10 Plants for Around Borders (Top Picks)

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Border plants
You can use edging plants of various heights and forms to add color and interest to your garden borders. Acabashi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The transition zones between a bed of turf, a structured pathway, or a casual garden corridor and the planted borders that flank them leave room for many low-growing plants. A boxwood hedge that serves as a backyard’s natural borders, for example, need not stand on its own as it defines a perimeter. Edging plants of various heights and forms can be used to add contrast, texture, and color to existing borders, naturalizing any awkward gaps or sharp junctions in the garden.

A combination of leafy, evergreen perennials, annual wildflowers, and trailing groundcover plants should enhance taller borders. Make sure to select varieties that share similar general preferences and nutrient needs with your border plants. Compatibility is key as you’ll want multiple species to thrive in adjoining spaces. Sloping zones around borders may dry out quickly or be exposed to harsh elements. Examine the physical properties of these areas before purchasing edge plants.

Avoid selecting aggressive perennials, particularly those that spread via a network of underground runners, as these may compete with delicate borders. Your selection should ideally create beautiful, low-maintenance mounds of growth that can last for quite some time. Browse through the edge-of-the-border options below for some inspiration.

1) Hostas (Hosta spp.)

Hosta plants
Hosta plants have a preference for consistently moistened substrates that drain well. liz west / CC BY 2.0

Native to Korea, China, and Japan

Cultivated for their ornamental foliage, hostas are some of the most beautiful evergreen plants for shady gardens. Their low-growing clumps can be incorporated into the frontage of level borders, preferably in spots with dappled to partial sun exposure. Some varieties can thrive in deep shade; these should be great for borders that lie beneath productive tree canopies or close to the eaves of a porch. Also known as ‘plantain lilies’, hostas now come in dozens of award-winning varieties, many of which produce strikingly variegated foliage.

Hardy to USDA zones 3 – 9, hostas prefer consistently moistened, yet well-draining substrates. They may not be the best choices for sloping, fast-drying zones. Borders that lie close to outdoor water features, such as an ornamental pond or rain garden, may provide suitable conditions for well-established hostas. If you mulch directly around your borders, you may also use mulch to support the root health of adjacent hostas.

2) Evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)

Evergreen candytuft flowers
Evergreen candytuft produces its delicate white flowers during spring. Dean Morley / CC BY-ND 2.0

Native to southern Europe

A remarkable edging plant for sunny, typically dry zones along raised borders, the evergreen candytuft grows as a subshrub. Its stems, which mature to a full height of just 12 inches (30 cm), look especially attractive in between rocks, in front of a contrasting backdrop of taller shrubs, or as sprawling groundcover. They bear mounds of deep green, lanceolate leaves that can tolerate mild frosts. Well-established clumps can tolerate brief droughts when they are rooted in nutrient-rich, well-draining soils.

In spring, evergreen candytuft mounds come alive with tight clusters of textural, pure white blooms. A close inspection of one of the inflorescences reveals that the individual flowers, each sporting four petals, are really quite small. On occasion, the clusters can be profuse enough to hide this species’ semi-evergreen foliage. You may arrange rows of candytufts along the base of taller borders to create a more gradual shift in structural variation.  

3) Coral bells (Heuchera spp.)

Heuchera marmalade
You can grow coral bells in pots, as seen here, or in rows along the edge of a border. Dominicus Johannes Bergsma, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

If you’d like to bring a variety of vivid colors to the edges of your natural borders, consider growing mounds of coral bells. These evergreen perennials, loved for their vibrant foliage and their spritely, seasonal blooms, can tolerate a range of ambient conditions. There’s a cultivar or variety for just about any combination of edge features. Generally, however, zones exposed to at least 4 – 6 hours of bright morning light are preferred. Once these plants are well-established, they are likely to tolerate brief droughts.

Coral bells can be grown in pots or arranged in rows right along the edge of a border. You may experiment with differing heights (i.e., some specimens grown on raised containers and others rooted directly into the ground) to ensure that each mound is visible. To draw attention to the phenomenal range of color and texture displayed by these plants, aim to cultivate a combination of varieties (most of which are hybrids crossed with H. americana, H. sanguinea, and H. micrantha).

4) Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

Sweet alyssum flowers
Although sweet alyssum’s blooms are small, they can attract many different pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Kristian Peters — Fabelfroh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Mediterranean and Macaronesia

Sweet alyssum is a lovely choice for edges that seem to sprawl out and into the garden itself. Usually grown as an annual, this species forms short-lived mats that transform into flowering beds in spring. Its delicate stems grow to just 3 – 9 inches (7.6 – 22.9 cm) tall, creating low, self-branching mounds of small, lanceolate foliage. When found right along the base of a taller border, its mounds may function as living mulch, aiding in the protection of the border plant’s root system and crown.

In regions with mild climate conditions, sweet alyssum produces throes of long-lasting inflorescences. The tiny, white (or purple in some cultivars) blooms are borne on terminal racemes. Fragrant, their small yet rich nectaries attract all sorts of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and stingless wasps. Shallow-rooted, productive stems may continue to spread out over areas with minimal soil, making this species ideal as seasonal ground cover.  

5) Garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Garden thyme in bloom
Garden thyme is a herb that looks particularly attractive in the spring and summer thanks to its small pink or purple blooms. Magnus Manske, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to southern Europe

Garden thyme can grow beautifully along the edges of a perennial border. This versatile herb, known for its culinary uses, strong fragrance, and rich texture, is best for zones that are fully exposed to sunlight. In the wild, its roots have a knack for anchoring themselves into substrates around rocky zones. Sloping edges, with shallow substrates, may thus be tolerated. As a subshrub, it can maintain evergreen stems that grow to about 12 inches (30 cm) tall.

