Native Ontario Ground Covers to Grow in 2024

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As we navigate the intricate tapestry of Eastern Ontario, the importance of incorporating native plants into our landscapes becomes increasingly evident. These indigenous species, adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, not only thrive effortlessly but also contribute significantly to the ecological balance. In this blog, we’ll delve into the reasons why utilizing native plants is vital for the health and resilience of Eastern Ontario’s landscapes.

Preserving Biodiversity:

Preserving biodiversity in Eastern Ontario is crucial for maintaining the health and resilience of our region’s ecosystems. The diverse array of plant and animal species in this area contributes to ecological balance, enhancing soil fertility, pollination processes, and natural pest control. Biodiversity fosters adaptability to environmental changes, ensuring ecosystems can withstand changes such as climate variations and invasive species. Additionally, it holds immense value for human well-being, offering vital resources such as clean water, food, and medicine. Conservation efforts in Eastern Ontario not only safeguard native species but also contribute to the overall stability and sustainability of the environment, promoting a harmonious coexistence between nature and the communities that depend on it.

Adaptation to Local Conditions:

One of the key advantages of native plants is their ability to adapt seamlessly to the local climate, soil, and environmental conditions. Eastern Ontario, with its distinct seasons and varied landscapes, requires plants that can withstand the region’s temperature fluctuations, soil types, and precipitation patterns. Native plants have evolved over centuries to thrive in these conditions, reducing the need for excessive watering, fertilizers, and other interventions.

Resilience and Disease Resistance:

Native plants have developed natural defenses against local pests and diseases, making them inherently more resilient. By incorporating these resilient species into our landscapes, we reduce the reliance on chemical interventions, creating a healthier and more sustainable environment. This not only benefits the plants themselves but also contributes to the overall well-being of the surrounding ecosystem.

Groundcovers: The Unsung Heroes of Landscape Design:

In the grand canvas of landscape design, groundcovers play a critical yet often underestimated role. These low-growing plants provide a myriad of benefits, contributing to the aesthetics, functionality, and sustainability of outdoor spaces.

Erosion Control and Soil Health:

Groundcovers act as a protective layer, preventing soil erosion and promoting soil health. In Eastern Ontario, where undulating terrains and water bodies are prevalent, selecting the right groundcovers can significantly mitigate erosion risks, stabilizing slopes and preventing nutrient runoff into nearby water sources.

Weed Suppression and Low Maintenance:

A well-chosen groundcover can act as a natural weed suppressor, creating a dense carpet that inhibits weed growth. This not only reduces the need for constant weeding but also contributes to a low-maintenance landscape design, allowing homeowners to enjoy their outdoor spaces without the hassle of continuous upkeep.

Temperature Regulation and Biodiversity Support:

Groundcovers provide a protective layer that helps regulate soil temperature, preventing extremes that can be detrimental to plant and microbial life. Additionally, these low-growing plants create microhabitats for insects and small wildlife, further enhancing the overall biodiversity of the landscape.

Canada Anemone
(Anemone canadensis)

The Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis) is a charming and resilient perennial plant native to North America. This delicate-looking herbaceous plant, also known as meadow anemone or windflower, boasts clusters of white, star-shaped flowers that bloom in late spring to early summer.

Despite its dainty appearance, the Canada Anemone is surprisingly robust and can thrive in a variety of conditions, including moist woodlands, meadows, and along stream banks and lakeshores.

Gardeners seeking an easy-to-care-for addition to their landscape will appreciate its adaptability and low-maintenance nature.

Traditionally, Native Americans used the plant as a styptic and astringent for wounds and skin abrasions. Like all anemones, Canada anemone contains toxic irritants, so those who choose to imbibe should be very familiar with precautions.

Whether admired for its aesthetic appeal or valued for its cultural resonance, the Canada Anemone stands as a testament to the intersection of nature and tradition.

