Shady ground cover plants

15 Fast-Growing Flowers for a Cutting Garden

Say It With Flowers

Nothing beats fresh-cut flower arrangements. But, forget having expensive floral arrangements delivered. Instead, gift fast-growing plants—or start your very own cutting flower garden—and there’ll be no shortage of hand-tied backyard bouquets this season. Aside from saving your money on pro arrangements, many vase-ready growers are low maintenance and drought tolerant. Some even draw butterflies and birds, while others deter pests. Not a harvester? These fast-growing flowers are also great for filling bare spots in the garden left by winter. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!

Pot marigold

Calendula officinalis

Photo by Andre Karwath- GNU

This annual can grow to about 30 inches and features bright green foliage, sturdy stems, and 3-inch blooms. It’s available in a range of citrusy colors, from light yellow to bright orange, some with dark centers and others with centers that match the bloom. USDA Zones 4-11

TOH Tip: Like French marigolds, these can be planted in vegetable gardens to deter pests. Unlike French marigolds, this plant is effective at relieving certain insect stings. Its leaves can also be used in stews.

Cosmos

Cosmos bipinnatus

Photo by Leo Michels

These long-stemmed garden annuals can grow up to six feet tall, thriving in even poor soil. They feature fine, sprig-like foliage and blooms that are up to three inches across. They’re available in reds, whites, pinks, and purples and are a favorite in butterfly gardens. USDA Zones 5-10

TOH Tip: Don’t use large doses of fertilizer on this, as it will suppress blooms.

Mexican sunflower

Tithonia rotundiflora

Photo by Derek Ramsey GNU

These annuals can grow up to 6 feet with 3-inch, bright red-orange blooms. They feature deep green, coarse foliage and multiple stems per plant. Mexican sunflowers can complete two generations in a single summer, attracting butterflies and skippers to your garden in the process. Give this plant some room: a single planting can grow into a 4-foot-wide cluster. USDA Zones 4-10

TOH Tip: Flower stems are hollow and fragile. To prevent accidental bends and breaks when cutting, use an especially sharp tool.

Yellow flag

Iris pseudacorus

Photo by Steffen Heinz

This perennial features gray-green sword-shaped leaves and large yellow blooms that can measure up to 4 inches across. They can grow as tall as 4 feet and can feature four or more early spring-blooms on each stalk. Yellow flag could spread in a wetland area, but those grown in dry areas will likely be smaller and spread less. USDA Zones 4-9

TOH Tip: Check with a local garden center professional before planting this, as the plant may be considered invasive in some areas.

Black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii

Photo by Proven Winners

This perennial can grow to 3 feet and features numerous blooms atop branched stems. The plant features lance-shaped, deep green leaves. Blooms measure about 3 inches across. Plants spread and form large clumps, with up to 20 bright flowers per plant. These will bloom all summer long, and cutting will encourage new blooms. Black-eyed Susan is also a deer repellant. USDA Zones 3-9

TOH Tip: You can divide clumps in early fall to get more bloom for your buck from season to season.

Snapdragon

Antirrhinum majus

Photo by Proven Winners

This annual can grow from about 8 inches to 3 feet, depending on variety. Snapdragons feature small tubular blooms in a range of colors. They’re available in hundreds of cultivars and in just about every color except true blue and black. USDA Zones 4-11

TOH Tip: Snapdragons don’t care for heat; plant in the winter in zones 9-11

Purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

Photo by RI- GNU/CC

This perennial can grow into clumps 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Blossoms can measure up to 3 inches across and plants feature dark green, coarse foliage. Large purplish-brown centers are skirted by lavender to purple petals. This plant will draw butterflies all summer, is drought-tolerant, and pest and disease resistant. USDA Zone 3-9

TOH Tip: This is the plant immunity-boosting that Echinacea is derived from. You can pick and dry these to add to a tea recipe.

Marigold

Tagetes spp.

