AjugaOnce used mainly as a ground cover, ajuga has become a popular plant for containers and space-challenged beds. Its colorful leaves and spikes of bright blue spring flowers make a great addition to hanging baskets, window boxes, or planters. The plants grow just 6 inches tall and thrive in shady to partially shady spots. Some top varieties include Burgundy Glow, Chocolate Chip, Bronze Beauty, and Golden Glow. Hardy from zones 3-9.
Love small groundcovers? See more about using groundcovers in landscaping.
ArmeriaJust because a plant is small doesn’t mean it’s not tough enough to handle challenging conditions. Armeria, for example, is a happy little warrior that doesn’t mind wind, salt spray, or cold temperatures. Its only requirements are full sun and well-drained soil. Also called thrift, armeria produces dark green, grass-like foliage that’s topped with cheerful pink, red, or white balls of bloom in the spring. The plants grow 6 to 10 inches tall. Hardy from zones 4-8.
Do you want to learn more about when specific perennials are in flower? Check out our guide to perennial bloom times.
ThymeIf you think of thyme as just another kitchen herb you’ll be surprised to discover just how versatile these ground hugging perennials can be. Used in containers or directly in the garden, thyme will quickly spread out, filling cracks and crevices with its pretty and aromatic foliage. Two great ornamental varieties are Red thyme and Woolley thyme. Both have gorgeous foliage and pretty flowers that blend well with other flowers in your garden. Ornamental thyme, like culinary thyme, tolerates poor, dry soil, but does require full sun. The plants grow just 2 to 3 inches tall. Hardy from zones 4-9.
Learn more about how to plant ground covers.
Blue FescuePrized for it’s blue-green foliage, Blue Fescue makes a bold statement in beds, borders, or containers. A dwarf ornamental grass, Blue Fescue forms tight clumps of foliage that rarely grows over 12 inches tall. And, unlike some of its larger cousins, this diminutive grass stays compact and won’t spread through your garden. Blue Use it en masse along a tight walkway or mix it with other flowers in pots or planters. Blue Fescue loves sunshine so plant it where it can receive at least 6 hours of direct light a day. Hardy from zones 4-8.
Love little grasses? Discover more of them for your garden.
HeucheraFew perennials can match heuchera for its diversity of leaf colors and shapes. Once called coralbells, heuchera, is grown primarily for its foliage, which comes in shades of silver, orange, burgundy, chartreuse, purple, green, and bi-color. As a bonus, in the spring and summer, heuchera sends up graceful spikes of nectar-rich, pink or white bell-shaped flowers that colorful hummingbirds will feast on. Heuchera forms a 12- to 20-inch-tall mound that works as well in a container as it does in the landscape. Hardy from zones 4-9.
Read more about shade-loving perennials.
CandytuftThe snow-white, fragrant flowers of candytuft are always a welcome sight when they pop into bloom in the early spring. These easy-care plants also show off dark green, finely divided foliage that retains its color even though the winter. Candytuft grows 6-8 inches tall, spreads slowly in a container or the landscape. It requires full sun and quick draining soil that doesn’t retain too much moisture. Hardy from zones 3-9.
Creeping JennyTalk about versatile! You can use creeping Jenny in hanging baskets, urns, pots, planters, window boxes, or directly in the garden border. It sports brilliant chartreuse flowers on long, pendulous stems making it an ideal “spiller” plant for any type of container. During the summer the plants develop masses of cup-shaped golden flowers that blend well with the foliage. Although it grows just a few inches tall, it’s a lot tougher than it looks retaining its color through the coldest winters. Creeping Jenny can spread through your garden so keep an eye on it if it starts to get out of control. Hardy from zones 3-10.
Hens and ChicksTalk about cute! Hens and chicks get their name from the fact that each “mother” plant develops a cluster of young plants or “chicks” around the base. Hens and chicks grow just an inch or two tall and add a charming touch to hanging baskets, window boxes, containers, or tucked in at the edge of garden paths. These tough little sun worshippers even retain their color (from bright green to maroon) through the winter giving you four seasons of interest. As the chicks develop you can easily separate them and transplant to other locations. Hardy from zones 4-9.
Use hens and chicks to create textural containers--see how here!
SedumsNo space-challenged garden would be complete without sedums. These rugged little plants seem to thrive on neglect and are so forgiving you can tuck them into the smallest pot or crack in the ground and they still perform beautifully. Sedums come in a wide variety of colors and shapes, but most don’t grow over 6 inches tall. They look great in hanging baskets, window boxes, or just about any container you can find as long as it has a drainage hole in the bottom. Sedums need full sun and like life on the dry side. Hardy from zones 3-8.