When picturing ground covers, you may imagine a few compact plants, like sedums, hostas, or other beautiful plants that are mainly grown for their ornamental value. But, what if you could gain all the gardening benefits of ground covers, and eat them too?
Edible ground covers are must-haves in any garden. Not only do they make garden care simpler by acting as a living mulch, keeping other plants and your soil healthy, but you also get to harvest them at the end of the day. They also increase the biodiversity of your garden, controlling pests naturally and inviting pollinators to your garden. Plus, you’re using space that would remain empty otherwise to grow even more edible plants. It really is a no-brainer.
When it comes to choosing these low to ground plants, you may run into a common issue in gardening – there are too many to choose from. From herbs to flowers and fruiting plants, you’ll likely want to grow every edible groundcover you can get your hands on. These eleven plants are ideal ground covers to foodscape gardens, keeping the rest of your plants healthy and happy and providing you with produce in the process.
Nasturtiums are often grown for their large colorful flowers and lily pad-like leaves. But, these plants can also be appreciated for their peppery taste. In the kitchen, both the flowers and the leaves are used in a range of dishes, with a flavor reminiscent of mustard.
The long vines spread across beds quickly, creating lush cover at a remarkable speed. Instead of mulching your beds straight after planting, pop in a few nasturtium plants and they will surround your plants in no time. This quick growth rate does come with a caveat – they tend to take over if given the opportunity. Keep an eye on the vines to ensure they do not suffocate any surrounding plants.
Nasturtiums play a particularly important role in vegetable gardens – attracting aphids. Why on earth would you want to attract aphids, you may ask? This draws them away from the other plants in your garden, particularly leafy greens, or other plants that are well known to be decimated by an aphid infestation. Nasturtiums are one of the most successful trap crops, keeping your prized plant free of prying pests.
On top of all these benefits, they are also incredibly easy to care for. They thrive on minimal attention and grow well in a range of conditions – an ideal low to ground plant for new gardeners.
Another easy ground cover requiring minimal care is creeping thyme. This stunning thyme variety is low-growing, spreading across beds in dense clumps to completely cover the soil. Varieties sport small flowers, creating a carpet of purple across the garden when they are in bloom.
The best feature of this compact plant is its resilience. It can handle some pressure from feet, whether that be from gardeners or animals, without taking damage. In fact, the pleasant smell released when it is walked over makes creeping thyme an ideal lawn replacement or filler in pathways. This plant draws bees in and keeps deer out, useful characteristics in any garden.
The leaves add a wonderful herbaceous flavor when used fresh. Alternatively, the stalks can be hung up and dried to make teas or flavorings. The options, both in the garden and in the kitchen, really are endless.
We’re all familiar with strawberries – the cute red fruits we find in the produce aisle. Alpine strawberries, also known as Woodland strawberries, are slightly different. They still form part of the same genus Fragaria, but produce smaller, sweet fruits that are certainly no less tasty. They are also considered a popular runner plant because of how quickly they grow.
Why grow alpine strawberries as ground cover instead of regular garden strawberries? Regular strawberries propagate from runners that spread along the ground and root new plants. In any garden bed, they have the potential to take over if not kept under control. Alpine strawberries don’t have runners, making them ideal plants that won’t interfere. They’re well-behaved that way.
They also have another advantage over regular strawberries – smaller fruits. Ground covers by nature are not designed to be the star of the show, which is not the case when it comes to strawberries. These delicious fruits attract wildlife from far with their intense red color, wildlife that may potentially wreck the other plants you’re trying to protect.
Woodland strawberries are also more tolerant of shade (evidence by the name). This makes them ideal for placement under taller plants, as they will still produce fruits in partial sunlight. They are relatively pest and disease-free, giving gardeners few problems throughout the season. It’s a good idea to keep certain animals around to keep harmful insects off strawberries, which will naturally draw more insects.
Sticking in the herb realm, oregano also makes a great edible ground cover. Growing slightly taller than creeping time, this plant is perfect to border pathways or beds. However, it can also be kept compact with regular harvesting, which you are bound to be doing frequently.
In the vegetable garden, oregano is the quintessential companion plant. Plant it with absolutely anything and it will thrive, happily covering the soil of your beds. It is particularly helpful to plants of the Brassicaceae family like broccoli and cabbage, as it repels sap-sucking insects. It is drought-tolerant once established, requiring little attention from you and leaving you more time to attend to your other plants.
Oregano doesn’t just play nice in the garden, it’s friendly in the kitchen too. This herb is most commonly used in tomato dishes, but also works well in soups or marinades. Its bold, spicy flavor is a signature in Italian dishes, as well as everyone’s favorite – pizza.
French sorrel is found less frequently in gardens and in food, but it is certainly no less tasty. In the right conditions, it spreads rapidly, sticking low to the ground and covering the area in interesting shield-like leaves.
The seedlings may be more difficult to find in nurseries, but it grows well from seed, easily found online. The seeds germinate quickly, producing a clump of leaves that move outwards horizontally from the center of the plant. However, ensure you don’t plant too many (even if it is tempting). Just a couple of plants is enough to cover a large bed in a short space of time.
As many gardeners have never tasted sorrel, it might be difficult to know what to do with it. The leaves have a bitter, citrusy flavor unlike any other plant, ideal for use sparingly as a garnish. While some use the leaves as a replacement for spinach, the acidity can overpower a dish. Whether eaten fresh or cooked, this is one plant you just have to taste to experience.
