Forget mulch: Fill gaps in the garden with these great groundcovers

Cerastium tomentosum ground

Team Osh Guest Blogger Paul Lee Cannon:

“Who doesn’t love a freshly mulched garden? Besides giving a landscape a beautiful finishing touch, a top layer of mulch (typically wood chips) conserves moisture, keeps weeds at bay, and even improves soil health. But I have to admit I’ve been slowly weaning off mulch the past couple of years because I’ve found a more gratifying alternative, one that doesn’t require lugging heavy bags. It’s called “overplanting.” Basically this means covering as much soil in the garden as you can within reason. The result is fuller, variety-filled planting beds and loads-less stress on your back. I curated this list of easy-to-grow plants that in my experience make fantastic groundcovers and that can, quite literally, fill in for mulch. Plus, the more plants, the merrier, right? Happy growing!

Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear)
Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear)

Stachys byzantina
(Lamb’s Ear),

USDA hardiness zones 4-9 – The fuzzy gray-green leaves are fun to touch (kids LOVE them) and it spreads out along the ground creating a 4-foot-wide or more wonderful, wooly carpet. Pinkish-purply flower spikes rise above the foliage in summer and attract bees like nobody’s business. Grow in a well-drained spot that receives full or part sun. It requires very little water once established. I started growing lamb’s ear from seed many years ago, and it continues to reliably thrive in my garden in numerous ways. You can use it to soften the borders of the front walk, add textural interest to container plantings, and brighten dark spots. I also plant it between shrubs with dark foliage to create a wavy, ethereal effect which is just gorgeous. This plant is so prolific as a groundcover that this past fall I divided several clumps for sharing and poked some into the parking strip in front of our home, where they are now quickly taking over in a good way.

Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage)
Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage)

Salvia leucantha
(Mexican Bush Sage),

USDA hardiness zones 8-11 – Meet my go-to for adding a pop of long-lasting color, filling in bare patches, and planting in tough spots like my multiply mentioned parking strip. I love, love, LOVE this easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant evergreen shrub and for many, many, MANY reasons. It puts out pretty purple and white blooms all year long, attracts hummingbirds, responds favorably to pruning, and covers a lot of ground fast (3-5 feet tall and wide). The narrow, gray-green leaves are handsome as are the upright stems which are covered with white wooly hairs. Plant in full sun for more robust flowering and foliage, then kick back and wait for the hummingbird show.

Cerastium tomentosum flower
Cerastium tomentosum flower

Cerastium tomentosum

USDA hardiness zones 3-7 – If you’ve got a really sunny spot in your garden that needs filling in, pick up a flat of this sweet lil’ evergreen groundcover and dig in. It quickly forms a silvery gray mat of foliage, followed by clustered masses of tiny white flowers come late spring into early summer. It grows 6-8 inches high and wide and spreads faster with regular watering, but is drought tolerant once established. Plant each plug (and lots of them for best, snowiest effect) about a foot apart in well-draining soil. Grow in partial shade if your climate is a particularly hot one. It’s a real rock star in a rock garden, on a dry hillside, and in the company of other plants with similarly hued foliage for a dreamy, monochromatic effect. Now on with the snow!

Eriogonum grande var. rubescens (Red Buckwheat)
Eriogonum grande var. rubescens (Red Buckwheat)

Eriogonum grande var. rubescens
(Red Buckwheat),

USDA hardiness zones 8-10 – This California native perennial plant astounds me. I grow it in dry, heavy clay soil in my front yard, NEVER water it, and it rewards me for my neglect with a dense mound (1 foot long by 3 feet wide) of ruffled, rich-green, oval leaves (white and wooly underneath) and swarms of hot-pink, pom-pom-like flowers from summer to fall. The butterflies love the blooms just as much, if not more, than I do. I harvested last year’s blooms and discovered they make a beautiful, rust-colored dry flower arrangement. Plant this buckwheat in full to part sun, preferably in fall before the rain, then leave it alone. It’s really that easy.

Eriogonum arborescens (Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat)
Eriogonum arborescens (Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat)

Eriogonum arborescens
(Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat),

USDA hardiness zones 7-10 – Here’s another tried-and-true California buckwheat I adore. It’s a fast-growing evergreen shrub with a compact, mounding habit reaching 3 feet tall by 5 feet wide. I grow it in clay soil, full sun, and very rarely water it, but it still responds generously with lots of pale-green foliage and heads of rusty-pink flowers that bloom summer through California winter. You can even give it a go in less light, which will result in darker foliage. I’ve seen it grown in the shade as an underplanting for a tree and it’s still attractive. The casual, meadowy look really appeals to me, plus I appreciate that it responds kindly to the snip-snip of my pruning shears. Care for it as you would red buckwheat. This plant thrives on neglect, too!