Photo by Fir0002- GNU

There are hundreds of marigold varieties to choose from; French marigolds (Tagetes patula, shown here) can grow to 12 inches with 2 inch blooms. Other varieties can grow up to 3 feet and have 3 inch blooms. The dense, continuously-blooming flowers are available in yellows, oranges, and bronze shades and feature dark green foliage. USDA Zones 9-11

TOH Tip: Consider planting these in your vegetable garden, as they deter a number of pests. Similarly, nasturitum can be planted around vegetable gardens as “aphid lures,” drawing the pests to them instead of vegetable plants

Poppy

Papaver somniferum

Photo by Jan Mehlich

Though the scarlet variety of this upright annual is best known, poppies come in over 70 varieties and a range of colors including white, pink, and mauve. Flowers can grow up to 4 feet and feature blue-green foliage. The bowl-shaped blooms can measure up to 4 inches across. USDA Zones 7-10

TOH Tip: Poppies should be cut just before flowers open. You can prolong the life of cut flowers by cauterizing stems; just hold the tip of each stem in the flame of a candle for a few seconds, then place in water.

Horsemint

Monarda punctata

Photo by Ted Bodner

This multi-branched perennial can grow to 4 feet. It features lance-shaped leaves and up to seven small pink to lavender bracts and pale yellow flowers per branch. Horsemint attracts butterflies to the garden and makes great filler for cut arrangements. USDA Zones 5-10

TOH Tip: This plant’s foliage has the aroma of oregano and can be dried for homemade air fresheners.

Indigo Spires sage

Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’

Photo by KENPEI- GNU

This perennial butterfly magnet can grow up to 5 feet tall and into clusters spanning 5 feet wide or more. They feature small blue-violet blooms along about a foot of its length and long, coarsely-toothed foliage. USDA Zones 7-11

TOH Tip: In the garden these may need regular pruning, as they tend to grow until they fall under their own weight. This habit, of course, makes them all the more appropriate for your cutting garden.

Calliopsis

Coreopsis tinctoria

Photo by Cory Maylett- GNU

Add interest to floral arrangements with this wildflower. The annual coreopsis can grow to 4 feet with flowers that measure about 2 inches across. Each stem features multiple branches and blooms, purple center discs with bright yellow-tipped petals. The drought-tolerant plant will bloom through autumn, drawing birds and butterflies to the garden. USDA Zones 4-10

TOH Tip: Deadhead regularly for successive flowering between cutting for indoor arrangements. Cut these when flowers are almost fully opened.

Mums

Chrysanthemum hybrids

Photo by Darren Swim

Mums are available in a variety of bloom shapes, including the Pompons shown here. Colors range from burgundy to oranges to lavenders and pinks to white. Some varieties are low and spreading while others can grow up to 5 feet. The easy-care plants aren’t prone to disease and are widely, consistently available. USDA Zones 5-9

TOH Tip:Since mums are durable, readily available plants, consider planting in all of its forms, including ball-shaped pompons, the spider variety with long tubular petals, the spoon variety with interesting spoon-shaped petals, and colorful daisy-like single varieties, among others.

Purpletop verbena

Verbena bonariensis

Photo by Frank Wouters- CC

This perennial (grown as an annual in colder climes) features quarter-inch purple flowers atop stiff, coarse stems. It can grow to about 6 feet and into clumps about 3 feet wide. It’ll bloom all summer long and is fairly drought-tolerant. USDA Zones 7-11

TOH Tip: If you want to encourage branching, pinch the first shoots in the spring.

Nasturtium

Tropaeolum speciosum

Photo by Proven Winners

This cultivar of Tropaeolum majus features large, round leaves with blooms that measure 2 inches across. It thrives in poor soil growing to about a foot tall; heavy watering will result in lots of foliage and little to no blooms. Nasturtium’s non-toxic nature, large seeds, and rapid growth make it a great starter plant for kids to arrange and gift themselves. It also draws hummingbirds. USDA Zones 4-11

TOH Tip: This plant is edible. It has a peppery taste and can be used in salads.

If you’re short on time but eager to deck out your garden ASAP, there are a number of fast-growing flowers you should plant now. Some of the following varieties come as actual plants, while others start as seeds that will flower in a mere week or so. Either way, you’re bound to have colorful, lush blooms in no time.

