Pick the best variegated ground covers for your garden

August 4, 2018

Jessica Walliser Variegated thyme is both a beautiful groundcover and an edible herb.

Groundcovers are useful for so many different garden areas. Not only do they help limit weed growth by covering the soil, they also reduce the need to purchase and spread mulch each year. Plus, if you have a sloped site that’s difficult to mow, groundcovers can be a lifesaver.

While there are many common groundcovers, from pachysandra and myrtle to sweet woodruff and ivy, choosing the perfect groundcover for a specific garden area can sometimes prove challenging.

While common groundcovers like those mentioned above are good choices for many different garden areas, if you’re looking for something a bit different, consider using a variegated groundcover. Not only do variegated groundcovers perform all the usual functions of a groundcover, they also provide added interest through their colorful two-toned foliage.

Here are some of my favorite variegated groundcovers, along with their preferred growing conditions.

Variegated lilyturf (Liroiope muscari “Variegata”). This beautiful variegated groundcover produces clumps of broad leaves that resemble thick grass blades. Fully winter hardy here in Pennsylvania, the plant produces bright yellow stripes along dark green, arching leaves. Then, in the spring, pale purple flower spikes top the clumps of this groundcover. Though it doesn’t spread the same way a creeping groundcover like myrtle does, variegated lilyturf is low maintenance and reaches just 15 inches tall. The only maintenance it requires is an annual early spring “haircut” to remove any leaves that were damaged by winter. Variegated lilyturf prefers partial sun, but will do well in shadier conditions, too. Plant it thickly for the best results.

Variegated thyme (Thymus x citrodorus “Variegata”). If you’re looking for a delicate-looking groundcover that also happens to be edible, variegated thyme is a great option. Though it isn’t quite as flavorful as other culinary-specific varieties of thyme, it is edible and has a lemony thyme-like flavor. The tiny leaves of this variegated groundcover smell like lemons, too. It loves full to partial sun and does well even with a moderate amount of foot traffic. Reaching just 6 inches in height and fairly fast-spreading, variegated thyme is a great groundcover for pollinator-friendly landscapes. Loads of clusters of tiny pink flowers appear in the spring and are adored by many different species of bees. The only maintenance required is trimming off any dead growth in the spring, but since this groundcover is evergreen and fully hardy, very little winter damage typically occurs.

Variegated deadnettle (Lamium maculatum). This easy-care groundcover has been a longtime favorite of mine. It spreads quickly and produces pink or white blooms adored by spring bumblebees. There are several different variegated varieties that do beautifully here in Pennsylvania but most have a dusty gray variegation on medium green leaves. Low-growing, variegated deadnettle tops out at just 4 to 6 inches tall and a few plants quickly form a dense mat of groundcover. The only downside to this choice is that deadnettle is not evergreen. The plants fully die back for the winter and re-emerge from the ground in the early spring, leaving the soil bare during the winter months. Keep that in mind if the area where you want to plant it is in a prominent place.

Variegated creeping euonymus (Euonymus fortunei “Emerald Gaiety”). This evergreen variegated groundcover looks gorgeous all year long. A low-growing shrub that spreads out wide but reaches just two feet tall, variegated creeping euonymus can be trimmed to stay even shorter if need be. The leaves are emerald green and edged with bright white. As the branches spread, they form roots where ever they come in contact with the soil. Preferring full to partial sun, creeping euonymus requires very little care. It’s a fairly fast grower once established and the plants are drought tolerant, too. Though euonymus scale can sometimes be a problematic pest on this plant, healthy, well maintained plantings don’t typically develop any issues with this pest.

As you can see, including variegated groundcovers in your garden’s plant palette adds a lot of interest. All of these plants are available from various local garden centers as well as several online sources. They are well worth seeking out and including in your garden plans.

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