Typically grown as groundcover or as a useful addition to herb gardens, this ornamental plant looks particularly attractive in spring to summer. It greets warming temperatures by producing spikes of tiny pink or purple blooms. While the fragrance released by the leaves and blooms deters many pests and grazers, it attracts beneficial insects. Growing this species around natural borders may thus be a great way to protect them from small herbivores.

6) Moss phlox (Phlox subulata)

Moss phlox flowers
Moss phlox can be used in a variety of landscapes as it can tolerate brief droughts and prefers well-draining substrates. Хомелка, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the eastern and central US

Perfect for borders with rocky edges, moss phlox is known for producing vibrant carpets of spring blooms. Its vigorous evergreen to semi-evergreen shoots naturally spread to cover an area of around 2×2 feet per specimen. The stems grow to just 6 inches (15 cm) tall, creating lovely transitional clusters between turf and taller border plants. As this species can tolerate brief droughts and favors well-draining substrates, it can be used for a variety of landscapes.

Moss phlox comes in several award-winning cultivars. Its petite flowers, which last for about 3 – 4 weeks in optimal conditions, may produce a range of light pink to deep purple hues. Those of some cultivars, such as ‘Candy Stripe’, may even have variegated petals! One of the best features of this creeping plant is its capacity to bloom so profusely that its leaves get shrouded beneath hundreds of delicate petals.

7) Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)

Zinnia flowers
Zinnias are considered to be top-performing annuals and are hardy to USDA zones 2 – 11. Maurice Flesier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Mexico

Generally regarded as a top-performing annual, the common zinnia and its cultivars are charming additions to cottage gardens. When grown in front of living borders, the bright hues of their blooms appear to pop as they create an eye-catching contrast. Solitary, the flower heads of the most popular varieties have multiple layers of petals possessing a subtle gradient of hues. These appear in summer, to the delight of warm-season bees and butterflies.

Hardy to USDA zones 2 – 11, the common zinnia can quickly grow to its full size during the warmer months of the year. As an edging plant, take note that its flowering stands will survive through just 1 – 2 seasons at most (longer in permanently warm locations), and will need to be replaced the following year. It is thus suitable for creating a dynamic shift in appearance around well-maintained seasonal borders.

8) Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)

Pasqueflowers in bloom
Pasqueflowers are known for their silky fuzz that can be found on their floral stalks and the undersides of their stamens. Orchi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to northern and Central Europe

Usually found in meadows with dry, calcium-rich substrates, the common or European pasqueflower produces tough clumps of hairy stems and bright blooms. This hardy species is anchored by a thick network of rhizomatous roots, which may become increasingly woody over time. Though this perennial’s root system can penetrate into the deeper layers of soil (up to a meter deep), it’s a fine choice for moderately shallow, sun-exposed, and moisture-deprived zones around raised or sloping borders.

Pasqueflower blooms appear in spring, just a few days to weeks after a new rosette of leaves arises. Borne on stems that grow to around 8 inches (20 cm) tall, they are solitary, bell-shaped, and, depending on the cultivar, purple (‘Grandis’), deep red (‘Rubra’), or stark white (‘Alba’). One of the most notable features of this species is the silky fuzz that thickly coats its floral stalks and the undersides of its stamens.

9) Snowy barrenwort (Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’)

Snowy barrenwort flowers
Snowy barrenwort thrives in shady areas and rich substrates. Dinkum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Garden cultivar

A superb choice for the edges of perennial borders with rich substrates, snowy barrenwort can add a touch of elegance to woodland gardens and natural walkways. As it grows to just 8 inches (20 cm) tall and can spread on its own, via a network of rhizomes, it is frequently cultivated as a ground cover plant. This species fares best in shady areas, where its ethereal, heart-shaped leaflets can form bright green clumps. Young foliage may be marked with light red streaks before becoming fully green in warmer months.

In mid to late spring, snowy barrenwort produces seemingly weightless clusters of spritely white blooms. These are alternately arranged on spikes that rise several inches above the compact clumps of leaves. The combination of white petals borne on red floral stems creates a vibrant contrast, one which can thoroughly brighten up dim, sheltered borders! Grow this cultivar alongside other, more colorful ones for a festive edge.

10) Chickweed baby’s breath (Acanthophyllum cerastioides)

Chickweed baby's breath in bloom
Chickweed baby’s breath is a great choice for rocky borders as it can effortlessly fill in gaps and complement rough textures. Ghislain118, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to South Asia

A perennial member of the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae), chickweed baby’s breath produces clumps of small, deep-green leaves. The ‘Border Belle’ cultivar, in particular, is suitable as an edging plant around borders as it maintains a low full height, can spread yet keep a compact appearance, and is quite charming as a ground hugger. Its trailing stems seldom grow to more than just a couple of inches tall, so they are unlikely to compete with surrounding plants for sunlight.

Flowering mounds, graced with 5-petaled, white blooms with light purple veins arising from their centers, attract many pollinators. The first blooms usually herald the production of even more buds on productive branches. At the peak of the bloom period, mounds exposed to full sun and rooted into free-draining substrates transform into white, floral mats. When placed around a rocky border, these can elegantly complement rough textures and effortlessly fill in gaps without shrouding other decorative elements.

Angeline L
About the author

Angeline L

I'm a passionate researcher and scuba diver with a keen interest in garden plants, marine life, and freshwater ecology. I think there’s nothing better than a day spent writing in nature. I have an academic and professional background in sustainable aquaculture, so I advocate for the responsible production of commercial fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic plants.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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