We spoke with gardening experts for a list of the fast-growing flowers they recommend homeowners plant in their gardens. Take a look at their favorite plants and top growing tips.

1. Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums

Quasarphoto/iStock

Nasturtiums are a favorite of Susan Brandt, co-founder of the Blooming Secrets gardening website. They can be planted in your garden, used in a container garden like a windowbox, used for ground cover, or used as a vine climbing up a trellis or wall.

The flowers come in variations of yellow, orange, and red, and the foliage resembles lily pads.

“Nasturtiums are not fussy and will bloom prolifically when grown in full sun and in soil that drains well,” Brandt says.

They should be planted about ½ inch deep and about 10 to 12 inches apart. “It is a plant that’s very sensitive to frost, so you want to be sure you plant the seeds in your garden after frost is no longer a concern,” says Brandt.

Nasturtiums are easy to grow, but they’re not invincible. If they receive too much water, the plant can rot; that’s why good drainage is important.

Seeds cost anywhere from $2 to $6. Brandt recommends the Tall Trailing Mix Nasturtium, which should produce plants in 7 to 10 days.

Plant it: Early spring

2. Butterfly bush

Butterfly on a butterfly bush

mtreasure/iStock

Buddleja davidii, also known as the butterfly bush, is a fast-growing addition to any garden or landscape, says Rex Bishop, technical director for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

In addition to being a pervasive bloomer, butterfly bush is easy to care for, attracts butterflies, is fragrant, and comes in several colors, like Blue Chip, Purple Haze, and a white palette called Ice Chip.

Bishop says they grow 2 to 3 feet high, do best in full sun, and are drought tolerant, which makes them ideal for warmer climates. You can buy butterfly bushes for around $7.

Plant it: Spring or fall

3. Wave petunias

Wave petunias

Ball Horticulture

Wave petunias are easy to care for, and they spread out to create a beautiful ground cover, says Claire Josephson, product marketing manager at Ball Horticultural in Chicago. If you plant them 12 inches apart, they will even spread up to 4 feet.

They come in a variety of colors, like pink, lavender, and purple.

These plants are hardy, and can handle low temperatures up to 40 degrees. A 12-pack of wave petunia plants will cost about $11.

Plant it: Early summer

4. Cosmos

Cosmos flowers

ooyoo/iStock

No matter where you live, cosmos will thrive in your backyard. They are annual flowers that grow from seeds and are “attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and, unfortunately, rabbits, who find them to be quite delicious,” Brandt says.

Old-fashioned cosmos (typically found in cottage gardens), are available in whites, pinks, and purples. However, the newer varieties include yellows, oranges, and reds.

These plants have a long growing season, and Brandt warns that they should be planted after the danger of frost has passed. “Cosmos start blooming in the summer, around the time that many perennials finish blooming, so they’re an excellent choice to fill the gaps in your perennial garden,” says Brandt.

Most varieties grow from 3 to 6 feet tall, so Brandt suggests you provide supports for more exposed windy locations.

These flowers tolerate a variety of soil conditions, but are at their best in dry conditions where they get full sun all day long. Even under the summer’s heat, they continue to thrive, and once established, they don’t require additional watering.

Seeds will cost anywhere from $1.75 to $3.

Plant it: Late spring or early summer

5. Fringe flower

Fringe flower

itasun/iStock

The fringe flower is a great evergreen shrub for landscaping and filling in your garden, because it can grow anywhere from a few feet to 10 feet. The Purple Pixie is around 2 feet high and 4 feet wide; Sizzling Pink is 4 to 6 inches high and wide. Pizzazz grows from 6 to 8 feet high and wide; Emerald Snow has green leaves and white flowers and grows to about 4 feet high and wide.

“These plants grow fast and are fairly immune to insect and disease problems,” Bishop says.

They prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade, and do better in warmer zones or in container gardens in northern locales.

Fringe flower plants will cost around $34.

