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6 Dependable Ground Covers for Warm Climates

Gardening in warm regions comes with a whole set of challenges: hot summers, dry shade, heavy rains, droughts and soils ranging from pure sand to impenetrable clay and soggy muck. But believe it or not, there's bound to be a suitable ground cover for your garden, no matter how hot, dry, shady or soggy it may be. These ground covers will give your garden a place where the eye can rest, and will give you a little more rest too, thanks to their undemanding nature.

Some of the plants listed here can also be grown as shrubs or specimen plants, but they're too useful to ignore as ground covers. Firecracker plant is often regarded as a shrub, but its delicate arching stems cover a lot of ground without obstructing the view. Cinnamon ginger is a bit on the taller side if you allow it to grow unchecked, but even then it forms a weed-suppressing tall ground cover that looks superb paired with shorter ground covers like lilyturf.
Speckled Cast Iron Plant
(Aspidistra sichuanensis 'Ginga', syn. 'Milky Way')

This is a small and speckled relative of cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior, USDA zones 7b to 11), which is normally grown as a houseplant, but expect to see it labeled as Aspidistra 'Milky Way' in nurseries. To be completely honest, just about any Aspidistra plant will work very well as a ground cover in the landscape, regardless of its name. This one just happens to be short enough to be used as a lawn substitute, attractively spotted and readily available at local nurseries.

The only maintenance you'll need to perform for cast iron plants is the occasional removal of dead leaves as they appear and division every few years. Not that you really need to dig and replant them; they're so beautiful and useful that you'll look forward to spreading them around the landscape.

Where it will grow: Evergreen in zones 7b to 11; find your zone
Water requirement: Low to average; well-drained soil
Light requirement: Full shade to partial sun
Mature size: 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide
Seasonal interest: Inconspicuous flowers; evergreen foliage year-round
When to plant: Spring to fall
Bulbine
(Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark')

It has the drought tolerance of a succulent, the low and grassy texture of a turfgrass, and spikes of the bright orange flowers of a, well, bulbine. Plant this South African native as a foil for coarser plants, at the edge of flower beds or along pathways, where the waving stalks of orange blooms will attract honeybees and butterflies. While just about any bulbine will work wonders for an outdoor space, the 'Hallmark' variety reseeds less and is easier to find at your nursery.

Bulbine Is drought tolerant and mostly maintenance free, but it does benefit from mulching, deadheading and division in spring or fall. In extremely hot, sunny or dry situations, it may need additional irrigation or shade in summer to keep it going until a rebloom in fall.
Where it will grow: Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 9 to 11) but resprouts in zone 8
Water requirement: Low; well-drained soil
Light requirement: Partial to full sun
Mature size: 1 foot to 2 feet tall, eventually forming a 2- to 3-foot clump
Seasonal interest: Orange flowers spring and fall, sometimes in summer and winter
When to plant: Spring to fall
Cinnamon Ginger
(Alpinia nutans)

If your garden is too soggy or too shady for other ground covers, you'll love this plant. Also known as false cardamom ginger, cinnamon ginger looks much like a dwarf version of the more widely grown shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet, zones 9 to 11) in every respect. Another notable difference, however, is the amazing scent of cinnamon you can smell upon crushing the leaves or brushing up against the plant. Use cinnamon ginger as a ground cover or an accent in shade gardens or wherever you desire a lush and tropical look, no matter how small the space.

Its slow growth allows you to trim the taller stems back every couple of years to keep it short, or you can let it grow up to 4 feet tall as a tall ground cover, so you'll have a chance to witness its rare porcelain flowers.

Where it will grow: Remains evergreen to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 9b to 11) but resprouts in zone 7b to 11
Water requirement: Average; tolerates standing water and drought once established
Light requirement: Full shade to partial sun
Mature size: 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide
Seasonal interest: White and orange shell-shaped flowers are rare; grow it for the lush foliage.
When to plant: Spring to fall
Society Garlic
(Tuhlbaghia violacea)

Edible garlic-flavored purple flowers on a drought-tolerant and grassy ground cover — what other reasons do you need to replace your lawn with society garlic? Suffering colonies of this plant can be found in parking medians and hell strips wherever it's hardy, but it responds very well to regular watering and an occasional boost of fertilizer, and it can fill in to form a weed-suppressing ground cover in just a couple of years.

The big blue and white flowers looming overhead in the photo here are those of the oft-planted lily of the Nile (Agapanthus africanus, zones 7 to 11). It makes a great companion for society garlic, since both plants bloom at the same time, are from South Africa and thrive in more or less the same conditions. Add a yellow bulbine (Bulbine frutescens, zones 9 to 11) to the mix for an even more impressive display.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 9 to 11) but resprouts in zone 7
Water requirement: Low; well-drained soil
Light requirement: Partial to full sun
Mature size: 1 foot to 2 feet tall and wide
Seasonal interest: Purple flowers in spring and summer, occasionally in fall and winter
When to plant: Spring to fall
Lilyturf
(Liriope 'Evergreen Giant')

Lilyturf is common in gardens across the world because it gives the eye a place to rest on — much like turf grasses — but without the maintenance. It needs to be trimmed only twice a year, once in late winter before the first flush of new growth, and again in fall to remove the stalks of spent purple blooms and ripening berries. It's not the end of the world if you fail to prune it at all, though, and it will continue to form an even denser deep green mass with each passing year.

Clumping lilyturfs like this one are not considered invasive. While I personally haven't had any issues with Liriope spicata, a creeping relative of 'Evergreen Giant', it can spread rapidly via runners and is considered invasive by some. But then again, so are turfgrasses like St. Augustine. It should also be noted that Liriope is often confused with mondo grass (Ophiopogon, zones 5 to 11), and neither is a true grass.
Where it will grow: Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 9 to 11) but resprouts in zone 7
Water requirement: Low
Light requirement: Partial to full sun
Mature size: 1 foot to 2 feet tall and wide
Seasonal interest: Purple flowers in spring and summer, occasionally in fall and winter
When to plant: Spring to fall
Firecracker Plant
(Russelia equisetiformis)

Firecracker plant is a bit more unkempt than the other ground covers listed here, but its airy and transparent demeanor keeps it from becoming too visually obtrusive. It is ideal for slopes or retaining walls, where its billowing and delicate stems can arch downward in a waterfall of tubular red flowers that hummingbirds can't resist.

It is drought tolerant enough to be commonly planted in the warmer areas of the American Southwest, and apart from pruning errant stems, there is little maintenance to worry about, especially if you plant it at least several feet away from paths. The long and wispy stems look superb when planted amongst architectural plants like agave and crinum, and firecracker plant can even be trained against walls and trellises in small spaces.
Where it will grow: Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 9 to 11), but resprouts in zone 8b
Water requirement: Low
Light requirement: Partial to full sun
Mature size: Feathery stems form a mass up to 3 feet tall.
Seasonal interest: Red tubular flowers spring through fall, sometimes in winter
When to plant: Spring to fall

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