Spring flowering groundcovers often bloom before trees leaf out to take advantage of the available sunlight. In a garden, plant them among deciduous trees and shrubs, carpet a woodland garden edge or plant along a partially shaded pond edge or stream bank. They can also be planted to cover the spaces between bulbs.
Some of the best known spring flowering groundcovers are the creeping phlox, woodland phlox, and moss phlox. Creeping and woodland phlox spread quickly to form a loose mat. Purple to white fragrant flowers bloom in loose clusters above the stems in late April to early May. Moss phlox bears its name because its fine leaves resemble a cushion of moss after the flowers have faded. It forms a very dense cover less than 6 inches tall. Moss phlox flowers range in color from pale pink to red.
Creeping, woodland and moss phlox are native to eastern North America, but they differ some in their growing preferences. Creeping and woodland phlox plants naturally occur in damp but well drained organic soils along streams and in rich woodlands. A thin layer of mulch in summer and even moisture will keep the leaves looking green during the summer. Moss phlox prefers to grow in dry, gravely or sandy soils and full sun, and it is a wonderful plant for rock gardens.
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Less well known to gardeners, but very easy to grow in moist soils in sun or shade is golden ragwort. This plant is one of the earliest to bloom with bright yellow clusters of flowers held atop 1-2 foot stems. The heart-shaped leaves are dark green and are often tinted purple on the undersides. Golden ragwort makes an excellent ground cover for moist shady or sunny areas such as in a shaded rain garden or along a stream edge.
Foamy white to pink flowers bloom on short flower stalks held above the beautiful leaves of foamflower in mid-spring. The heart-shaped, lobed leaves grow about 6 inches tall. The leaves can be purple-colored, lime-green or dark green with silvery veins. Foamflower grows best in moist, organically rich soils that are well-drained. It will not tolerate wet soils in winter nor does it like soils that completely dry out.
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Many of these species could be planted in drifts together for a mix of flower colors and prolonged bloom times. Choose plants with similar moisture and sun requirements to create your colorful carpet.
Article by Sylvan Kaufman. Dr. Kaufman is a writer of popular scientific and gardening articles. She is also an ecological consultant.