The Frequently-Ignored and Misunderstood Heroes of Your Garden's Understory

Understory plants are used to fill in under trees and shrubs, and tall plants. It adds another texture and dimension.

 There's another landscape story under the understory. Groundcovers. They hug the ground and  fill in the bare or boring areas, rather than having just grass or weeds there. They generally spread or fill in the areas with something that eliminates the need for grass and save you hours of weeding. They're also quite pleasing to the eye, which enjoys the continuity and flow of your landscape. It's like the rug you add to a newly designed room. It can flow all through the garden, or just the defined garden beds. I like to add it where it meets a path, or around stones and driftwood pieces. It fills in the gaps and seems to have grown naturally around them.


Low-growing understory and border kplants can also be used as groundcovers for larger areas and slopes when planted close together. They're quite pretty for a lot of garden design uses. I use them at the bases of fences, to fill the areas around the bottom of the pots of container plants, and to hide ugly things at  ground-level that i can't remove. I call it "putting lipstick on a pig". 
These plants are thriving in USDA Hardiness Zone 5.


Fescue( festucca) Ornamental Grass
"Elijah Blue"

Perennial evergreen
It might reaches about 10-12 inches at maturity in my landscapes.

Small, round, evergreen (zone 5) puffballs look amazing as edging or under taller plants. They've got personality. Not all groundcover needs to be flat! 

Blue-green. Produces long, wheat-like stalks during the summer. I cut these off unless i need the taller, airy shape to stand out in a particular landscape.
It looks very nice in winter when almost everything else in the garden has died to the ground.

I planted these in the front garden as an edging plant along the path and outlining the garden, and they look very pretty when growing very close together.  Weeds don't thrive under them. They do very well in a xeriscape, and have no special needs. More water brings out more of the blue-green color. Needs no trimming. I plant a few in my raised beds in front of much taller plants.





Snow-In-Summmer (Cerastium)

Perennial evergreen (mine looks only partially evergreen in winter, unless a greenish-brown living mat is what you'd call evergreen)

Zones: 3-10
Height: 6 inches tall by 1-2 ft. 
Mine spreads beautifully. 
Most of the time, mine doesn't grow taller than 4 inches.
Blooms spring and summer. Mine's still blooming mid-September. Bonus.
Bloom Color: White
Full sun

One of my favorite all-star perennials... I can't have enough of these plants. It's very dense and does well for so many purposes in your garden. I like the soft fuzzy little leaves. It works very well on slopes, in the base of container plants, between cracks in cement and stepping stones, and falls beautifully from ledges and window boxes. 

I like these as a substitute for creeping phlox because it blooms much longer and it's got fuzzy leaves. It looks pretty even when there are no flowers. I have it growing around the bases of birdbaths and around hosta plants, and along path edges. It keeps out, or at least strangles, most of the weeds and stray birdseed plants from around the bases of my birdfeeders.

The leaves are grayish green. When it blooms, it's almost entirely covered with bright white flowers.It grows fast. It's great for a xeriscaped garden because it has tolerance to drought.  Snow-In-Summer prefers full sun. I find that it does well in sun unless temperatures are above 90/ I separate young and healthy clumps from a plant, and pop it wherever i can in the garden. They take transplanting well once you get the hang of it. It's a little tricky, because it's a large mat, and you have to find and plant the rooted parts, not the stems, and the roots are quite short.



Ivy Vines - I use the non-invasive English ivy in my landscapes.

Variegated English Ivy


A fast-growing perennial groundcover with many uses. I have several types of variegated English Ivy in my gardens and indoors.
Very pretty at the base of potted trees and shrubs, and in window boxes. Some of mine are green and yellow, and some are blue-green and white

Gold Child and Gold Baby English Ivies.

Blue Rug Juniper
Zone: 3-8

Excellent as a ground cover or cascading over walls and spilling out of pots. Mine grow as part of my zen garden landscaping, along with Dwarf Japanese Maples and dwarf bamboo. They edge a raised garden bed to eventually tumble over the sides. This plant will grow to a spread of 6 to 8 feet or more, and 4 to 6 inches in height. Stepable. I will trim, as needed, to keep it where i want it. Rapid growing, low juniper. Intense silvery blue foliage has a light purplish tinge in winter. I like it for covering a large area of naked ground fairly quickly. 




Blue Star Creeper

Very sweet little plant that covers thickly and spreads. Deep green with blue star-shaped little flowers. It grows up to about 6 inches tall. Usually up to 4 inches. I like it. And it can take a few of your footsteps, too.I have this in white as well. It prefers a regular watering. Grows into a thick, fast-growing, low mat, choking out most weeds. Or growing around them.

Hosta "Patriot"

A very pretty edging or front of the border plant that can also be used as a groundover in larger areas. Dies to the ground in winter (zone 5), and shoots return in spring. It can be a very effective groundcover if planted close together. It can take a fair amount of sun, but prefers at least partly shady areas. Blue-green and white edge foliage. They're a great addition in pathways and in front of the tall peony borders in the Japanese Garden.

Creeping Jenny

Beautiful bright yellow/green fronds meander through the garden bed. Delicate stems. Very hardy and keeps weeds out. Beautiful at the base of containers and in window boxes. Can be lightly stepped on.