sensitive ferns as a groundcover

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Photo: Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

Updated: May 25, 2022

This table offers some suggestions for groundcovers for different sites, however, there are many more options. Plants need to be able to grow on challenging sites, especially when used for slope or bank stabilization and as a grass substitute, are easy-to-grow, and relatively fast-growing. Invasive plants such as English ivy, Japanese pachysandra, and vinca should not be planted as they are known to move into and take over natural areas. It can take a few years for a groundcover to fill in. As the saying goes 'the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap'.

Name
(*deer resistant, N = Native)
Full
Sun
Part
Shade
Dry
Shade
Stabilize
Bank

Allegheny spurge*
(Pachysandra procumbens)

No

Yes No No

(N)  Ageratum, hardy
(Conoclinium coelestinum)

Yes No No No
Barrenwort* (Epimedium ssp.) No     Yes   Yes No
Blue star juniper*
(Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)
Yes      No No Yes

(N)  Canadian ginger* (Asarum canadense)

No     Yes No No
Catmint* 'Walkers Low'
(Nepeta x faassenii 'Walkers Low')
Yes No No Yes   
(N) Cinnamon fern* 
(Osmunda cinnamomea)
No Yes No Yes
(N) Christmas fern* 
(Polystichum acrostichoides)

 
No Yes Yes  Yes
Comfrey 'Hidcote Blue'
(Symphytum 'Hidcote Blue')
Yes  Yes Yes  Yes
Creeping thyme* 
(Thymus serpyllum)
Yes  No No  Yes
(N) Crested iris(Iris cristata) No Yes   No  No   
Deutzia 'Nikko'* 
(Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’)
Yes Yes No Yes
(N)   Foam flower
(Tiarella cordifolia)
No Yes No No
(NGolden Groundsel or
Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)
No Yes No No
(N)   Green and gold
(Chrysogonum virginianum)
Yes Yes No  No     
Lamb's ears'Helene von Stein'
(Stachys byzantina '
Helene von Stein') 
Yes Yes No Yes
(N)   Maidenhair fern* 
(Adiantum pedatum)
No Yes No No
Mondo grass
(Ophiopogon japonicus)
No     Yes No     No   
(N) Moss phlox
(Phlox subulata)
Yes   No No   Yes
(N) Partridgeberry* 
(Mitchella repens)
No Yes No No
(N)  Pennsylvania sedge* (Carex pensylvanica) No Yes  Yes No
(N) Phlox, creeping 'Sherwood Purple'
(Phlox stolonifera 'Sherwood Purple')
No Yes No No
Plumbago* 
(Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
Yes  Yes No Yes
(N)  Pussytoes, Plantain-leaf *
(Antennaria plantaginifolia)
No Yes Yes Yes
Sedge, Variegated Japanese* 
(Carex oshimensis 'Evergold')
 No   Yes No Yes
Sedum 'Angelina'
(Sedum rupestre 'Angelina')
 Yes

 No

 

No No
(N)  Sensitive fern
(Onoclea sensibilis)
 No  Yes No   No   
Shore juniper*
(Juniperus conferta)
Yes   No   No   Yes
Solomon's seal, variegated
(Polygonatum odorata)
No       Yes Yes No      
Sumac* 'Gro-Low'
(Rhus aromatic ‘Gro-Low’)
Yes Yes No Yes
Sweet box* 
(Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis)
  No   Yes No Yes
Willowleaf cotoneaster
(Cotoneaster salicifolius repens)
Yes Yes No Yes
Winter jasmine* (Jasminum nudiflorum) Yes  Yes No Yes
Wood spurge* 
(Euphorbia amygdaloides)
No Yes Yes   No  

 

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