As a gardener who enjoys flowers and bees more than I enjoy pulling weeds, I’m very happy to share with you my favorite ground cover plants for pollinators and people. These are sure to please!
Ground Cover Plants
Ground cover plants are low-growing, spreading plants that create some sort of plant mat or carpet over time. Some gardeners select ground cover plants for their gardens because they like the flowers they produce and other gardeners choose them for their weed suppressing skills. I like them for both reasons, as well as the fact that my favorite ground cover plants also happen to attract pollinators. These lovelies don’t just attract honey bees, either; they’re equally appealing to mason bees and those wonderful assassins of bad bugs, the parasitic wasps. To see a selection of ground cover plants, or any plant, available for purchase, please click here.
Ground cover plants are typically easy to maintain since you plant them to spread on their own, at their own pace. In my garden, I use compost and layers of wood chip to keep my soil moist and the weeds down and the ground cover plants just grow right along over the top of everything. After a few years, I may go in and replant if certain spots on the ground cover have died out over a harsh winter or dry summer but, since ground cover plants multiply themselves so readily, I just use a cutting from a healthy area to fill in a sad looking area. If a weed grows up through the ground cover, I rummage around and pull it out; typically, the weeds are a bit weakened from having to push up through the ground cover plant to get to the sun.
4 Ground Cover Plants for Pollinators
Mother of Thyme – Thymus serpyllum
I can’t tell you how much I love this plant! Doing best in zones 5-10, though I’ve seen some rated down to zone 3, this evergreen ground cover is very sturdy. It’s not the fastest grower, though it’s much speedier than something like elfin thyme. It covers softly, gently growing here and there to create protected areas of soil and even a step-able carpet for garden path nooks. Don’t run your soccer team over it but, otherwise, it will hold up to light foot traffic. (If it’s a time when the plant is in bloom, check for bees before you step.) The foliage is an evergreen being green in warm weather and purple in cold weather.
When you’re ready to divide it and move baby plants to new places in your yard, you can do that by dividing the root ball, taking root or stem cuttings. Mother of Thyme will also slowly spread itself around your yard via seedlings that pop up from dropped seed.
Mother of Thyme enjoys full sun but can take some shade. A pH neutral soil will make it happy, as will an even amount of moisture, but it can take drier conditions and is a good choice for xeriscaped gardens. Some people even replace their lawns or mow strips with varieties of low growing thyme, especially Mother of Thyme. Don’t forget, too, this is a thyme, which means it’s an aromatic herb. I’ve used this in cooking when I run out of the larger leafed thyme – it has a strong, more wild flavor that’s a bit cheeky. Blooming in the late spring, Mother of Thyme will feed the pollinators in your yard, as well as you. The blooms vary in shades of pinks and purples and the pollinators just love them. My honey bees have wars over my Rugosa roses and my Mother of Thyme all season long.
Creeping Potentilla – Potentilla Neumanianna
Also called Cinquefoil, this is a great ground cover plant that covers quickly and easily. It will do well in sun or full shade (though it will flower less with less sunshine). The leaves are reminiscent of strawberry leaves and the happy, yellow flowers look like small buttercups. Doing best in zones 4-8, it is drought tolerant and very step-able. The foliage is a glossy, deep green in warm weather and will turn purple-ish in cold weather, even occasionally turning red. The flowers appear once the season warms and will bloom until the intense heat of summer.
Weeds have a very, very hard time getting through Creeping Potentilla; all but my dandelions give up and die. This plant will grow in pretty much any kind of soil and does very well on rock walls or between paving stones. Being related to Potentilla reptans it may also be an herbal astringent but I can’t verify that.
I’ve planted creeping potentilla in walkways and to cover a small hill in our front yard; it’s doing beautifully in both places and has even popped up in new places, a bit removed from the mother plants. I love plants that re-plant themselves. It really isn’t picky about soil but doesn’t much care for really humid summers. I don’t think there’s a pollinator out there who can resist the siren call of those delicious looking, yellow flowers – our good bugs love them. So does my toddler, who seems to think that the bees and other pollinators have enough other flowers to feed from and, instead, she should be able to pick all the blooms.
Alpine Strawberries – Fragaria Vesca
These are a bonus plant because, not only do they make the pollinators happy when they’re in bloom, but they also produce fruit. I featured this plant in my post Five Fruits for the Children’s Garden, which you can read by clicking here. Suffice it to say, I love this ground cover and so do the pollinators.
Creeping Phlox – phlox subulata
Hardy in zones 3-9, you may already love this ground cover plant and just didn’t know what it was called. Creeping Phlox is very popular as a spring bloomer in many different types of garden spaces, especially on rock walls and around paths. The plant spreads at an even rate but over time, it forms woody stems that stop flowering. Simply cut those out with a bit of fall maintenance to allow the softer stems to produce an effusion of flowers.
Phlox comes in so many different varieties of colors including pinks, lavenders and white and when they’re in bloom, it looks like Mother Nature is rolling out a rainbow carpet for you. You and your pollinators can expect to enjoy those blooms as one of the first heralds of truly warm, spring weather. Plan to see the smaller pollinators on these smaller blooms. My bumble bees pass them up entirely but even while I was planting these I had several honey bees come visit. Even after the blooms fade, the leaves are a perennial green and the plant continues to put on size as it grows throughout the season.
The phlox you see here is Monrovia brand and they were contributed by Monrovia as part of their sponsoring this post in connection with their “Connecting to the Earth with Monrovia Plants” campaign. I grow a great deal of my plants from seed because I can’t afford to keep my garden up by purchasing plants. Because I don’t want to waste my money on random plants of unknown origin, when I buy, I buy quality brands that I trust and who offer warranties on their products. If I’m buying from a farmer I know (an actual person, not an entity), then that’s a bit different and that’s usually vegetables plants. So, even if Monrovia weren’t sponsoring this post, I’d still tell you to consider your nursery purchases well before you waste your money on a plant that may or may not grow. I don’t mind risking a few bucks for pansies but if I’m considering something bigger – perennial bush or tree, quality groundcover that I really need to perform, conifers – I’m going to seek out a brand that has a reputation for quality. I just don’t like to waste my money on stuff that dies. Monrovia is a brand I purchase.
So, did I miss your favorite ground cover? Please let me know which groundcover plants you use in your garden and why! To learn how to begin a butterfly garden, please visit this Garden Quick Tip post.