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Edible Ground Cover Plants to Foodscape Your Yard!

Function and Beauty with Benefits

Often overlooked, ground cover plants are a worth considering for gardens, yards and landscapes. Unlike grass, ground cover plants not only beautify your yard and reduce maintenance, they can also be edible and medicinal!

If you have dogs like we do, edible groundcovers are best planted outside the dog’s range. Our electric dog fence spans a large area, so we’re limited on where we can plant edible ground cover plants.

Another option for dog owners would be to plant edible ground cover plants in containers. You can plant them as companion plants for a larger plant, or, as an entire large planter of just growing edible ground cover plants. These can be harvested like you would microgreens.

We’ve even pulled chickweed from our yard and placed into pots so that we can consume it worry-free. Yep… planting weeds in pots, but it’s edible weeds with benefits!

Edible ground cover plants enhance landscapes, manage weeds, retain soil and expand your food production areas. 

Benefits of Growing Groundcover in Pots

  • Keeps plants away from pet “areas”
  • Provides an attractive arrangement/soil cover for other larger plants/planters
  • Easier to harvest clippings for salads, sandwiches and soups

No dogs? Then edible ground covers may be an especially beneficial option for you to expand your food production while serving your landscape aesthetics. 

You can grow edible ground cover plants in pots for a pet free solution that’s easy to harvest.

Elfin Thyme is featured in this potted plantscape.
Elfin Thyme is featured in this potted plantscape.

Edibles Beyond the Garden

There’s no need to restrict growing food to the vegetable patch! We’re a bit obsessed by finding and encouraging food sources that are often overlooked. 

If we had bundles of parsley, cilantro or watercress growing in tufts in our yard, chances are we wouldn’t just pull them as weeds. Yet most people do that all the time with other perfectly viable edibles.

The following is a list of plants that have edible and/or medicinal benefit and can be used as ground cover. 

This list includes commonly cultivated ground covers as well as those that voluntarily grow wild in lawns, meadows or woods. We’re considering any low-growing plant that grows and spreads well and that’s edible, often with medicinal benefits.

Some, such as the Mexican sour gherkins, aka cucamelons, are generally grown as trellised vines. However, vine plants such as cucamelon and others in the cucurbita (squash) family can also happily cover a lot of ground growing horizontally.

If you have a lot of space to cover in a full sun area, cucurbitaceae plants can serve as edible ground cover for summer.

From dandelion to wild violets… chickweed to clover, there are all kinds of natural and cultivated edible ground covers worth growing.

Function and Beauty with Benefits

Often overlooked, ground cover plants are a worth considering for gardens, yards, and even pots.  Unlike grass, ground cover plants not only beautify your yard and reduce maintenance, they can also be edible and medicinal!

If you have dogs like we do, edible ground covers are best planted outside the dog’s range if you plan to eat it. Our electric dog fence spans a large area, so we’re limited on where we can plant edible ground cover plants. 

Another option for dog owners would be to plant edible ground cover plants in containers. You can plant them as companion plants for a larger plant, or, as an entire large planter of the edible ground cover plant of choice.

We’ve even pulled chickweed from our yard and placed into pots so that we can consume it worry-free. Yep… planting weeds in pots! But… it’s edible weeds with benefits!

Ground cover crops can be harvested for salads, soups and sandwiches by trimming like microgreens.

Edible ground cover plants enhance landscapes, manage weeds, retain soil and expand your food production areas. 

Edible Ground Covers

Natural and Cultivated Ground Cover Plants

  1. Alpine Strawberries, fragaria vesca
  2. Bugleweed, ajuga reptans
  3. Chickweed, stellaria media
  4. Clover, trifolium
  5. Creeping Jenny, lysimachia nummularia
  6. Dandelion, taraxacum officinale
  7. French sorrel, rumex scutatus
  8. Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea, aka catsfoot1)https://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/specieslist.cgi?namesoup=Glechoma+hederacea&countylist=any&plantcomm=any&format=photos&orderby=taxon
  9. Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule
  10. Marjoram, origanum majorana, o. vulgare aureum & o. mounding marjoram
  11. Mexican sour gherkin, melothria scabra, aka cucamelon
  12. Mints, thymus serpyllum, aka Corsican mint
  13. Nasturtiumtropaeolum
  14. Okinawa Spinach, gynura bicolor
  15. Oregano, origanum vulgare humile, aka creeping oregano
  16. Plantain, plantago major
  17. Purslane, portulaca oleracea2)https://wimastergardener.org/article/common-purslane-portulaca-oleracea/
  18. Rock cress, aubrieta deltoidea3)https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/groundcover/rock-cress/growing-rock-cress.htm 
  19. Rosemary, rosmarinus officinalis prostratus
  20. Sage, salvia officinalis
  21. Sweet Potato Vine, ipomoea batatas
  22. Thyme, thymus prostratus
  23. Wild Violets, viola sororia
  24. Wintergreen, gaultheria procumbens, aka creeping wintergreen
  25. Wood Sorrel, oxalis stricta

