The ground floor of your landscape is sometimes overlooked, but has both practical and aesthetic impacts. The options available to address this aspect include mulches and lawn, but for many situations other ground covering plants are ideal. Properly selected and planted groundcovers can provide year-round attractiveness and erosion control, as well as weed and mud suppression, with much less maintenance than either mulches or grass, and in our mild-winter climate we have a nice selection of evergreen options:
Evergreen Groundcovers for Sun
Kinnickinnick (Bearberry) – (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) – This native groundcover form of manzanita thrives in poor quality soils with good drainage. Red stems set off the green leaves; pink and white flowers in late spring produce mid to late summer berries that are non-toxic.
Cotoneaster – (Cotoneaster dammeri) – Tough and fast-growing, cotoneaster provides durable erosion control and weed suppression. White flowers in early summer give way to bright orange-red berries that persist well into fall and winter.
Veronica – (Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’) – A bit smaller and less aggressive than the above options, olive-green foliage turns bronze in winter but doesn’t drop. Bright blue blooms are profuse fairly early in spring, and recur into the summer.
Juniper – (Juniperus spp.) – Many types of juniper are spreading groundcover plants, providing excellent drought tolerant coverage of larger areas. Some interesting and attractive varieties for groundcover use include ‘Daub’s Frosted’, ‘Pancake’, and ‘Blue Pacific’ (the only species native to western Oregon)
Evergreen Groundcovers for Shade
Periwinkle – (Vinca minor) – A very fast spreading plant. Avoid the larger (and even more aggressive) Vinca major for everything except container use. Leaves are usually dark green (variegated forms exist). Blue, white, or purple flowers (depending upon variety) are very attractive spring to summer. Can be overly aggressive.
Salal – (Gaultheria shallon) – A taller groundcover, native and widespread in western Oregon. Coarse but attractive foliage is used in floral arranging; white spring flowers are followed by dark (almost black) purple fruit (edible but bland).
Sweet Box – (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) – A quite slow spreading groundcover that thrives in dry shade. Very (overwhelmingly) fragrant white flowers in mid to late winter (January and February); the purple-black berries, though not edible, are non-toxic.
Evergreen Groundcovers for Mixed Light
Carpet Bugle – (Ajuga reptans) – A relatively fast groundcover spreading by runners, and adaptable from sun to quite substantial amounts of shade. Many forms have bronze, purple, or even pink and white marbled foliage. Ascending spikes of blue flowers in spring add to their appeal.
Creeping Raspberry – (Rubus pentalobus) – Fast spreader on re-rooting stems that grows well in full sun to moderate or partial shade. White flowers late spring and early summer are attractive, the golden yellow fruit are showier – and fairly tasty too!
Creeping Jenny – (Lysimachia nummulria) – Also a fast spreader on re-rooting stems, with bright green or chartreuse yellow foliage (depending upon variety). Will tolerate all but the very hottest or very darkest locations – at its best in morning sun and afternoon shade. Yellow summer flowers are a nice complement to the foliage. Needs irrigation, and thrives in sites too wet for other covers – even sometimes used as a pond plant.
Russian Cypress – (Microbiota decussata) – The summer look of this conifer is almost like a carpet of arborvitae, but in winter the foliage turns a very distinctive bronze-brown. Much more adaptable for soil and lighting than other conifers.
Evergreen Special Interest Groundcovers
Sedums and Succulents – Bringing the look of a drier climate to the landscape are various succulent species. Sedums, hen-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp.), and some of the hardier ice plants (Delospermum spp.) do well here – but review the tags before purchase, not all of the hardy ones are evergreen. Aside from an interesting array of foliage colors – including intense yellows and whites – most species have attractive flowers at least some part of the year.
Aside from some of the edible-berried covers mentioned above, several evergreen groundcovers combine usefulness with their beauty. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a smaller cousin to the salal, with large showy berries with unique minty flavor. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and lingonberry (Vaccinium vitus-idaeus) produce quite tart berries. Although production strawberries are too short-lived for groundcover use, both of our native wild strawberries make excellent ornamentals with the bonus of small tasty crops. And evergreen herbs such as creeping rosemary and many kinds of thyme can be used much more widely than just in the herb garden.