Field Pussytoes
(Antennaria neglecta)

Named for its white tufted flowers that look like tiny cat’s feet, Field Pussytoes is a delightful little plant, and especially attractive when it blooms in small patches. Reaching only a foot high or less, a single stem is topped with a fuzzy white flower, while the leaves hug the ground. An excellent rock garden plant, Pussytoes are also known for their soft, silvery basal leaves, which spread to form a low groundcover in dry areas. Plant it with Prairie Smoke in the rock garden for a sweet spring combination.

Found growing across much of the Midwest and Northeast, it prefers full or partial sun, and medium to dry conditions. It grows well in a variety of soils whether rocky, sandy gravel, mesic/clay, or fertile loam, as long as the soil and site are well-drained. Habitats include medium to dry black soil prairies, clay prairies, open woodlands or dry meadows, abandoned fields, and roadsides.

Field Pussytoes is a host plant for caterpillars of the American Painted Lady butterfly, which feed on the foliage. Both deer and rabbits will avoid this plant.

The Cherokee used this plant to make a medicinal tea to check bowels. They also made an infusion to help aid digestion.

Bearberry
(Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

A ground-hugging, evergreen shrub with glossy, leathery leaves. In mid-spring it features nodding pink flowers that turn into red berries in the fall. The foliage turns burgundy in the fall, lasts through winter, then greens up again in the spring. Tolerant of urban pollution. Slow growing.

The leaves of the bearberry are one-half to one inch long and one-quarter to one-half inch wide, turning bronze in the fall. Flowers are small and bell-shaped in white or pink, appearing in clusters in April or May. Flowers are followed by quarter-inch red berry-like fruit that lasts from fall until the next spring.

Bearberry has been used to treat dysuria, cystitis, urethritis, and kidney and bladder stones. It has also been recommended for inducing diuresis and to treat constipation. In addition, the leaves of Arctostaphylos have been dried and smoked as tobacco, while leaves and berries have also been used as food.

Silverweed
(Argentina anserina)

Formerly cultivated for its edible root. Silverweed is a low herbaceous perennial forming attractive rosettes of silky, lacy, silvery leaves 4-8″ long, adorned with 9-31 deeply toothed leaflets. From early to late summer, 5-petaled, bright yellow flowers, about 1″ across, bloom atop leafless stalks rising from a runner node, Silverweed spreads vigorously by its running roots which creep along the ground, rooting at the nodes to form new plants. 

Surprisingly, all parts of this plant are edible. The leaves can be added to salads, or used to make tea. The roots can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried. They are said to have the flavor of parsnips or sweet potatoes when cooked. Medical herbalists consider this plant to have several medicinal uses, including uses as an astringent, antispasmodic, diuretic, hemostatic, odontalgic and tonic. A very easily grown plant, silverweed is a perfect choice for moist soils, ponds, and stream margins. Excellent for erosion control.  

Wild Ginger
(Asarum canadense)

This attractive, low-growing ground cover is suitable for shaded areas. It grows to about half a foot tall with a 6-inch diameter, heart-shaped leaves. Unlike many spring understory plants, Wild Ginger will keep its foliage throughout the season. One of my favorite things about this plant is the dark red-purple flower that it grows in secret close to the ground just under the foliage hidden away for a short period in early spring. Most people will never see this little flower but it is one of nature’s best kept secrets and if you look closely you will see why. 

Native American tribes used Wild Ginger as a seasoning or to treat colds and fevers. European settlers used the root as a ginger substitute. Leaves may cause some skin irritation, so wear gloves.

Also Known as Snake root by many first nation tribes from Algonquin to Iroquois this plant was widely used to treat a wide range of ailments. It is still occasionally used in modern herbalism.  It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. It is used in the treatment of chronic chest complaints, asthma, coughs, colds, and painful menstruation.

The fresh leaves are applied as a poultice to wounds and inflammations, whilst a decoction or salve is applied to sores. The root contains antibiotic substances effective against broad-spectrum bacteria and fungi. It also contains aristolochic acid, which has antitumor activity. The root and rhizome were slowly boiled in a small quantity of water for a long time and the resulting liquid was drunk as a contraceptive by the women especially in the Algonquin Tribes. 

