6 Native Groundcovers for Pollinators

Groundcovers are an excellent option to include in any garden to add texture, suppress weeds, reduce erosion, and maintain moisture levels. Unfortunately, some ornamental groundcovers are incredibly aggressive, with some considered invasive in Wisconsin such as Bishop’s Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria), Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), and Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia). Luckily, Wisconsin has many excellent native plants that can be used as groundcover while also benefiting pollinators and wildlife. Using a combination of groundcovers adds biodiversity, color, and texture to your garden, so don’t feel limited to just one type!

Native groundcovers are gaining attraction in the native plant community. Scientists like Heather Holm and Doug Tallamy have shared the benefits of groundcovers for both keystone trees and insects, and have trademarked the term “soft landings.” We highly recommend Heather Holm’s website to learn more about "soft landings” (pollinatorsnativeplants.com).

Native Groundcovers for Shady Sites

Pennsylvania Sedge

Carex pensylvanica

Pennsylvania Sedge is an excellent native groundcover for shady locations where traditional grass species may not be successful. It can be used as a groundcover, but also in shady areas of the lawn that fescue grasses can’t handle. It gets about 6 inches tall before it flops, making it an excellent native no-mow lawn alternative.

Although it might not seem like it, this sedge provides tremendous ecological value. Dark-eyed Juncos and other songbirds eat the seeds of the plant, while also providing shelter to many small birds and insects. Pennsylvania Sedge is also a host plant for the Appalachian brown butterfly and several skipper species.

Mature Height: 6-12 inches
Mature Spread: 6-12 inches
Exposure: Part Shade to Shade
Bloom Period: May
Catalog: #1 Containers

Canada Wild Ginger

Asarum canadense

Canada Wild Ginger is a dense and spreading groundcover native to the understory in Wisconsin woodlands. This unique plant adds interesting texture and shape to any shade garden, and pairs nicely with Hosta and ferns. Canada Wild Ginger has poor drought tolerance, and to thrive needs to be in an area that stays moist and shady. Small purple flowers lay under the leaves, and with their fragrance attract many pollinators such as ants, flies, and beetles. It is a host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

Mature Height: 6-12 inches
Mature Spread: 12-18 inches
Exposure: Part Shade to Shade
Bloom Period: April, May
Catalog: Pints

Bigleaf Aster

Eurybia macrophylla

Bigleaf Aster is an excellent addition to a pollinator garden to provide late-season blooms. When not in bloom, large, heart-shaped leaves create a beautiful carpet of green. It thrives in partial shade, but can also handle full sun, and handles dry conditions well. It is a host plant for several species, including Silvery Checkerspot, Pearl Crescent butterfly, and Goldenrod Hooded owlet. It is also a popular plant for Monarch butterflies, mining, long-horned, and sweat bees.

Mature Height: 12-36 inches
Mature Spread: 18-24 inches
Exposure: Part Shade to Shade
Bloom Period: August, September
Catalog: #1 Containers

Native Groundcovers for Sunny Sites

Wild Strawberry

Fragaria virginiana

Wild Strawberry is a low-growing, sprawling Wisconsin native perennial that flowers in early spring. At home in full sun to part shade, Wild Strawberry prefers dry, average to slightly acidic soil. Around June, small berries appear (smaller than what you would see in the grocery store) which are edible! Many types of wildlife enjoy the fruit including birds, deer, raccoons, chipmunks, and squirrels to name only a few. Its flowers attract a wide variety of bumblebees, sweat bees, beetles, as well as strawberry clipper weevils. Wild Strawberry is also a larval host plant to the Gray Hairstreak butterfly, Purple-lined Sallow, Smeared Dagger Moth, Smith’s Dart, and Crocus Geometer moths!

Mature Height: 3-6 inches
Mature Spread: 12-24 inches
Exposure: Full Sun to Part Shade
Bloom Period: April, May
Catalog: Pints

Photo credit: Midwest Consortium of Herbaria

Meadow Anemone

Anemone canadensis

Meadow Anemone is a hardy native Wisconsin groundcover with a wonderful mounding shape and lovely white, open flowers. Preferring full sun to part shade and wet to moderately moist soil, Meadow Anemone is an excellent alternative to Vinca, blooming just as long and spreading over time. Meadow Anemone does not produce nectar, but it supplies plenty of pollen for species like green sweat bees, mining bees, and small carpenter bees. It blooms from late April to June, making it a great early flowering addition to a pollinator garden.

Mature Height: 12-24 inches
Mature Spread: 24-30 inches
Exposure: Full Sun to Part Shade
Bloom Period: May, June
Catalog: #1 Containers

Prairie Smoke

Geum triflorum

Prairie Smoke forms round, fern-like leaf rosettes that grow in a mass formation, making it a great plant to use as a groundcover in small beds, or alongside other groundcovers and shorter perennials like Hairy Wild Petunia, Wild Strawberry, and Pussytoes. It is best planted along the front or a path for its short height and prefers dry or well-drained soils. It is one of the earliest flowering prairie plants and produces interesting pink flowers that look almost like smoke, thus its common name Prairie Smoke. Bumblebees, using buzz pollination, are the primary pollinators of this plant.

Mature Height: 12-16 inches
Mature Spread: 18-22 inches
Exposure: Full Sun to Part Shade
Bloom Period: April, May, June
Catalog: #1 Containers