Wild Seed Project tree background image
Wild Seed Project: Returning native plants to the Maine landscape
by Heather McCargo • January 30, 2017

A groundcover is a low growing plant that fills in quickly to make a dense carpet of foliage. Once established, it will crowd out weeds, provide year round protection to the soil, and offer overwintering habitat for native fauna. Ideally, a ground cover should include several species combined to create a beautiful tapestry of foliage and blooms, offering a long season of interest to humans and pollinators. Choose species with a similar growth rate (aggressiveness) for a low maintenance planting.

Below are some of my favorite groundcover combinations for a variety of growing conditions ranging from shade to sun. Once you have determined your site’s conditions, choose at least three to combine for your plantings. For a visually dynamic planting and to create a more diverse habitat with safe places for birds and pollinators to forage and hide, include larger shrubs and trees.

Part to full shade for large sites
These four species are aggressive growers and make a great combination for large, low maintenance shady sites. These species are too dominant for small landscapes unless bordered by pavement or lawn:

Canada windflower Anemone canadensis
Large-leaved wood-aster Eurybia macrophylla
Eastern hay-scented fern Dennstaedtia punctilobula
May-apple Podophyllum peltatum#
Plants for part to full shade for large sites
 

Part to full shade with medium moisture and moderately fertile soils
Canada wild ginger Asarum canadense
Golden star Chrysogonum virginianum#
Wild bleeding-heart Dicentra eximia#
White wood-aster Symphyotrichum divaricata
Ferns:
Maidenhair fern Adiantum peltatum
New York fern Thelypteris noveboracensis
Lady fern Athyrium filix-femina
Sensitive fern Onoclea sensibilities
Allegany spurge Pachysandra procumbens#
Golden groundsel Packera aurea
Creeping wood phlox Phlox stolonifera#
Spreading Jacob’s-ladder Polemonium reptans#
King Solomon’s-seal Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum
Foam-flower Tiarella cordifolia
New England violet Viola novae-angliae
Plants for part to full shade with medium moisture and moderately fertile soils
 

Part shade, moist to dry acid soils (near spruce, firs and pines)
Bunchberry Chamaepericlymenum canadense
Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens
Large-leaved wood-aster Eurybia macrophylla
White wood-aster Symphyotrichum divaricatus
Canada-mayflower Maianthemum canadense
Ferns:
Eastern hay-scented fern Dennstaedtia punctilobula
New York Fern Thelypteris noveboracensis
Common strawberry Fragaria virginiana
Lowbush blueberryVaccinium angustifolium
Plants with part shade, moist to dry acid soils
 

Full sun and dry sandy or gravelly soil
Bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Sand/moss phlox Phlox bifida, P. subulata#
Common strawberry Fragaria virginiana
Bush-honeysuckle Diervilla lonicera*
Juniper Juniperus horizontalis
Fragrant sumac Rhus aromatica#*
Plants for full sun and dry sandy or gravelly soil
 

Full to part sun for medium moisture and fertility soils
Canada windflower Anemone canadensis
Heart-leaved golden Alexanders Zizia aptera#
Wild bleeding-heart Dicentra eximia#
Spreading Jacob’s-ladder Polemonium reptans#

Note: in full sun with moist fertile soil, weeding will still be needed.
Plants for full to part sun for medium moisture and fertility soils
 

These woody shrubs make very low maintenance plantings. Once again combine several species with the same growing needs.
Bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Sweet-fern Comptonia peregrina*
Bush-honeysuckle Diervilla lonicera*
Juniper Juniperus horizontalis
Virginia-creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Fragrant sumac Rhus aromatica#*
Flowering raspberry Rubus odoratus
Shrub yellowroot Xanthorhiza simplicissima#
Bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Woody shrubs make very low maintenance plantings
 

Species with an * are tolerant of tough urban and roadside conditions such as infertile soil and salt spray. A # indicates an American plant native south or west of Maine.