Oak Sedge
(Carex pensylvanica)

Oak Sedge is a lovely but fairly common variety of sedge found in mesic or dry woods.  The plant forms large colonies from long strong rhizomes.  Foliage is deep green, semi-evergreen, and about 1’ long with narrow glossy blades.  In early spring whitish spikelets are held above the leaves. In the wild, this sedge occurs in partial sun or shade in well-drained or dry acidic woodlands.  In landscape situations, you’ll find oak sedge is an excellent groundcover or lawn substitute for the shade garden. 

Bunchberry Dogwood
(Cornus canadensis)

Bunchberry is the perfect ground cover in the moist woodland garden, whether in late spring to early summer when its attractive white bracts and greenish to purplish flowers are in full bloom against shiny green leaves, or later in summer and fall with its stark red cluster of berries and more muted purple to red leaf colour brings the woodland floor to life in a riot of colour and texture.

We know that most dogwoods are small trees or shrubs, but this plant is a low, creeping perennial that grows mostly in moist coniferous to mixed forests, clearings and boggy areas. Bunchberry can have 4 to 7 leaves, though it typically sports six in a terminal whorl with one to two leafy bracts below those leaves.

The semi-evergreen, 2 inch long leaves, like most dogwoods, have prominent parallel veins. The white flowers are, in reality, a set of four white bracts surrounding a tight pincushion of tiny greenish-white to purplish flowerlets in an umbel cluster.

The leaves and the roots of the plant can be boiled with the resulting liquid rubbed on painful areas of the body, and a tea produced from the leaves and (or) roots can be consumed for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Robin’s Plantain
(Erigeron pulchellus)

Fleabanes have quite attractive flower heads that resemble white Asters. Most Asters flower in the fall while Fleabanes flower at the beginning of summer, so these plants are easy to identify. If you let these plants grow like a weeds, then they will look like weeds. If you treat them like other flowering forbs, then they can look intentional and you’ll find it is a worthwhile plant. Fleabanes provide an important source of nectar and pollen to lots of small carpenter bees and sweat bees in late spring when many other plants have yet to flower. 

This species is usually found in partial sun to light shade or areas with dappled sunlight under an open canopy of trees; it ranges farther into the sun in the north of its range, where it is often found in savannas or wider clearings adjacent to forests, whereas in the south of its range, it is more restricted to shady habitats with only small gaps in the forest canopy.

In traditional medicine, Robin’s Plantain has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including diarrhea, indigestion, and headaches. It was also used externally to treat cuts, bruises, and skin irritations.

Running Strawberry
(Euonymus obovatus)

This is a very low-growing shrub that can be used as somewhat of a ground cover under a canopy. The bright red fruits attract game birds and are attractive during the late summer.

I often only use Running strawberry planted in amongst some stones along a creek bed to add a flicker of green and softness. Especially in shaded areas of the garden. It doesn’t form a dense groundcover and is often far too eager to share its real estate with taller plants than I find practical but it does have its uses as a softscape filler. 

Big Leaf Aster
(Eurybia macrophylla)

Big Leaf Aster is your go-to plant for shady spots with not-so-perfect soil. Its broad, heart-shaped leaves spread out like a lush carpet thanks to those rhizomes. Now, these plants aren’t the showiest every year, but when they decide to bloom, get ready for a stunning display of lavender clusters.

This beauty is a champ in dry shade, and it’s not too picky about its living conditions. The large, heart-shaped foliage at the base effortlessly creates a solid ground cover, even in less-than-ideal soil. Come late summer, you’ll see upright stems emerging with clusters of bluish-white flowers, each about 1.5″ wide.

Big Leaf Aster isn’t just a pretty face; it’s practical too. Perfect for stabilizing those shaded hillsides and slopes, it spreads through rhizomes but won’t go overboard. This plant is basically the superhero of deciduous forests, thriving in the moisture of the growing season and handling the dry conditions that come later on like a champ.