Abelia grandiflora (Glossy Abelia)
Abelia grandiflora (Glossy Abelia)

Abelia grandiflora
(Glossy Abelia),

USDA hardiness zones 6-9 – For most of the 13 years I’ve lived in my home, an abelia has beautifully flanked the front steps. This unfussy evergreen has a lovely cascading habit, shiny leaves, and tiny bell-like white flowers. It thrives in full to part sun and there’s no need to water it that much (if at all) once it’s taken root in your garden (an exception to this is if you reside in a hot climate). Abelia grows at a moderate pace, ultimately reaching 4-6 feet tall by 5 feet wide, but is easy to keep clipped back to a manageable size. I love just letting it ramble and cover the ground. Because it does a pretty fabulous job of it.”

#MyOSHProject: Create A Succulent Mini Garden

Not only are they exceptionally hardy, they come in a happy array of shapes and sizes. Good luck choosing. A succulent mini garden can be hung in a variety of ways, placed on shelves, or tucked into nooks all around the house. It’s like bringing a bit of summer indoors. Find everything you need at your neighborhood Orchard Supply Hardware store.


Canning Jars


Spanish Moss


Jute Twine and Adhesive


5-lb Pebbles


Cactus Mix Potting Soil


Ready to get Started On Your Succulent Garden?

  1. Select canning jar(s). Keep in mind if you plan on hanging, or where you want to place.
  2. Put in a layer of Spanish moss. The moss will compact quite a bit, so it’s a good idea to put in more than you think you might need.
  3. Add a layer of rocks or pebbles. This will allow excess water to drain to be absorbed by the moss.
  4. Fill the jar with cactus mix to about 1-in from the rim.
  5. Plant with the succulent of your choice.
  6. If you want to hang the planter, wrap twin multiple times around the rim, and then secure with the adhesive.
  7. Mini succulent garden ready to cheer your indoor space.

Want to embellish your planter? Look throughout the store for ideas. You’ll find paints, markers, tapes and much more.

All items may not be offered at every store.
Call your neighborhood store for availability. FIND A STORE

#MyOSHProject: A Backyard Oasis in An Afternoon

Been longing for a quiet backyard getaway? Creating a customized escape in your backyard is easier than it sounds. All it takes is a few hours and a trip to your neighborhood Orchard Supply Hardware store.

What you’ll need:

Quikrete® All-Purpose Gravel

Quikrete All-Purpose Gravel

Laredo Stepping Stones
(In 3 shapes and 2 colors – Cream and Tan)

Laredo Stepping Stones

6-Pack Ground Cover Plants


Gardena 3-Piece Bistro Set


Decorative Outdoor Pillows


Ready to get Started?

  1. Find a level area in your yard or garden. Don’t have a level area? Talk to an expert at your neighborhood Orchard Supply Hardware store about the tools and tips you’ll need to create one.
  2. Lay down the gravel
  3. Place stepping stones approximately 4-in from each other. Be as creative as you like in laying out a pattern
  4. Plant groundcover 4 to 6-in from each other to allow room for growth
  5. Add a bistro set (or garden bench), toss on some pillows, grab a book, and enjoy!

Find a store near you or shop online.

5 Beautiful, Easy-to-Grow Evergreen Plants

Polygala x dalmaisiana (Sweet Pea Shrub)

Team Osh Guest Blogger Paul Lee Cannon…

“I like to think of the front and back yards of my Oakland home as one big test garden. My partner and I have lived there since 2003 and I’ve pretty much been gardening like a madman ever since. Like most home gardeners, I’ve killed my fair share of plants over the years (even lantana!), but thankfully my gardening successes have outgrown its failures. I attribute the bulk of this success to smart plant choices: opting for those that can still look beautiful despite challenging growing conditions like poor soil, inconsistent light or irrigation, and heavy foot traffic. Heaven knows, my garden has all of those.

Here are five tough-as-nails plants I’ve enjoyed growing not only for their beauty but because they can, in the words of my first horticulture teacher, “thrive on neglect.” Once established, each requires little if any water and maybe an occasional trim. Yep, they’re that easy, plus you can find them at most nurseries, including the Orchard nursery. So go ahead, give one or several a try. Happy gardening!

Salvia clevelandii (California Blue Sage)
Salvia clevelandii (California Blue Sage)

Salvia clevelandii (California Blue Sage)

Come summertime, up pop pretty pale-purple/blue spikes of whorled blooms above soft grayish-green foliage with a sweet, musky scent. This mounding, upright evergreen shrub can quickly grow 3-5 feet tall and 5-8 feet wide. I keep mine in check by pruning half of it back after the blooms have come and gone, and it always seems to spring back more vigorous than before. Plant in a spot that gets full sun and where the soil drains well. That way it’ll become the envy of neighbors and hummingbirds alike. For deer, not so much.

