Suggestions for ground cover

Asked March 30, 2020, 5:41 PM EDT

I live in Silver Spring MD and I'd like a suggestion of perennial or mixed perennial/annual vegetation that I could plant to cover two slopes. They already show signs of erosion. I'd like to avoid grass and would prefer something beneficial for birds and bees.

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

The site appears to be a fairly sunny one (if it remains so in summer) and so a wide array of candidate plants is possible. Natives might be ideal for birds and bees, though in general, a diverse planting of varying heights, bloom times, and flower types (flat clusters, trumpets/tubular, etc.), will attract the greatest range of beneficials and wildlife. The three links below have information on MD native plants, both in habitat preference and wildlife benefit.

Groundcovers can both be traditional low-growing choices or taller plants whose growth knits together to both hold soil with intertwined root systems and foliage to intercept hard rain.

Assuming a predominantly sunny exposure and no problems with deer browsing, here are a few ideas to get you started among the shorter growers, both native (*) and not:

  • Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)*
  • Pussytoes (Antennaria)* - not super showy in bloom, but foliage is decorative and at least one of our local butterflies can use this as a host plant
  • Heath Aster (Aster ericoides prostratus*, cultivar 'Snow Flurry' is particularly mat-forming; many other Asters are native and a bit taller)
  • Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)*
  • Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
  • Verbena (Verbena canadensis) - tender perennial which sometimes returns
  • Lantana (Lantana) - annual
  • St. Johnswort (Hypericum) - while our natives are taller and shrubby, the popular low-growers are not
  • Sedum (many species and hybrids) - we do have a few native sedums, but those used for groundcovers are not
  • Pinks (Dianthus)
  • a number of herbs, such as Creeping Thyme (Thymus), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Marjoram (Origanum marjorana), and Mint (Mentha) which will be aggressive but pollinators do greatly enjoy the flowers
  • Bellflowers (Campanula poscharskyana, C. portenschlagiana)
  • Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)*
For slightly taller options:
  • Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)*
  • Threadleaf Tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata)*
  • Calamint (Calamintha nepeta) and Catmint (Nepeta)
  • Sages (Salvia officinalis, S. nemorosa, etc.)
  • Blazing-star (Liatris)*
  • Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens)
  • Beebalm (Monarda didyma)* - there are many short cultivars available
  • Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)* - also has dwarf cultivars
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)* - dwarf cultivars available; birds eat the berries
  • Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)* and Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata)* - similar to each other; bees pollinate and birds eat fruit
  • Helen's Flower (Helenium autumnale)*
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)*
  • Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)*
  • Hyssop (Agastache)
  • Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium)* - though use caution as some grow very tall; dwarf forms are available but over time might still be on the large side (you could always site it on a corner of the bed)
Some of the above plants will attract hummingbirds as well. For seed and fruit-eating birds, many native ornamental grasses and shrubs will attract them, but may either take up a lot of room in this bed (especially with some shrubs needing cross-pollination with a second plant) or would grow much taller than any of the above species. For berries, consider natives species among Viburnums, Hollies, Blueberries, Chokeberries, Dogwoods (shrubby species), and Bayberry. For decorative grasses, Dropseed (Sporobolus) is rare in MD in the wild; Panic Grass (Panicum)* and Bluestem (Andropogon)* could be useful as well. In nesting season, many birds hunt a diet of insects to provide their growing young with enough protein. Attracting insects should attract the birds, along with other features, such as birdbaths.