Whether your soil is dry sand or heavy clay, Big Leaf Aster can handle it as long as there’s a bit of organic matter thrown in. And here’s a pro tip: toss on some leaves for mulch, and you’re good to go!

Creeping Juniper
(Juniperus horizontalis)

The Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) is a versatile and low-maintenance evergreen that adds both beauty and functionality to your landscape. This hardy plant is well-suited for USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9, making it adaptable to a wide range of climates.

In terms of size, the Creeping Juniper typically reaches a mature height of 1 to 2 feet with a spread of 6 to 8 feet, forming a dense, prostrate carpet-like ground cover. Its compact, horizontal growth habit makes it an excellent choice for erosion control on slopes or as a visually appealing trailing element in garden designs.

This juniper thrives in full sun to partial shade, making it adaptable to various light conditions. It is drought-tolerant once established, requiring minimal water after the initial establishment period. The plant’s resilience and ability to withstand poor soils contribute to its ease of maintenance.

While primarily valued for its ornamental appeal and landscape functionality, Creeping Juniper also has traditional medicinal uses. Some cultures utilize juniper extracts for their potential anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. 

In landscape design, the Creeping Juniper is ideal for creating ground covers, stabilizing slopes, or adding texture to rock gardens. Its low profile and spreading nature also make it a great choice for border plantings, where it can soften edges and provide a consistent green backdrop. Overall, this hardy and adaptable evergreen is a valuable addition to landscapes seeking both aesthetic appeal and practical functionality.

Ostrich Fern
(Matteuccia struthiopteris)

The Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is a striking and graceful perennial fern that brings a touch of elegance to gardens and landscapes. This fern is well-suited for colder climates, thriving in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 7.

In terms of size, the Ostrich Fern can reach an impressive mature height of 3 to 6 feet, with a spread of about 2 to 3 feet. Its distinctive upright, feathery fronds give it a unique appearance, resembling the plumes of an ostrich, hence its name.

Ostrich Ferns prefer partial to full shade, making them an excellent choice for woodland gardens or shaded areas with moist, well-drained soil. They are particularly well-adapted to thrive in consistently moist conditions, making them an ideal choice for planting near streams, ponds, or in damp, low-lying areas.

Moreover, the Ostrich Fern’s unique reproductive structure, the “fiddlehead,” is a culinary delicacy in some regions, with young shoots harvested in the spring for their tender and flavorful qualities. However, it’s important to ensure sustainable harvesting practices to maintain the fern’s health and population.

In terms of landscape design, the Ostrich Fern’s arching fronds create a sense of movement, adding a dynamic element to garden compositions. Planting them alongside other shade-loving perennials or beneath deciduous trees can create a visually appealing layered effect. The fern’s ability to tolerate consistently moist soils also makes it an excellent choice for rain gardens, where it can contribute to water management and add aesthetic value.

Partridgeberry
(Mitchella repens)

The Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a charming, low-growing perennial that adds a delicate touch to woodland landscapes. Thriving in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8, this evergreen ground cover is well-adapted to a variety of climates.

In terms of size, the Partridgeberry typically reaches a modest height of 3 to 6 inches, forming dense, spreading mats that can extend up to 18 inches in width. Its small, round evergreen leaves and delicate, tubular flowers make it an attractive addition to shaded or woodland areas.

This plant prefers partial to full shade, making it an excellent choice for understory plantings beneath trees or in shaded garden beds. Partridgeberry is well-suited to moist, well-drained soils and can tolerate varying levels of moisture, from average to consistently damp conditions.

In landscape design, Partridgeberry is perfect for creating a lush, low ground cover in shaded areas. It works well as a natural carpet beneath larger trees or as an accent around rocks and along pathways. Its ability to spread and form a dense cover makes it effective in preventing soil erosion on slopes. Overall, Partridgeberry is a versatile and attractive option for adding a touch of greenery to shaded garden spaces while offering a nod to traditional medicinal uses.

Foamflower
(Tiarella cordifolia)

Introducing the Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), a modest yet elegant perennial ready to grace your garden with its timeless charm. This versatile plant is at home in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9, showcasing its adaptability across various climates.