Plant it: Spring

6. Calendula/marigold

Calendulas

LUMIKK555/iStock

These plants grow best in cool climates and in the temperatures usually found in the fall and early spring. “Gardeners in areas of the country where winters are mild can plant calendulas in the fall and enjoy them throughout the winter,” Brandt says. They can also tolerate a certain degree of heat if mulched and given ample water, but in the summer heat, they will eventually stop blooming.

After the seeds sprout, the plants will grow quickly, and you can expect to see flowers in 60 days. These beautiful flowers usually produce gold, yellow, or orange petals.

Quite apart from being aesthetically pleasing, calendula flowers are used for cooking (in salads, soups, and stews) and for medicinal purposes (such as healing wounds and reducing warts and acne).

Seeds are priced at $3.75, and Brandt recommends the Sherbet Calendula Mix and Lemon Sorbet Calendula.

Plant it: Early spring

7. Knockout Roses

Knockout rose

NanJMoore/iStock

If you dream of tending to a blooming rose garden, Bishop recommends Knockout Roses as another fast-growing option. She says Knockout is one of the most popular varieties of roses because it doesn’t require nearly as much care as typical roses.

They grow best in zones where the low temperature ranges from 35 degrees to -15 degrees, and they come in several colors, including red, pink, yellow, white, coral, and peach.

These flowers prefer full sun to maximize blooms, and they flower from spring to fall almost nonstop. You’ll find Knockout Roses at your local gardening center for around $24.95 per plant.

Plant it: Late fall or early spring

Ground cover plants for shade

Ground cover plants cover the ground quickly, covering bare soil and suppressing weeds. They are naturally low-growing and form attractive mounds or carpets. They are often low-maintenance and usually evergreen.

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Discover 10 ground cover plants for sun

Grow ground cover plants on steep banks or hard-to-access areas, under trees and shrubs, or at the front of a border.

Here are 10 ground cover plants to grow in a shady part of your garden.

Grow ground cover plants on steep banks or hard-to-access areas, under trees and shrubs, or at the front of a border.

Pachysandra terminalis

Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese spurge) forms a dense, evergreen carpet. It’s useful for providing ground cover under trees and shrubs and does well in dry shade. It likes an acid soil, so is often grown as ground cover under rhododendrons.

Height x spread: 25cm x 60cm

Vinca minor

Vinca minor is a tough, low-maintenance perennial that will cope with many conditions in the garden, including sun or shade. It has glossy evergreen leaves and star-shaped flowers that are white or mauve, depending on the variety, from spring to autumn.
Height x spread: 10cm x 50cm

Gaultheria procumbens

Gaultheria procumbens is an evergreen shrub from North America. It forms a dense carpet of leaves that are red-edged in winter and complemented by red berries in winter. It’s a good choice for slopes and wildlife gardens. It likes moist, well-drained acidic soil.
Height x spread: 30cm x 1.5m

Hardy geraniums

Hardy geraniums, or cranesbills, are invaluable plants for ground cover in all kinds of gardens, whether cottage-style or more contemporary schemes. With blue, pink or mauve flowers, they are perfect for the front of a border and popular with bees.
Height x spread: 60cm x 90cm

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ is an attractive evergreen ground cover plant that has eye-catching silver foliage with dark green veins. In spring, it bears pretty blue flowers that look like forget-me-nots. It looks especially attractive planted with woodland plants.

Height x spread: 45cm x 60cm

Bergenias

Bergenia (elephant’s ears) are tough plants that quickly form dense clumps. They have large, shiny, evergreen leaves, some of which are tinged an attractive red in winter, and attractive mauve flowers in April and May. They prefer moist, well-drained soil.

Height x spread: 50cm x 50cm

Ajuga reptans

Ajuga reptans (bugle) is a robust evergreen that bears spikes of blue flowers from late spring to midsummer. Plants quickly form a carpet, making it ideal for ground cover under trees and shrubs. Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ has dark purple foliage.
Height x spread: 20cm x 90cm

Ivy

You might think of ivy (Hedera) as a climbing plant, but it can also be encouraged to grow flat, forming attractive evergreen ground cover. There are many varieties to choose from, some variegated, with differing leaf sizes. Hedera helix ‘Halebob’ is an attractive choice (pictured).