Polygala x dalmaisiana (Sweet Pea Shrub)
Polygala x dalmaisiana (Sweet Pea Shrub)

Polygala x dalmaisiana (Sweet Pea Shrub)

Talk about a nonstop flower plant show! This fast-growing evergreen shrub goes gangbusters with magenta-colored, sweet pea-ish blooms from spring through fall. Give it full sun or part shade with little to no irrigation once established, and it’ll grow 3-5 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide. I noticed this past fall that it reseeds easily so I transplanted several seedlings to fill gaps in the garden, and so far so gorgeous! Sweet pea shrub is also a fabulous low-hedge alternative for boxwood, and performs wonderfully in pots. I actually noticed one growing in a concrete urn in Lisa Vanderpump’s garden while watching “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Teucrium chamaedrys (Wall Germander)
Teucrium chamaedrys (Wall Germander)

Teucrium chamaedrys (Wall Germander)

A tidy, ground-hugging evergreen shrub, wall germander is grown mainly for the small, glossy, dark-green foliage. But boy do the bees go gaga for the whorls of loosely spiked pinkish-purple blooms in summer. Give it full sun, well-drained soil, and average amounts of water, although it can tolerate less optimal conditions. I grow some in part shade that I barely water and they’re just fine. I am particularly impressed by the one on our parking strip that’s endured countless clobberings from our truck’s passenger door. This toughie’s a moderate to fast grower, reaching 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide. If it gets unruly, simply shear it back to the ground and in a few weeks it will reemerge more vibrant than ever.

Lobelia laxiflora (Mexican Lobelia)
Lobelia laxiflora (Mexican Lobelia)

Lobelia laxiflora (Mexican Lobelia)

This easy, shrubby groundcover plant has a fast, spreading habit that makes it ideal for covering large areas. The blooms are slender little trumpet-shaped wonders (perfectly engineered for hummingbird beaks!) in shades of red and pale orange and cover the plant pretty much all year long in our mild climates. Skinny, tapered leaves lend attractive texture and lushness. Topping out at about 2 feet tall with a 5-foot spread, it typically requires only occasional water once established. I’ve had one in my front yard for at least 10 years now and rarely water it, which keeps it well behaved because it tends to ramble too much if the soil is moist. In sun or shade, it’s content either way.

Bulbine frutescens (Stalked Bulbine)
Bulbine frutescens (Stalked Bulbine)

Bulbine frutescens (Stalked Bulbine)

Let’s start with this evergreen groundcover plant’s good looks. The matte-green leaves are linear and fleshy, like chives. It’s a fast grower with a height and spread of 1-2 feet. Bulbine has an upright, clumping habit and spreads by underground stems (rhizomes). From spring through fall, reed-thin stalks rise above the foliage and culminate in spikes of fuzzy, star-shaped, lemon-yellow flowers which attract butterflies. Once established, bulbine tolerates drought and can live on little water but looks and flowers better with occasional irrigation during very dry or hot conditions. Share the love – thin plantings by dividing the clumps and giving them out at your next plant swap. A single cutting from my neighbor more than 10 years ago is now a glorious specimen that keeps on giving.”

#MyOSHProject: Make a Container Fountain in 7 Easy Steps

Potted container fountain.

Few things are more soothing than the sound of falling water. You can create your own fountain from almost any kind of outdoor-ready container. All you need is a few hours out of an afternoon, and a trip to your neighborhood Orchard Supply Hardware store.

What you’ll need:

Outdoor Ceramic Pottery

Outdoor Ceramic Pottery

Pond Boss® LIT Container Fountain Kit

Other items to consider:

Pond Boss® Pond and Stone Sealant, Safety Goggles, Original Mud® Gloves, 40-ft 16/3 Indoor/Outdoor Extension Cord, Western Hawk™ 12-Volt Drill Kit, Mission Concrete Products Cobble Top Paver, Pebble Rock or Water Plants


TIP: Clay pots will need to be water sealed. Spray the inside with 2 to 3 coats of the sealant. Be sure to let dry between coats.

  1. Select a spot. For convenience, choose a spot that has easy access to an electrical outlet for the pump. If the perfect place isn’t close to an outlet, don’t forget an extension cord.
  2. Pick a pot. The sky’s the limit here. Just make sure that it’s wide and deep enough to accommodate the pump.
  3.   Drill a hole in the bottom on the planter using the 1.24-in drill bit. This is for the pump cord.
  4. Place the pump inside the planter, running the cord through the freshly drilled hole.
  5. Use the rubber stopper on the cord to plug the hole.
  6. Fill your planter with water until the pump is fully submerged. The Pond Boss® is great because it lets you choose from several spray options.
  7. Plug in the pump and your serene scene is complete.

Pro Tips: Wear safety goggles while operating any electrical tool and place a paving stone under the planter to elevate it and allow the cord to move freely.

Now you’re ready to make your container fountain even more personal with decorative stones and water plants. Ask any Nursery associate for advice.