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How to choose ground cover for your garden

Kind of a Big Deal



Ground cover plants can add the final touch to your garden. They can fill bare spots between and under larger plants, soften the edges of paths and patios, fill gaps between pavers, and trail over retaining walls and rockeries. 


When designing a new garden or rejuvenating an established one, ground covers are seldom top of mind when deciding on plant palettes, but they play a very important role in giving the garden that “finished” look. It’s like adding the soft furnishings when re-decorating your home!


Most gardens have areas that can benefit from one or two ground cover plants to remove the “raw” look of a newly-planted garden.


How to decide which ground cover will suit your garden?

Native violetNative violet


There’s more to choosing the best ground covers than just dashing into your Bunnings nursery and grabbing the first plants you see. Choosing plants based on wide appeal or what grabs your attention isn’t necessarily the best way to go.


Let’s look at some of the things you need to consider. 




The climatic zone in which you live will have the greatest impact on the types of ground covers (and other plants) that will flourish in your garden. 


Australia has four main zones  - tropical, subtropical, temperate, and cool - and many subcategories within these. New Zealand’s climate is also complex, varying from subtropical to cool, with severe alpine conditions in the mountainous areas.   


Tropical, for example, conjures up images of typically hot, humid regions subject to cyclones and flooding rains and covered with dense stands of lush rainforest. However, parts of Australia are technically in the tropical zone but are hot, arid and desert-like. Similarly, there are warm temperate and cool temperate regions, and while they generally have quite moderate temperatures and rainfall, they differ quite markedly when their “average” conditions are compared.


Pigface or Ice plantPigface or Ice plant

A basic understanding of the climate where you live will help you choose the plants best suited to your particular area. In addition to climate, you must also factor in the intensity of the sun and shade in your garden. Some ground covers love blazing sun while others much prefer shade. Always read the descriptive notes on plant labels while making your selections.  


Here are a few planting suggestions:


Tropical and subtropical (warm to hot, humid, abundant rainfall)


  • Native violet (Viola hederacea)
  • Purple fan flower (Scaevola aemula)
  • Liriope & variegated liriope (Liriope muscari and varieties)
  • Temple grass (Zoysia tenuifolia)
  • Dwarf cat’s tail (Acalypha herzogiana)
  • Calatheas (Calathea spp)
  • Fittonias (Fittonia spp).


Ajuga or bugleherbAjuga or bugleherb

Arid (low rainfall, inland, hot summers)


  • Pigface (Carpobrotus spp))
  • Purslane (Portulaca spp)
  • Heart-leaf ice plant aka pigface (Mesembryanthemum spp)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum spp)
  • Rock rose (Cistus spp)
  • Creeping boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium).


Temperate (Warm to hot summer, cool to mild winter, regular rainfall)


  • Bugleherb (Ajuga reptans and varieties)
  • Bindweed (Convolvulus sabatius) – can be invasive
  • Native violet (Viola hederacea)
  • Prostrate rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus prostrate)
  • Mondo grass (Ophiopogon sp)
  • Thyme (Thymus spp).



Cool (mild to warm summer, cool to cold winter including alpine)


  • Stonecrop (Sedum spp)
  • Thyme (Thymus spp)
  • Bellflower (Campanula spp)
  • Lithodora (Lithoodora diffusa)
  • Alpine phlox (Phlox subulata)
  • Bugleherb (Ajuga reptans cultivars)
  • Sea pink or thrift (Armeria varieties)
  • Alpine gentian (Gentiana spp).




It is important to evaluate the planting position and aspects of the garden. Look at your proposed ground cover sites at various times of the day and note whether they are in full sun all day, light shade for several hours, medium shade most of the day, or dense shade all day.  


Society garlicSociety garlic

Some plants, like the native violet, prefer a well-shaded, moist position and will not tolerate much sun, so don’t choose them if your garden is sunny most of the day. Others needing full sun, like pigface, may not flower if grown under the shade of overhanging trees and shrubs, although they might tolerate lightly dappled shade during the afternoon.


Again, we recommend reading plant labels to learn what conditions each plant needs and then try to accommodate them accordingly.




Next on the list of important things to consider when choosing ground covers is the space you have available.  


If you’re looking for something to fill in between pavers in a path, for example, don’t consider any plants that tend to become invasive or grow into large clumps. Planting a bindweed (Convolvulus) would be asking for trouble, whereas the miniature blue star creeper (Pratia) would be perfect.


It’s worth considering fragrant herbs such as thyme in these situations, as they are quite hardy, don’t mind being walked on occasionally, and release their scent every time they’re brushed over.


Where space isn’t an issue, planting spreading, creeping, or slightly taller (up to 300mm high) plants like pigface, gazanias, prostrate grevilleas, or rosemary is quite acceptable. Keep in mind that if they start to take over, they can all be trimmed back to fit.


Blue star creeperBlue star creeper

Need more ideas?


If you are uncertain as to what will best suit your requirements, take a walk around your neighbourhood and check out what other gardeners are growing in the way of ground covers. You don’t have to choose the same plants, but others’ plantings can be a terrific source of inspiration! 


Remember to also look at what’s available in your local Bunnings nursery—most will have a fantastic range carefully selected to do well in your area. Ask the Nursery team member for recommendations - they may just have a few hidden gems that will suit your garden down to the ground. 


There’s a couple of great articles already available on the Bunnings website about How to grow and care for ground covers and information about some of the all-time favourite ground cover options. Also check out Bunnings range of ground covers at your nearest store.


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1 Reply
Having an Impact

@Noelle Great informative how to, thank you. 


I am currently planting a mixture of Native violet & Dichondra in my garden in the big shady dirt patch under the magnolia tree. 

It seems to grow well I just need to stop the critters from eating it haha. 

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