We’re all familiar with rosemary, imagining a massive bush of fragrant stalks. But when it comes to ground covers, creeping rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) is the variety to look out for. From the Mediterranean, this carefree herb is drought resistant and requires little to no care to thrive.
Creeping rosemary is a prolific spreader. One plant alone can span an impressive 6 feet. It also features stunning blue-purple flowers that bloom en masse in spring and summer. It forms a stunning display in any garden, but particularly suits Mediterranean-inspired garden designs.
The flavor of creeping rosemary is similar to the herb you already know. This means it is suitable for and most popular in meat dishes containing pork, beef or lamb. It’s also perfect sprinkled over roasted vegetables, imparting a woody, peppery taste.
It may seem strange to grow dandelions intentionally. They are, after all, considered a weed. Most gardeners want advice on how to remove them, not grow them. However, if you’re willing to ditch the negative connotations of the label ‘weed’, you’ll find these plants are wonderful additions to any garden, including as edible ground covers.
Dandelions may be lamented for their rapid spread, but this is technically an asset when it comes to plants that grow lower to the ground. And, if the spread of the plant by its seeds is controlled, it won’t invade other parts of your garden. Or your neighbor’s garden, thankfully. In essence, it is not as uncontrollable as some gardeners make it seem.
They also require no help from you to get going. Dandelions are ideal for that tricky spot in the garden where almost nothing grows. Poor soil or shady spots do not trouble these tough plants.
Above all, dandelions have plenty of culinary uses that will take your cooking skills to the next level. All parts of the plant are edible, from the nutrient-dense leaves to the classic flowers. Try turning young leaves into a healthy pesto. The younger the leaf, the less bitter the taste. Or, harvest the flowers to decorate salads or make a fresh herbal tea with medical properties.
Say mint out loud and you will likely hear the collective eye roll of millions of gardeners bemoaning this plant. And I absolutely understand why. Mint does not play nicely with anything else in the garden. It takes over entire garden beds in the blink of an eye and seems almost impossible to get rid of. But when it comes to ground cover, isn’t this an asset?
I wouldn’t suggest using mint in any bed you plan to use productively. True to its reputation, it will steal all the resources and all the space, making it difficult for anything else to grow. But, if you have a large empty bed you’re stuck with, or simply want to turn a brown patch of soil into a luscious green one, mint is perfect.
There are many mint varieties to choose from, but Corsican mint is the variety often chosen specifically for use as a ground cover. Its small, rounded leaves and short height form a dense carpet of mint rapidly in almost any area it is planted in. It loves areas with dappled light, making it an ideal choice beneath trees.
Experienced vegetable gardeners will already understand how quickly pumpkin vines can spread. These massive plants need plenty of space to grow along the ground, with their large leaves creating a shady cover over the soil. While not traditionally used as a ground cover, pumpkins fit the definition, so why not give them a try?
Pumpkins are the perfect vegetable to cover wide open spaces in your garden. When controlled, they can grow successfully in small gardens too. But, they will need to be watched with a close eye, as they tend to jump from bed to bed, spreading as far as they possibly can. They also like to climb structures and need to be kept away from anything you don’t want covered in pumpkin vines.
Despite these downsides, pumpkins are great fun to grow. Given a full sun position, lots of water, and plenty of fertilizer, your edible ground cover will give you more produce than you know what to do with. There are also many varieties to choose from – the classic Halloween ‘Autumn Gold’ or giant pumpkin varieties are crowd favorites.
These Instagram-certified vegetables went viral for their tiny watermelon-like appearance. While cucamelons are in the same family as watermelon, they taste nothing like them. They are closer in taste to cucumbers, but with their own citrusy twist. Once you’ve tasted one, it’s difficult to stop. Luckily, when planted as an edible ground cover, you won’t have to.
Also known as Mexican Sour Gherkins (a confusing name, considering they are not sour), these vines are normally grown as climbers. However, they will grow just as well sprawling along the ground. Give them enough space to spread and they will travel along garden beds as the other low growing plants do.
If you’re looking to grow a classic vegetable, but don’t have enough space for a massive pumpkin plot, cucamelons are your answer. Cucamelons are also perrenial vegetables, if you live in an area where producing tubers is a regular occurence.
Sweet potatoes are common in vegetable gardens, thanks to their quick growth and renewed popularity in the kitchen. They are less well known for their use as an edible ground cover, overshadowed by their tasty tuberous roots. But they are just as prolific as the other plants on this list, giving you a bucket of sweet potatoes after harvest as a bonus.
Producing long, traveling vines, sweet potatoes are another vegetable that needs plenty of space to grow. They are often planted in rows to allow space to harvest, but when used as a low-to-ground plant, they can be planted closer together to cover areas more densely.
Like pumpkins, they also have wandering vines that like to climb fences and trellises when they encounter them. Keep your sweet potato plants in an open space with room to fill, and they will fill it for you in no time.
When harvesting your sweet potatoes, don’t forget to give the leaves a try. They are also edible and packed with essential nutrients.
Creating an edible landscape is a project that sounds complicated. But, with the right plants, it’s pretty simple. If you’re in the process of foodscaping your yard, these edible ground covers will help you fill that tricky spot you don’t know how to fix, covering any tiny speck of open soil with delicious, edible produce.