Groundcovers are plants that don’t grow particularly tall and are a suitable spreading option around choice areas of the garden to prevent weeds from growing there instead. It’s a strategy borne out of a desire to stop monocultures forming - gardens that only use one type of plant waste space in between seeds, allowing weeds to pop up in between them. They’re also used around things like paving stones to stop weed growth within hard-to-reach cracks and unmowable segments -- places that you’ll need time and effort to de-weed on a continual basis.
There’s quite a few plants that can be used for the job, and most of them flourish in Australia. Generally anything low growing and low maintenance (and not necessarily the latter either, if you’re willing to go the extra yard) will do. With so many plant types available, there’s no such thing as a 100% complete, comprehensive list.
That said, there’s definitely a shortlist.
Small, almost aloe-shaped plants that’ll withstand the Australian climate and come out swinging. Turn a distinct reddish hue during some times of the year, and flower once a year in white.
Grow your own herb garden in your paving stones! Thyme works as a scented groundcover for just about anywhere, but works best if you’re trying to create an unsegmented cobblestone aesthetic, which works great for introducing texture to your yard. It’ll quickly grow into the gaps of your pavers, making a motley collection of stones into a carpet.
Dwarf mondo grass
An option best suited for shaded garden paths. Dwarf Mondo Grass is a Japanese variety of ground cover that looks a little like the non-flowering leaves on a Bird of Paradise. Green with a hint of yellow around the edges, it’s a visually distinct, cool looking alternative for shady areas. Very resistant to drought and can be stepped on without too much damage.
Dichondra Silver Falls
Soft, fanned plant that grow without much supervision whatsoever. It’s very hardy against lack of water, and in fact it’s generally better to skimp on watering rather than drench it. Works in full sun, but can withstand a little shade (try not to fully cover it).
Blue star creeper
Blue Star Creepers look divine; they’re a delicate blue flowering plant that work best when water is readily available (sorry, not much desert application here). They’re an amazingly dense, long-living, hardy plant that will add beauty to the seemingly mundane job of filling in gaps between pavers.
On a vein similar to Blue Star for those of you who’d rather pinkish-red, and who don’t have access to the large amount of moisture that the former requires. An extremely durable plant that won’t let you down, and looks great doing so.
A step above again, Mazus will do the job of the last two, but in a bright ornamental purple. It’s not for everybody (it’s fairly distinct and loud looking), but it’ll certainly turn heads. We’d recommend only using this if your colour scheme supports it and it won’t detract from the rest of your garden.
Also known as ‘Cousin It’, this shaggy dog of a plant works great on the ground or on a slope, hanging or free standing. Barely needing attention, this plant can cover huge ground distances despite never reaching more than a dozen centimetres at its largest.
Irish or Scotch Moss
Different plants, but they’re functionally identical for how we’re using them. Irish and Scotch Moss are both staples of ground cover, and they’re used for a reason. Despite being named after very damp places, they’ll perform in the sun with a regular amount of water on them, though they will require additional drainage.
What to look for
Before we delve into the specifics, you’ll want to know what you’re looking for. You’re obviously going to need a plant type that fits the basic requirements for a groundcover (doesn’t grow too high, inhibits weed growth), but there are a couple of smaller considerations that you might want to consider.
You’ll want to adjust for the spread of your tiling. A high covering, fast-growing plant is a poor fit for thin tiling - it’ll grow over, around and across your tiles without continual upkeep. How much of the path is in shade, or in sun? You’ll need a plant that weathers both temperatures. Plant the wrong one and it’ll either shrivel in the sun or starve in the shade, or risk inconsistent growth making part of your garden look diseased while the rest flourishes.
You need a plant that survives through general changes in weather. If you’re living in a particularly dry area, water-saving or hardy plants are your only real options.
Finally, if you have any elevation in your path, such as stairs or a hill over about 20 degrees sloping upward, you might want to look into specific groundcovers designed to help soil erosion such as the Australian Saltbush.