 

Favorite Cultivated Ground Cover Plants

Alpine Strawberries

By Renee Shepherd of ReneesGarden.com 

Ground strawberry; alpine strawberries; wild strawberries;
Alpine Strawberries, (Fragaria Vesca Sempervirens). Tiny but delicious.

 

Alpine Strawberries, (Fragaria Vesca Sempervirens), also called Woodland Strawberry.

These are a special ground cover for smaller areas as they stay put and won’t self-propagate via runners.

Considered a gourmet treat in French cuisine, Alpine strawberries produce a delightful berry. Seven to eight mature Alpine plants will yield approximately one cup of berries several times a week on a continuous basis throughout the summer.4)http://www.reneesgarden.com/articles/strawberries.html

8 Alpine strawberry plants can yield around a cup of berries several times a week through the summer.

Marjoram – origanum majorana

Sweet marjoram – origanum majorana

A wonderful lawn substitute, marjoram is a variety of oregano with a milder citrusy pine flavor. Bees and butterflies love the lilac flowers on this creeping, tiny-leafed, plant.

Marjoram is an edible ground cover alternative to a lawn. You can even mow it like grass, which encourages more rapid growth.  

Marjoram, (origanum majorana):
Bees love the lilac flowers of marjoram and the leaves add a subtle citrusy pine flavor to cooking.

mounding marjoram

 

The mounding marjoram is a low growing, ground-hugging aromatic herb.  Marjoram is perfect for landscape ground cover with edible, culinary and medicinal benefits.

Milder in flavor and aroma than oregano, marjoram is a different species as oregano but the same genus.

Mowing marjoram helps to keep it flat and soft to walk on.
~MountainValleyGrowers.com

The Best 3 Creeping Oregano Plants to Replace Grass as Ground Cover:

  1. The brilliant green Creeping Oregano, Origanum vulgare humile, (formerly, Origanum compactum nanum)
  2. Golden green Creeping Golden Marjoram, Origanum vulgare aureum is a golden green in spring and fall and dark green in summer 
  3. Dark green Mounding Marjoram, Origanum marjorana, aka ‘Betty Rollins’)

NEXT: Creeping and tiny…

Thyme – thymus serpyllum

There are several varieties of thyme and all are lovely and edible.

The Elfin Thyme, thymus serpyllum—is a fast-spreading creeping thyme. Despite it’s delicate appearance, elfin thyme is happy in most soils and can even survive dry and windy conditions.

Thymus serpyllum is especially lovely planted in and around rocks.

Elfin thyme (thymus serpyllum), is a creeping variety of thyme for a lovely, edible, fast spreading ground cover, that flowers in a variety of colors, and can fit into small spaces.

Creeping thyme, Elfin thyme, thymus serpyllum
Creeping Thyme – Image by Andrea_44 on Flickr

 

Bugleweed – Ajuga reptans

One of our favorites for ground cover is the low-growing ajuga, known botanically as ajuga reptans. Though not really minty in flavor or aroma, ajuga is in the mint family, and as with all mints, ajuga is edible with medicinal properties. 

We love the beautiful purplish green leaves and abundant purple flowers.

We planted our ajuga in landscaped areas around our sidewalk. Now we’re finding volunteer clumps in other areas of the yard and woods around us.

Ajuga is designed to thrive and so it can be be invasive, but ours hasn’t spread aggressively. So far, we’re enjoying the fact that nature is helping with the planting of this in other locations now.

WARNING: “Spreads easily” can be another way of saying “invasive”, so if you don’t want volunteer plants cropping up, this may not be for you.

Ajuga, (ajuga reptans), aka bugleweed, spreads easily for a great groundcover in partial sun or mostly shade.

Bugleweed – Ajuga Reptan – Medicinal Properties

Beside its horticultural use as an attractive spreading ground cover in rock gardens and other types of gardens, bugleweed is useful medicinally.