Imagine a mature Foamflower, standing at a modest height of 6 to 12 inches, with a spread extending gracefully from 12 to 18 inches. Its heart-shaped leaves form a verdant mound, creating a soothing green backdrop. As spring transitions to summer, delicate spikes rise, adorned with small, ethereal flowers in hues ranging from white to subtle pink, adding a touch of sophistication to your garden.

When it comes to light preferences, the Foamflower prefers the understated elegance of partial to full shade. It’s a reliable choice for woodland gardens or shaded spots beneath trees, and it can tolerate a bit of dappled sunlight, especially in cooler climates. This plant appreciates consistent moisture but is adaptable enough to thrive in well-drained soil.

Beyond its ornamental appeal, the Foamflower carries a bit of historical significance in Native American medicine, where it was traditionally considered for its potential astringent and tonic properties. However, in contemporary gardens, its primary role is to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your outdoor space.

In terms of landscape design, consider the Foamflower as a subtle yet impactful addition. It works wonders as a ground cover in shaded or woodland settings, creating a gentle carpet of greenery. Plant it en masse for a cohesive look or along pathways for a refined border. Additionally, its unassuming presence makes it a perfect companion for the base of garden trees, contributing a touch of natural elegance.

In the realm of your garden, the Foamflower takes on the role of a classic character – understated, reliable, and effortlessly charming, transforming your outdoor space into a haven of timeless beauty.

Blue Violet
(Viola sororia)

The Blue Violet (Viola sororia) is a charming perennial that adds a touch of natural beauty to gardens. Thriving in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8, this adaptable plant can endure various climates.

This violet prefers partial to full shade, making it an excellent choice for woodland gardens, shaded borders, or areas with filtered sunlight. Blue Violets are not demanding when it comes to water, but they appreciate consistently moist soil. Well-drained, humus-rich soil is ideal for their growth.

In terms of size, Blue Violets typically reach a mature height of 6 to 10 inches with a spread of 6 to 12 inches. This compact size makes them versatile for use as ground covers or naturalizing in different garden settings.

While primarily grown for its ornamental appeal, Blue Violets have been used traditionally in herbal medicine for their potential medicinal properties.Topically, violet is used as a poultice, compress, infused oil, and salve for dry or chafed skin, abrasions, insect bites, eczema, varicose veins and hemorrhoids. It is cooling, soothing, and anti-inflammatory. 

In landscape design, Blue Violets are versatile and can be used in various ways. Plant them as a ground cover beneath deciduous trees, where their delicate flowers can bring a carpet of color to shaded areas. They also work well in rock gardens or along pathways, adding a touch of whimsy to the landscape. Overall, Blue Violets are a delightful addition, effortlessly blending with naturalistic garden designs while providing a splash of color and potential herbal interest.

Barren Strawberry
(Waldsteinia fragarioides)

The Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) is a charming perennial that offers both ornamental appeal and ground cover functionality. Adaptable to USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8, this resilient plant can withstand a variety of climates.

Preferring partial to full shade, the Barren Strawberry is well-suited for woodland gardens, shaded borders, or areas with filtered sunlight. It has a low-maintenance personality when it comes to water, thriving in consistently moist but well-drained soil. This plant is not overly fussy about soil conditions, making it adaptable to various soil types.

In terms of size, the Barren Strawberry typically reaches a mature height of 6 to 8 inches with a spread of 12 to 18 inches. Its compact and spreading nature makes it an excellent choice for ground cover, especially in areas where you want to add a carpet of greenery and delicate yellow flowers.

In landscape design, Barren Strawberry is a versatile performer. Use it as a ground cover beneath trees or shrubs, where its lush foliage can create a cohesive green carpet. It also works well in rock gardens, along slopes, or as an edging plant, providing a neat and tidy appearance. Overall, Barren Strawberry is a reliable and attractive addition to gardens seeking a resilient ground cover with a touch of delicate charm.

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