked white flowers bloom among trifoliate leaves in mid to late spring. The berries which appear in spring through early summer are considered to be the best tasting of wild strawberries. Fragaria virginiana is a ground-hugging plant that spreads by runners, forming patches in dry fields and woodland openings.
Rose Coreopsis, Coreopsis rosea Rose Coreopsis
Benefits: BUTTERFLIES, BIRDS
Height: 1 to 3 feet
Bloom Time: July, Aug, Sept
Sun Shade: Full Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist, Wet
Color: Pink
Spacing: 1 - 2 feet
Description: Rose Coreopsis (Coreopsis rosea) is a showy, rare to endangered native of eastern states. Readily propagated, fine, dense green foliage gives way to numerous small pink flowers with yellow centers in mid-summer. A profuse and lengthy bloomer, Coreopsis rosea can be cut back in late summer to promote new early Autumn flowers.
Vanilla Sweet Grass, Hierocloë odorata Vanilla Sweet Grass
Benefits: Butterflies
Height: 1 to 2 feet
Bloom Time: Jul, Aug
Sun Shade: Full Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist
Color: Green, Yellow, Straw
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Vanilla Sweet Grass, Hierocloë odorata, is considered sacred and used in Native American ceremonies; braided and burned as a smudge to purify body and soul. The glossy leaves have a pleasant vanilla fragrance. Requires a moist rich soil in full sun. Creeps slowly by rhizomes to form a patch.
Wild Geranium, Geranium maculatum Wild Geranium
Benefits: BUTTERFLIES
Height: 1.5 to 2 feet
Bloom Time: Apr, May
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Partial Sun
Zones: 5
Soil Conditions: Loam
Soil Moisture: Medium
Color: Pink, Lavender
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Wild Geranium, Geranium maculatum, is a clump-forming, native, woodland perennial which typically occurs in woods, thickets and shaded roadside areas throughout the State. Forms a mound of foliage that grows to 24" tall and 18" wide. Features 1 1/4" diameter, pink to lilac, saucer-shaped, upward facing, 5-petaled flowers in spring for a period of 6-7 weeks.
Canada Anemone, Anemone canadensis Canada Anemone
Benefits: BUTTERFLIES, BEES, BIRDS
Height: 1 to 2 feet
Bloom Time: May, June, July
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Partial Sun
Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam, Clay, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist
Color: White
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Canada Anemone, Anemone canadensis, has attractive foliage and bright white flowers of Canada Anemone provide an excellent ground cover for damp areas. Spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes to form a solid groundcover. Install plants one foot on center to create a carpet of color in one to two growing seasons.