En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - March 28, 2012

From: Fullerton, CA
Region: California
Topic: Plant Lists, Groundcovers
Title: Strong groundcover for Southern California
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Need a strong ground cover. Hard time getting anything to grow. Full sun. Prefer some color. Low upkeep. The soil probably isn't great. It is a small hill within a planter.


Las Pilitas Nursery, a native plant nursery in Santa Margarita or Escondido, has a page of recommended groundcover plants that you might like to look through.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick) and you can see several varieties that are available from Las Pilitas Nursery.  For example, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi saxicola is one recommended that is low, evergreen and does well in sun or shade.

Artemisia californica (Coastal sagebrush) grows well in full sun and poor soils.  There is a variety Canyon Gray Trailing Sagebrush that grows to only 1 ft high.

Baccharis pilularis (Coyotebrush) does well in sun and dry, sandy soils.   One commercial variety, Baccharis pilularis pilularis 'Pigeon Point' (Dwarf coyotebrush), grows one foot high and twelve feet wide.

You might also check out the article, "Lawn Alternatives Using California Native Plants", featured on another website of a California native plant nursery, Yerba Buena Nursery, in Woodside—northern California.  They also have a page listing Ground Cover Plants.

Here are some from that list:

Symphyotrichum chilense [syn. Aster chilensis] (Common california aster or Chilean aster) and you can see the write-up on the Yerba Buena Nursery page.

Corethrogyne filaginifolia [syn. Lessingia filaginifolia] (Common sandaster) and you can see a photo and more information on the Yerba Buena Nursery page and more photos from UCLA.

Epilobium septentrionale [syn. Zauschneria septentrionalis] (Northern willowherb) and  here is more information and a photo from Yerba Buena Nursery and more from Las Pilitas Nursery.

You can also find a list, California—Southern Recommended, on our webpage that gives commerically available native plant species suitable for planting in your area.  You can use the NARROW YOUR SEARCH option on the sidebar to narrow the list down by putting in the criteria you are seeking.


From the Image Gallery

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Coastal sagebrush
Artemisia californica

Baccharis pilularis

Pacific aster
Symphyotrichum chilense var. chilense

More Groundcovers Questions

Kinnikinnick for a green roof
July 04, 2012 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, I live just north of Seattle and want to build a green roof (outdoor kitchen) I'm concerned about the weight of the soil (saturated), drainage etc. am building from scratch and...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for Oregon gravel path
August 23, 2013 - I'm looking for a native ground cover to grow in the gravel between flagstones in a path in my backyard. The gravel is 1/4-10 so it is very loose. The path gets midday sun but is shaded by the house ...
view the full question and answer

Parthenocissus quinquefolia as replacement for Asiatic jasmine
June 14, 2007 - The deer have stripped the Asiatic jasmine groundcover under my clusters of live oak trees in Southwest Austin. This year the bare areas of ground are covered in Virginia creeper seedlings. I have b...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for area with impact from rain from roof
June 25, 2010 - The small garden on the side of my townhouse gets some hard rainfall during every storm. We've found ways of redirecting and using much of the rainfall (gutter and downspout to rain barrel, permeable...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for sunny yard in New Jersey
July 23, 2008 - Hi. I'm looking for ground cover for a mostly sunny section of my yard. The ground we are looking to cover is next to a slight hill with in a few feet of an in ground pool. I would like something tha...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center