Antennaria is a genus of small, ground-hugging plants most often called pussytoes or everlasting. Most species grow 1-2” tall, and spread by sending out runners. In spring, they send up tiny white flowers that resemble little kitten paws.
Two eastern North America native species that spread nicely and form tight mats are A. neglecta (known as field pussytoes) and A. plantaginifolia (known as plantain-leaved pussytoes or mouse ears). These plants are a host for the painted lady butterfly. Field pussytoes have small, narrow, silverish leaves arranged in rosettes and spread quickly, while plantain-leaved pussytoes have much broader leaves, but still silverfish with reddish undertones.
Antennaria prefer full sun to light shade, average to dry, well-drained garden soil. Plugs of these species should be planted 12-18” apart.
Asarum canadense, known as Canadian wild ginger, is a low-growing, glossy-leaved woodland plant that spreads by rhizomes. The flowers of this plant are not very showy. The jug shaped blooms lay on the ground, under the leaves, where ground-dwelling insects pollinate them.
It is best grown in moist, well-drained soil in full to part shade. These plants are easily divided and moved around once established, making it cost efficient for using it as groundcover or green mulch. Canadian wild ginger looks fantastic around the bases of large trees or filled in around larger shrubs.
Plugs or container plants should be spaced 12-18” apart, and watered well in their first year.
Carex is a large genus of grass-like plants known as sedges. There are over 2,000 species of sedges globally, with many species native to eastern North America. Most of the native sedges used for green mulches are very similar in appearance and function in the garden, though some may vary in their desired growing conditions.
C. pensylvanica, known as Pennsylvania sedge, is one of the most popular sedges on the market because it is such a dependable groundcover. This is a clumping species that spreads overtime by stolons; typically growing slender, fine textured blades 10” long that flop over gracefully, creating a wavy look. This grass like groundcover prefers full to part shade and stands 4-6” tall with has multi-season interest.
Other sedges that create a similar look include C. leavenworthii (lawn sedge) and C. appalachia (Appalachian sedge). Plugs of these sedge species should be spaced 8-10” apart, care should be taken to ensure there is no grass in the planting bed as it can be hard to distinguish from sedges.
Many sedge species will thrive in dry shade, and others are adapted to wet sites. Here’s a link to an entire blog post on sedges alone! It covers the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many native sedge species. All are carefree and dependable plants to use as a living mulch.
Chrysogonum virginianum, or Green-and-Gold, is a low-growing, mat-forming perennial with evergreen tendencies. This tiny member of the sunflower family is a beautiful addition to the garden and dependable green mulch because of its tight growth and rate of spread. This 2” tall plant truly hugs the ground, and creeps fairly quickly to fill in an area.
In late spring through early summer, small yellow flowers appear and decorate the mat of green. Flowering can persist for sometime, with some plants continuing to set blossoms until fall.
Bees and pollinators really love this plant for nectar, and you will love the floral display, too. Ideally used between trees, shrubs, and rocks in the garden, it will continue to fill in over time, and pieces can be dug and divided and placed where desired.
This is a species for full sun to light shade, and average to moist garden soil. Plugs of this species can be planted 12-18” apart and well-watered in their first season.
Geum fragarioides (syn: Waldsteinia fragarioides)
Geum fragarioides, or barren strawberry, is a fast growing, rhizomatous plant that is similar in appearance to strawberry plants. It is an evergreen plant, though it turns a bronzey maroon in winter. Yellow blossoms in spring are eventually replaced by hard, inedible red berries that resemble strawberries.
Birds will quickly clean up the fruits, and pollinators will visit the flowers. This plant is a generalist species and can grow in full sun to nearly full shade, in average to moist garden soils. Plants grow 6-8” tall at most, and often shorter. Plugs of this species should be spaced at least 12 to 18” apart, up to 24” apart.
Packera aurea, commonly known as golden groundsel, is a fast spreading flowering perennial that forms tightly populated colonies. Golden flowers appear early, around mid-April, and persist for a few weeks before going to seed. At that point, you mau cut the stems back to leave the tidy leaves behind, standing 6-8” tall.
This is an especially useful plant in wet soils and rain gardens, as it prefers high soil moisture levels; it also prefers full to part sun, and will flower less with more shade. Bees and other pollinators really value this plant because of the number of blossoms it sets fairly early in the season. Keep this plant well watered until established especially if not being planted in a wet location.
Once established, this plant is very tolerant of average garden soil though the rate of spread will be slower. Plugs of this species should be spaced 12-18” apart in wet soils, and 8-10” apart in average soils.
Phlox subulata, known as moss phlox, is a unique member of the Phlox genus because of its narrow, needle-like foliage and evergreen nature. This is a tight, mat forming plant that hugs the ground at only around 2-3” tall, but spreading 18-24” wide over time.
Moss phlox in nature is most commonly pink, but white, violet, and various shades of magenta are available in the trade. Cultivars such as ‘Emerald Pink’ and ‘Emerald Blue’ are well-known performers, with beautiful floral displays. Mixing the colors together to establish a groundcover or green mulch will create a unique patchwork mosaic in your garden when in bloom.
Even when not in bloom, the plant remains as a nice green mulch and is very effective at suppressing weeds. Moss phlox needs full sun to dazzle you with its best floral display, though it can handle light shade as well. It prefers dry to average, well-drained garden soil and works well in sandy or gravely soils too. This species is easy to grow. Space plants 12″-18” apart.
Viola is a large genus of flowering plants known as violets. Violets are pretty little spring flowers that can be found almost everywhere, including our lawns! There are many species of violets, many native to eastern North America. Some species of violet work very well for green mulches because they spread by rhizomes over time, but also because they seed freely and very successfully.
A few examples of such violets would include V. striata (cream violet) and V. sororia (common blue violet). Other violets, such as V. walteri (prostrate blue violet) are known to form larger clumps which can be planted close to create a filled in look. A mixture of different violets will make an amazing floral display in the early spring that pollinators will readily visit.
Fritillary butterflies also depend on violets as their larval host plants. Most of our native violets grow 3-6” tall, sport dark green foliage, and small flowers in colors from white to indigo, yellowish to pink. Plant violets about 6″-8” apart and kept well watered until established. Mulch sparingly in order to allow seedlings to grow.