10 Edible Ground Cover Plants for Backyards and Gardens

A gardener with scissors harvests oregano.

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A sprawling, green lawn might be a suburban landscaping classic, but there are other ways to landscape your yard. Phase out a grass lawn by adopting ground cover plants instead, and you can conserve water, spend less time behind a mower, and attract vital pollinators to your backyard. Plus, many of these hardy low-lying plants are edible, native species that will spruce up not just your backyard, but your kitchen as well.

From creeping herbs to wild berries, here are 10 edible ground cover plants that can revitalize your backyard.

Warning

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

1
of 10

Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Spearmint plant growing in the sun

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Spearmint is a hardy, fast-growing perennial herb that reaches one to three feet in height. The leaves are tender and fragrant, with a strong mint flavor that can be used to flavor foods and brew herbal teas. It's a great choice for shady and damp areas of your yard, since it tolerates shade and prefers damp soil. It grows easily, propagates quickly, and likes to spread out, so it's best to grow mint in areas that are hemmed in by pavement or other borders. It can be grown from seed and propagated by cutting or dividing the plants you already have in the ground.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Acidic, moist, deep, well-drained soils; prefers high organic content.
2
of 10

Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox)

A field of purple creeping thyme with a tree in the background.

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Creeping thyme is a perennial species of thyme that grows horizontally rather than vertically, and forms a matlike ground cover two to three inches tall and up to 24 inches across. Although the thyme that's grown commercially as an herb is a different species, creeping thyme is also aromatic and edible, and its oil can be used as an antiseptic. It's a hardy plant that can stand some foot traffic, making it an excellent choice near pathways and between rock steps. Thyme can be propagated through cuttings or dividing established plants.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers rich, somewhat dry soil; tolerates most soils if it's not overwatered.
3
of 10

Virginia Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)

Alpine strawberries growing in a backyard setting.

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Virginia strawberry is a perennial wild strawberry that is native to eastern North America. It produces white flowers, usually in April or May, followed by small, sweet fruit in June. It grows six inches to one foot in height, can be planted by seed, and spreads easily by runner, propagating on its own throughout the growing season. It's not tolerant of foot traffic, so consider planting it as a border around other areas of a garden.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers moist, well-drained soil; dry, acidic, sandy soils tolerated.
4
of 10

Creeping Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus 'prostratus')

A patch of creeping rosemary with pale blue flowers.

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Creeping rosemary is an evergreen perennial herb that is a horizontally growing subtype of the rosemary species. It grows from two inches to a foot in height, and can spread up to eight feet if left unchecked. Thanks to its Mediterranean origins, it prefers dry climates and is drought tolerant. It's not a great choice for colder climates because it will die off in winter if temperatures fall below 20 degrees on a regular basis. It produces light blue flowers in summer, and is best pruned after the bloom has passed to encourage dense growth.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7-10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers light, sandy, dry soil; tolerates most that aren't overly moist.
5
of 10

American Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Close up of green wintergreen leaves and red berries.

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Also known as eastern teaberry or boxberry, wintergreen is a perennial understory plant that does well in shady areas. Its red berries are edible and commonly added raw to salads or cooked in desserts or jams. It also produces small, white flowers in summer. Compared to other ground cover plants, it is slow-growing, and a great choice to plant under trees in dappled light. Wintergreen can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or division of established plantings.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-7.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun or dappled light.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, organically rich soil.
6
of 10

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

A patch of oregano plants growing closely together.

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Oregano is a hardy perennial that grows up to two feet tall with leaves that are prized as an herb in Italian cooking. It responds well to being pinched back, which will keep it low to the ground and dense, and it can be harvested quite often for its fragrant leaves, which can also be dried to store for longer periods. It's drought-tolerant, prefers full sun, and relatively dry, well-drained soil. After several years of growth, rosemary becomes woody, at which point it should be replanted, which can be done by seed, cuttings, or division.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Not overly moist; prefers light, dry, sandy, well-drained soil.
7
of 10

Garden Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Vibrant orange Nasturtium flowers in a vegetable garden
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Nasturtiums are best known as a flowering annual plant (perennial in zones 9-11) that is also a useful kitchen herb and ground cover plant that grows in long "trails" and can help repel pests in your garden. Its leaves have a peppery flavor similar to watercress, and its showy flowers can be pickled or eaten fresh. Its flowers grow throughout the summer, and its leaves have a unique shape reminiscent of water lilies. It is best grown from seed and does not transplant successfully.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2-11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, or, preferably, partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Grows best in poor soil with good drainage; not overly dry, moist, or fertile.
8
of 10

French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus)

A patch of green sorrel leaves in a garden

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French sorrel is a low-lying, mound-shaped perennial herb that grows six to 12 inches high. Its leaves have an acidic, lemony flavor and can be harvested and used in salads and soups. It grows best in spring and fall, and will bolt in the heat of summer. It's important to distinguish between French sorrel and common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), which will sometimes be marketed under one name, even though they are separate species. True French sorrel has a more pleasant, milder flavor.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-7.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers slightly acidic, rich, well-drained soil.
9
of 10

Acorn Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata)

Dark green squash growing on the ground

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If you're looking for a sprawling ground cover plant to occupy some serious real estate, look no further than the acorn squash, a species of perennial winter squash. Despite the name, it grows in warm weather — winter squash are distinguished from summer squash by their hard skin, which protects the fruit and allows it to be stored over winter. Unlike the herbs on this list, acorn squash has a defined growing period of 80 to 100 days, and it is usually harvested in September or October.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2-11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil.
10
of 10

Ramps (Allium tricoccum)

Delicate white flowers hanging from a green wild onion plant

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Ramps, or wild leeks, are a perennial plant native to North America that's both a wildflower and a wild food. They have a distinctive aroma and a similar taste to sweet spring onions, and can feature in a variety of recipes. Their native habitat is the moist, rich understory of the Appalachian woodlands, and they'll grow best in areas of your yard that mimic that fertile environment. They thrive in wet spring weather, will grow eight to 12 inches in height, and will produce white flowers in early summer.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-7.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained, acidic, loamy, calcium-rich soil.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.

View Article Sources
  1. Balick, Michael. Rodale's 21st-Century Herbal. Rodale. 2014.

  2. Trail, Gayla. Easy Growing. Rodale. 2012.