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Cotoneaster horizontalis forms a herringbone pattern of evergreen foliage, which forms a dense mat. The white flowers in spring are a magnet for bees and birds appreciate the berries – making it a great wildlife plant.

Height x spread: 50cm x 180cm

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Heucheras

Heucheras are grown for their attractive, scalloped foliage in a range of colours, from pale orange to almost black. They form attractive clumps and make useful ground cover for a shady spot. They also bear spikes of tiny, flowers in summer.
Height x spread: 30cm x 35cm

Groundcovers for Shade

While we may be gardening in the Sunshine State, many gardeners still face the challenge of growing in the shade. Beautiful trees in the landscape may provide respite from the heat, but their cooling shade also makes it hard for some plants to grow. Fear not though dear gardener, there is a right plant for almost every place.

Groundcovers are an important part of any landscape. Statement plants can be eye-catching, but a good groundcover provides the perfect backdrop for your other plants to shine. Groundcovers also help increase soil moisture, while preventing weeds and soil erosion. Generally, people think of lawngrass as the go-to groundcover—but most varieties of lawngrass won’t thrive in shade.

In areas of your yard that have consistent shade, you’re better off planting a groundcover that’s easy to grow in low-light conditions. Just remember that unlike turf, groundcovers won’t tolerate foot traffic, so you’ll need to plan for walkways or paths.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, the following plants can be grown throughout Florida in partial to even dense shade, depending on the specific plant.

Algerian Ivy

Algerian ivy

With bold leaves that provide a dark green mat of foliage, Algerian ivy is a great groundcover for gardening in the shade throughout Florida. While tolerant of full sun conditions, Algerian ivy does best in partial to full-shade areas. The ‘Variegata’ cultivar has grey-green or blue-green leaves with green-flecked, cream-colored margins; ‘Canary Cream’ has cream-colored margins on green leaves. Algerian ivy is less aggressive than its cousin, English ivy, which was at one time a recommended groundcover—until its habit of climbing up trees was noticed.

Asiatic Jasmine

Asiatic jasmine is a fast-spreading, densely growing groundcover that will thrive in sun or shade. This plant requires very little maintenance; just occasional trimming of edges is needed to keep it looking neat. Asiatic jasmine is actually easiest to control when it is a bit neglected, as too much water, sun, or fertilizer can turn it aggressive and unruly. It’s also salt tolerant, making it a great groundcover for coastal areas.

Cast Iron Plant

If you’re looking for something with a little more dimension for a shady spot, the cast iron plant may be for you. This evergreen perennial has glossy green leaves that grow upright reaching about 1 to 2 feet tall. There are a number of variegated cultivars to choose from as well. Cast iron plant is ideal for adding a little tropical flair to North Florida, as it’s also cold hardy.

Mondo Grass

Mondo grass is an evergreen that is actually a member of the lily family. This grass has blade-like slender leaves that curve back toward the ground, giving this plant the appearance of turfgrass.

Swamp Fern

Swamp Fern. Photo: Stephen Brown, UF/IFAS©

Swamp fern is a Florida native that is particularly well-suited for areas that are shaded and moist. This upright fern can actually grow pretty tall for a groundcover, reaching 4 feet in height. For a little extra visual interest the new growth on this plant is coppery pink which then becomes dark green with age.

While shady areas can be difficult to grow in, there are quite a few options out there—much more than listed here. Don’t let the shade get you down! After all, a problem spot in your garden is really just an opportunity to try something new.

UF/IFAS Publications

  • Ophiopogon japonicus, Mondo Grass

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Asiatic Jasmine
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Groundcovers
  • Landscaping in the Shade

Are you having problems growing grass under your shade tree? Are you tired of looking at bare ground or pulling weeds in those shady areas of you landscape? It may be time to give up on the grass and instead try a groundcover in these difficult areas. Once they are established, groundcovers require less maintenance than turf, they can out compete most weeds, and some have attractive flowers as well. Groundcovers will require more time to establish initially but are worth the effort in the long run.

