Creeping grasses create a vivid green foreground for landscaped paths.

What Is a Creeping Plant?

by Daniel Thompson

Creeping plants can provide landscaping for borders and fill oddly-shaped areas in gardens and flowerbeds. Plants with a creeping growth habit follow the contours of the ground as they grow. Many creeping plants have special structures that grow above or below the surface of the soil and spread horizontally. As creeping plants spread, they produce vertical shoots that are roughly identical, creating a uniform carpet of leaves and flowers.

1. About Creeping Plants

The main feature that defines a creeping plant is its ability to spread out along the ground. Many creeping plants grow special structures known as stolons or rhizomes that help them spread. St. Augustinegrass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is a lawn grass that spreads through stolons and grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 8 through 10. Stolons are stems that grow above the ground and produce vertical shoots and roots that support additional leaves, flowers and seeds. Rhizomes are stems that spread beneath the ground and send up vertical stems. Many species of lawn grass spread using rhizomes or stolons. As opposed to creeping grasses, bunching grases grow in clumps. Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) has a bunching growth habit and grows in USDA zones 5 through 9.

2. Uses

Grasses and herbaceous perennials with a creeping habit provide a decorative or functional ground cover for large and small areas. Flowering herbaceous ground covers planted beneath large shady trees can create a colorful border in a spot where lawn grass may not grow. You can use grasses and other fast-growing plants with a creeping growth habit to prevent the erosion of valuable top soil and provide a quick cover for your garden during the winter. Creeping plants are especially effective at controlling erosion on bare hillsides. Grow creeping plants beside your walkways to help deter people from leaving established paths and create a colorful foreground that contrasts with the plants behind them.

3. Disadvantages

Fast-growing creeping plants can quickly become invasive and spread to areas where you do not want them. Creeping plants with a rapid growth habit that spread through stolons can grow over the top of other low-lying plants in your garden and kill them. Creeping plants that spread through rhizomes can spread a significant distance away from their parent plant before they produce a vertical shoot that is visible on the surface. Some creeping plants that spread through rhizomes can spread beneath sidewalks and driveways and appear on the other side.

4. Considerations

Consult a plant encyclopedia and determine how quickly the creeping plants you want to use in your flowerbed or garden grow and how far they tend to spread before you plant them. If you plan to grow a species that can spread aggressively through rhizomes, you can help limit its spread using a solid root barrier buried at least 3 feet below the soil.

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