  • Astringent
  • Sedative, can calm anxiety
  • Reduce heart palpitations
  • Cough suppressant5)http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435100133.html

 

Corsican Mint – mentha requienii 

Medicinal Properties

  • Antiseptic
  • Headaches
  • Fevers
  • Digestive disorders

We really like this Corsican Mint, mentha requienii,  for an edible ground cover. It’s tiny delicate leaves create a lush carpet of soft green fragrance, perfect for small accent areas or in between stone paths.((https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Mentha+requienii))

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.31.50 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nasturtium – Tropaeolum majus

Common Names

  • Garden nasturtium
  • Indian cress
  • Monks cress
Nasturtium add beauty and peppery tang to salads and dishes.
Nasturtium adds beauty and peppery tang to salads and dishes.

We grow nasturtiums each year and love their hardy resiliency, easy care and summer long blossoms. Nasturtium blossoms add vivid hues of orange, yellow or red to your gardenscape. But more than that, the add food value.

Beauty aside, nasturtium leaves and blossoms have a pleasing peppery flavor that can spice up a salad, soup or sandwich. You can also cook nasturtiums. Even the seed pods can be eaten as a virtual gourmet caper.

You’ll get some great ideas and a nasturtium butter and seed capers recipe from this article on Permaculture.co.uk.

NASTURTIUM (tropaeolum majus):
Enjoy the flowers, stems, leaves, and seeds of this lovely edible ground cover plant.

shutterstock_165105719

 

Okinawa Spinach – Gynura crepioides

Okinawa Spinach, delicious and nutritious edible ground cover.
Okinawa Spinach, delicious and nutritious edible ground cover.

A beautiful, vigorous, perennial vegetable the purple-tinged Okinawa spinach forms a dense, non-vining, edible ground cover that grows well in full sun or partial shade.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 12.58.50 PM

 

As a food, Okinawa spinach is a spinach substitute, similar to longevity spinach (gynura procumbens, making a nice addition to salads, and can also be eaten cooked. It is purported to have properties that help lower cholesterol, and is grown commercially as a vegetable in China.

 

Sweet Potato Vine – Ipomoea batatas

sweet_potato_vine
Image from The Micro Gardeners on Flickr

Sweet potato roots are widely known to be delicious and nutritious. A staple food, that’s long lasting and easy to store, sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamins and minerals.

However, there’s far more to this plant that meets the eye! While the wonderful orange tuber is hidden underground, don’t neglect the nutrient treasure in plain sight!

Nutritionally, sweet potato greens are similar to spinach. However, sweet potato leaves are lower in oxalic acid content, which gives some greens like spinach and chard a sharper taste. Oxalic acid also has its pros and cons with opposing and confusing information on whether it’s best cooked or raw.

Sweet potato leaves are far more nutritious than the already nutrient-dense sweet potato root.

Sweet potato leaves have 3x more vitamin B6, 5 times more vitamin C, and almost 10 times more riboflavin than actual sweet potatoes.

Beyond that, sweet potato greens make a lovely ground cover. Even the ornamental sweet potatoes are edible, but the potatoes may not be as orange or as sweet.

 

 

Here are more wonderful edible ground covers that grow best in shade or partial shade.

 

Edible Yard Gardens

Once you get into food gardening, it’s natural to want to plant as many edible plants as possible. 

Of course… if for you, it’s about growing flowers and plants for beauty over food… then fantastic! We’re for all gardens and gardening… whatever kind of plants you favor.

But remember… even then, many flowers are edible and/or medicinal.

There’s nothing quite like the delight and freedom that comes from walking out your door and harvesting your dinner from plants you’ve grown into food.

How to Choose What Plants to Grow – Consider:

  • Beauty – soul food
  • Nutrition – body food
  • Medicina benefits – health food
  • Attractiveness to pollinators – bee food
  • Natural habitat – plant food 

The best of both worlds are plants that have beauty and benefits.  

When growing space is limited, as is ours, it’s all the more important to decide based on benefits. So when planning our gardens, we consider crops we love to eat, coupled with those that have the most benefits.

That’s one of the reasons we’re growing dandelions. They can be greens, beverages, and medicine, plus great for pollinators.

You may also enjoy this article on edible landscaping.

From bee food to people food… soil retainers to insect repellents… medicine and beauty, planning and planting with purpose in mind creates so many more benefits.

Contributions from the Community

Below are additional plants mentioned by our GardensAll Facebook community that are not already in the lists above:

Edible landscape designs blend food and medicinal benefits with beauty.

shutterstock_85692604

Grow great gardens!


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