Here in the Edmonton area, we know all too well that the climate is pretty rugged. Zone 3 comes with temperature extremes in both winter and summer, and only the toughest perennials survive to greet us again every spring. However, we’re also home to a few plants that return faithfully (and abundantly), whether we like it or not””yes, I’m talking about weeds. Wherever bare ground can be found in your garden beds, surely a thistle or dandelion will happily spring up.
This is why groundcovers are such a boon for the zone 3 gardener””they’re perennials that act as living mulch, outcompeting weeds before they can outcompete your plants. Technically a groundcover can be anything that covers the ground, regardless of scale. It simply needs to suppress weeds in a beautiful way. In today’s article, I’ll recommend eight of the best perennial groundcovers for zone 3 gardens and the specific conditions they thrive in.
1. Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)
A great groundcover for dry and sunny areas, Moss Phlox (also called Creeping Phlox) is a spring-flowering, mat-forming plant that bears pink flowers in spring. In zone 3 landscapes, you can find it growing along a rock wall or as an edging plant along perennial borders. This profuse bloomer is really tough and satisfyingly vigorous””ideal for arid climates like ours. Even after the flowers have faded, the foliage maintains a handsome woodland look in the garden.
2. Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
Snow-in-summer is a foliage plant that quickly fills a space with a tumbling mat of velvety foliage. It’s aptly named for its early-summer bloom, which blankets the area in a dense layer of white flowers that mimic a snowdrift. A member of the carnation family, this perennial thrives in dry areas or inhospitable soils, which definitely describes many of the weather-beaten soils in zone 3. It flowers a tad later than phlox, so you’d be wise to plant both in the same garden for a successive bloom. Snow-in-summer is perfect for rock gardens and other low-maintenance landscapes.
3. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
Known for its short stacks of violet rosettes, low-growing bugleweed is an excellent groundcover for moist, shady areas. In zone 3, this perennial tends to do better in low areas where snow tends to gather and there’s some protection from the elements. Depending on the cultivar, the foliage can make excellent contrast in the garden with shades of deep green, wine, or chocolate-brown. Bugleweed is semi-evergreen, making it ideal for late-fall interest before the snow covers it up.
4. Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
You probably know Golden Creeping Jenny best as an annual container spiller plant“”but did you know this delicate-looking trailer is both a perennial and winter-hardy in zone 3? Yes, the same electric-yellow trailing plant you love in your containers makes an incredible mat-forming evergreen groundcover for your garden beds. I especially love this plant for more shaded areas, where the chartreuse foliage provides eye-popping contrast. Try transplanting it into your garden in the fall after your containers are finished and see what happens!
5. Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)
Dry shade is one of the toughest landscaping challenges to overcome and tends to result in patches of bare earth that even weeds won’t bother with. However, deadnettle is happy to bring some life, character, and brightness in precisely these areas. While it is a vigorous spreader, the variegated foliage and cute flowers thrive in challenging conditions. I especially like the cultivars “˜Silver Beacon,’ with its silver foliage and purple flowers, and “˜White Nancy’ with its ivory flowers and foliage.
6. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
An evergreen native to Alberta and other circumboreal areas, this short-and-sweet perennial is not only an excellent groundcover for zone 3 (or even zone 2!) but a fantastic option for four-season interest. Great for rock gardens and borders, the foliage is green in spring and summer and fades to bronze in fall and winter. The white, bell-shaped spring flowers mature into gorgeous red berries that provide beauty and a food source for wildlife through the winter.
7. Creeping Dogwood (Cornus canadensis)
Our national flower! Also known as Bunchberry, this beautiful plant is deeply underrated and is a must-have for shady woodland gardens. As a native perennial, the plant is adapted to a zone 3 climate, producing spectacular white flowers surrounded by six leaves. The flowers mature into a “bunch” of bright-red fruit, hence its nickname.
8. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
If you haven’t planted sweet woodruff yet, this is the year to give it a try! The foliage is wonderfully fragrant and can be dried into potpourri. It also has culinary applications and is said to taste a little bit like vanilla. This spreading plant is quick to naturalize and produces thousands of beautiful white florets on attractive starburst-shaped foliage. It looks wonderful in a woodland garden setting and along shady borders.
Here’s a pro tip: if you’ve just recently planted spreading perennials, you can keep weed competition at bay by planting annuals or tender perennials (in other words, that aren’t hardy to zone 3) in the gaps. This will help to keep away the weeds as your perennial groundcovers get established.
You can browse our entire selection of groundcovers (and other fantastic nursery plants) by visiting one of our Edmonton garden centres. Our locations in Sherwood Park and St. Albert boast thousands of square feet filled with beautiful, healthy plants. Visit soon””you’ve got a lot of ground to cover!