Bugleweed or Ajuga reptans forms a dense 4- to 6-inch-tall carpet under shade trees. The showy flower spikes of blue, purple, or white appear in late spring. Best flower production occurs in partial shade. The leaves vary from dark green, bronze-purple, or variegated dark green, white, and burgundy. Bugleweed prefers moist, well-drained soils.

Astilbes are great perennials for shady areas in the landscape. They range in height from 8 to 36 inches tall. Because it spreads quickly, Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’ is one of the best astilbes for groundcover use. The 8-inch-tall lavender-pink flower spikes of ‘Pumila’ appear in late summer atop dark green foliage. Astilbes prefer moist, rich soil that is well-drained in winter.

For heart-shaped leaves in the shade, try one of the gingers. European Ginger (Asarum europaeum) has leathery, glossy, semi-evergreen leaves. Canadian or Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) has larger, leaves that are not as glossy as European Ginger. Canadian Ginger is hardier than the European species. Both gingers are 5 to 6 inches tall. While their flowers are not showy, gingers produce unique maroon to brown, bell-shaped flowers just above the soil surface. Gingers are slow growing and require partial to full shade with moist, well-drained soils.

For a more aggressive groundcover, Bishop’s Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’) spreads rapidly. This 8- to 10-inch-tall groundcover is noted for its green and white variegated leaves and tolerance of poor sites. Creamy white flowers appear in early summer but are not normally showy. Because of its aggressive nature, Bishop’s Goutweed should be planted only in those areas where it can be confined.

Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) is another fast-growing groundcover with distinctive bell-shaped, fragrant, white or pale-pink flowers in spring. The dark green leaves reach 8 inches tall and can become unsightly by late summer. Lily-of-the-Valley can become invasive in some sites if not contained.

Barrenwort (Epimedium sp.) is a delicate 10- to 12-inch-tall groundcover with small white, yellow, or dark pink, columbine-shaped flowers in late spring. The medium-green, heart-shaped foliage on thin stems often persists into winter. New leaves are sometimes tinted red.

The fragrant foliage of Sweet Woodruff or Galium odoratum is often used in springtime drinks. The bright green leaves encircle the stems and are fragrant when crushed. The stems are topped with clusters of fragrant, white flowers in late spring. This perennial groundcover reaches 6 to 8 inches tall and prefers moist, shady areas under deep-rooted trees and shrubs.

Hostas are available in a wide range of sizes (3 inches to 3 feet tall) and make excellent perennial groundcovers for shade. The leaves can be green, blue, gold, white, or various combinations. The thousands of available varieties vary in foliage color, height, spread, and flower color. Flowering occurs in summer and flowers are normally white or lavender.

English Ivy (Hedera helix) is a semi-evergreen groundcover noted for its lustrous, dark green leaves. The plant reaches 6 -10 inches in height and prefers partial shade to full shade. The flowers are not noticeable. This groundcover is not reliably hardy in northern Iowa and may require protection from the wind and sun in winter.

Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum) is noted for its foliage and flowers. The leaves are either a medium green with silver markings, silver-white with green margins, or chartreuse. The flowers are white or pink and appear in early summer. This groundcover can become aggressive once established. Spotted Dead Nettle prefers part to full shade with moist soils. Their leaves will scorch in full sun.

Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) is an evergreen groundcover with lustrous green foliage. The plant reaches 6 to 12 inches tall and prefers partial to full shade. The whitish flowers, though not showy, appear at the ends of the stems in spring. Japanese Spruge requires protection from winter winds and sun.

Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia) is another groundcover noted for its distinctive foliage and flowers. This North American native has medium to dark green, maple or oak-shaped leaves that often have dark brown or burgundy markings. The 6 inch flower racemes are pinkish-white and appear in spring.

Periwinkle or Vinca minor is an excellent groundcover for partial to full shade. The species and most varieties possess glossy dark green leaves. A few varieties have green and white variegated foliage. White or lilac-blue flowers appear in spring and continue intermittently throughout the summer. Plant height is approximately 6 inches. Periwinkle does not tolerate wet sites.

Groundcovers are valuable additions to the landscape. Groundcovers that are carefully selected, planted, and cared for properly offer reliable beauty and low maintenance for years.

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