15 Low-Growing Perennials for a Beautiful Border Garden Year After Year
Home & Gardening

15 Low-Growing Perennials for a Beautiful Border Garden Year After Year

Low-growing perennials have many benefits. Like most ground covers, they hold dirt in place, choke out weeds, and slow down erosion. But as perennials, they last all year, adding either blooms or visual interest through their hues or uniquely textured leaves. And because they are low-growing, they are easy to maintain and keep in check. To help you determine what low-growing perennials are right for your garden, we spoke to experts who shared their top picks.  

  • Lara Hermanson co-owns Farmscape, which designs, installs, and maintains crop and native plant gardens in California.
  • Eleanor Gould is the director of estate gardening at The Inn at Little Washington, a three-star Michelin Restaurant and Double five Star inn in the Virginia countryside.

Everbearing Strawberries

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Everbearing strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa ‘Quinault’) are an excellent low-growing perennial. “We use both the edible variety and the California native, Fragraria Chiloensis,” says Lara Hermanson, principal, and co-owner at Farmscape. This latter species is best in zones 7 to 10 and grows only a few inches high. Most varieties of strawberry, in general, also spread quickly, becoming a thick green carpet in areas you don’t want covered in weeds.

  • Zones: 3 to 10
  • Size: 8 to 10 inches tall x 12 to 18 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Red Salvia

 

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Though technically a perennial, red salvia (Salvia splendens) is grown as an annual plant in temperate zones. “It provides habitat for pollinators,” says Hermanson. Salvia also grows quickly, making it a great plant for filling up newly tilled soil.

  • Zones: 3 to 10
  • Size: 12 to 24 inches tall x 9 to 18 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full sun to partial shade; moist but well-drained soil

Lamb’s Ear

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Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) has beautiful silver-gray color foliage. Hermanson says its texture can add interest to a garden, especially if it’s used to border other plants. Lamb’s ear doesn’t need much water and when it blooms, it grows spikes of pinkish flowers in the summer months.

  • Zones: 4 to 8
  • Size: 6 to 24 inches tall x 12 to 36 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Creeping Thyme

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A low-perennial, creeping thyme (Thymus spp.) does great in small patches of land. It blooms a carpet of tiny purple, pink, or white flowers and can even be used to fill in the space between pavers, Hermanson says.

  • Zones: 2 to 9
  • Size: 2 to 6 inches tall x 6 to 18 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full sun; well-drained, sandy soil

Woodland Phlox

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Growing in mild climates, woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) can work in a wide range of USDA zones. It also doesn’t need much sunlight, which means it does well in shady spots but blooms all spring. “Woodland phlox blooms in the spring and provides nectar and pollen for butterflies, bees, moths, and hummingbirds,” says Eleanor Gould, director of estate gardening at The Inn at Little Washington.

  • Zones: 3 to 8
  • Size: 6 to 12 inches tall x 10 to 20 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Partial sun to shade; moist but well-drained soil

Barrenwort

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Barrenwort (Epimedium) has impressive heart-shaped leaves and star-like flowers. But the best part is this plant grows really well in shade. “They are a natural fit for shady borders and tricky, dry areas under trees and shrubs,” says Gould. “They’re prized as ground cover plants and have a spreading habit.”

  • Zones: 5 to 8
  • Size: 8 to 12 inches tall x 12 to 36 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Partial sun to shade; loamy, sandy, moist but well-drained soil

Japanese Forest Grass

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A rare ornamental grass because it flourishes in shade, Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) is stunning. “It has a tropical look and feel, making it a striking ornamental grass for shade gardens,” says Gould. Unlike many other decorative grasses, it does not grow into an invasive weed and won’t spread too fast.

  • Zones: 4 to 9
  • Size: 12 inches to 18 inches tall x 12 to 24 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Partial sun; moist but well-drained soil

Basket of Gold

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Basket of Gold (Aurinia saxatilis) is a low-growing plant with clusters of bright yellow flowers. In areas with mild summers, it is typically grown as a perennial, while in southern regions, it’s an annual. It is drought-tolerant and low-maintenance and can even grow around what might be inhospitable spots for other plants, like rock gardens.

  • Zones: 4 to 7
  • Size: 6 to 12 inches tall x 12 to 18 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full sun; well-drained soil

Foamflower

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Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) grows best in woodlands, favoring shady spaces under trees. As a wildflower, it’s also very pretty in a subtle way. “It produces airy, bottlebrush-like flowers that are lightly fragrant and white or pink with a tinge of pink,” says Gould. “The flowers sit on top of the plant and look like puffs of floating foam.”

  • Zones: 3 to 8
  • Size: 1 to 3 feet tall x 6 to 12 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full to partial sun; loamy soil

Coral Bells

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Coral bells (Heuchera spp.) produce small bell-shaped blooms. “The blooms attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds,” says Gould. Plus, the plant’s shallow rhizomes can help keep soil in place, which is good for flood-prone areas.

  • Zones: 4 to 9
  • Size: 8 to 18 inches tall x 12 to 24 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full to partial sun; moist but well-drained soil

Creeping Juniper

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Creeping juniper (Juniper horizontalis) is a sprawling evergreen shrub. Contrasted with other shrubs, it doesn’t grow very tall, reaching a height of no more than 18 inches. It spreads well and covers difficult terrain easily.

  • Zones: 3 to 9
  • Size: 8 to 18 inches tall by 8 feet wide
  • Care requirements: Full sun; sandy, well-drained soil

Lungwort

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Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) is a low-growing plant that produces flowers on 18-inch stalks. It’s an early nectar source for bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies in late winter and early spring. “It’s often grown for its attractive leaves, shade tolerance, and bee-friendly flowers,” says Gould. “Lungwort’s flowers open pink, then change to violet and blue as they mature, and often all three colors are on the plant at once.”

  • Zones: 5 to 9
  • Size: 6 to 12 inches high x 1 to 2 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full sun to part shade; moist, well-drained soil

Bunchberry

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A shade-loving shrub, bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) prefers wooded areas and grows to a maximum height of 9 inches. Its pretty white flowers grow in clusters and add visual interest to dark spots of a yard.

  • Zones: 2 to 6
  • Size: 8 to 9 inches high x 12 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Part shade; moist, well-drained soil

Liverleaf

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Liverleaf (Anemone americana) is a perennial low-growing wildflower that is perfect for filling smaller spaces. Its leaves can change to brown during winter, hence the name, but its white, pink, or lavender flowers add a pop of color.

  • Zones: 3 to 8
  • Size: 6 inches high x 9 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Part shade; moist, well-drained soil

Ice Plant

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A low-growing succulent, ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) grows best in arid regions. Its leaves are fleshy and thick, while it can bloom in a variety of shades from pink to crisp yellow. The plant grows low to the ground, holding dirt in place, and will even grow along seaside cliffs.

  • Zones: 4 to 11
  • Size: 2 inches high x 24 inches wide
  • Care requirements: Full sun; sandy, well-drained soil