Horticulture Magazine

Plants And Flowers That Spread Easily

aquilegia and other wildflowers in a garden meadow

Self-seeders and clump forming and ground cover perennials are all plants that spread to fill your garden easily.

The best gardens are gardens that just continue to look better and better over time. Creating that lush and abundant look can sometimes seem a challenge. But by choosing plants and flowers that spread easily, you can create a garden that fills out and looks more established, much more quickly and with much less effort on your part.

When you choose prolific self-seeders and perennial plants which spread easily, you can fill your garden far more easily, and also at a much lower cost. Nature will do a lot of the work for you, filling in gaps and covering bare soil in your garden. You won’t need to buy as many plants or sow as many seeds to create your garden.

Are Plants That Spread Easily Always a Good Thing?

While some plants which spread easily can be beneficial for gardeners in the UK, it is important to recognise that some plants which spread easily can become invasive. It is important not to harm local ecosystems by introducing invasive, non-native species which might become a problem in your area.

Sometimes, when it comes to which plants are beneficial spreaders, and which are invasive – location is key. So do be sure to check that no harmful plants (or plants that you don’t want to spread too profusely) are included in your garden design. It is important to think about the location, and not to place a plant which spreads too profusely in the wrong spot.

Choosing Plants That Spread Easily

Remember, if you want plants to thrive and to spread, make sure you choose the right plants for the right places. Plants will not self-seed or spread to fill an area if they are not provided with the right soil for their needs, and the right environmental conditions.

Always make sure you understand the conditions in your garden before you make plant or seed sowing choices. Because the plants which spread incredibly easily in one area may not do so in another. How quickly plants will spread can not just differ from one end of the British Isles to the other – it can also differ from one garden to the next, depending on a range of microclimatic factors.

Top Self-Seeding Plants

beautiful light blue borage flowers
Borage – a great self-seeder in many gardens

If you are looking for plants and flowers that spread easily, the first category of plants to consider are self-seeders. Many annual, biennial and perennial plants can be excellent self-seeders in the right conditions. Remember, however, how successfully individual plants will self-seed will be determined by the environmental conditions in your particular garden.

Some excellent self-seeding plants are:

  • Alchemilla mollis
  • Alliums
  • Angelica
  • Aquilegia
  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • Dipsasus fullonum
  • Erigeron
  • Foxgloves
  • Lamiums
  • Marigolds
  • Myosotis sylvatica
  • Nasturtiums
  • Poppies
  • Verbena
  • Yarrow

Some self-seeders can be good choices for inclusion in predominantly perennial, low maintenance garden beds and borders, or even be allowed to self seed as companion plants in a polyculture vegetable garden, where flowers can often be wonderfully beneficial to bring in bees and other pollinators, and other beneficial wildlife.

Larger Clump-Forming Perennials That Spread Easily

summer garden with red Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail
Persicaria – beautiful flowers which fill out a border

If you want to quickly establish an impactful perennial bed or border, you will want to include plenty of clump-forming perennials. Some clump-forming perennials that tend to spread well and easily include, but certainly are not limited to:

  • Acanthus mollis
  • Bergenia
  • Bronze Fennel
  • Centaurea
  • Comfrey
  • Lupins
  • Oxe-eye daisy
  • Penstemon
  • Persicaria
  • Phlox paniculata

There are, of course, plenty of other beautiful and impactful perennials which you can use to create the perfect perennial border or other planting area in your garden with remarkably little effort on your part.

Ground Cover Perennials that Spread Easily

orange Crocosmia (montbretia) flowers
Crocosmia – great for ground cover at the front of a border

Perhaps the parts of your garden where plants that spread easily are required are areas where ground cover is required. Fortunately, no matter whether you are gardening in full sun, partial shade or full shade – and no matter what other conditions you can provide, there are plenty of great ground cover plants to consider.

Here are some ground cover perennials that spread easily for you to consider – some suited to sunnier spots, and some to more shaded positions:

  • Aubretia
  • Beesia calthifolia
  • Campanula
  • Clovers
  • Convallaria majalis
  • Creeping Thyme
  • Crocosmia
  • Galium odoratum
  • Hardy Geraniums
  • Heuchera
  • Mentha (Mints)
  • Pachysandra
  • Sedums
  • Vinca minor

Again, of course, these are just a select few of the many different ground cover plants that you could consider for your garden.

Weeds or Useful Garden Plants?

ground elder being picked out of the soil
Edible weeds spread easily and can often be useful wild foods. Ground elder is one example

When we are talking about plants that spread easily, we cannot conclude without making some mention of weeds. In an organic garden, rethinking weeds can help us understand that sometimes, weeds are just plants that thrive in our particular environment. While sometimes that are not the plants we want – sometimes they can be extremely useful additions to our gardens.

Some common weeds which spread very easily, but which can also be beneficial include:

  • Ground elder – often considered a pernicious weed, which can quickly take over, ground elder can also make excellent ground cover, and is also edible.
  • Chickweed – a weed which spreads quickly by seed, but which is a very useful wild edible which can also be useful as a companion plant in your vegetable garden.
  • Nettles – the common stinging nettle is also a weed which spreads very, very easily, but it is also a delicious edible plant, with many other uses.
  • Cleavers – these sticky plants can take over an area of your garden very quickly. But rather than eradicating them altogether, think about the fact that these are useful edible and medicinal plants.
  • Dandelions – of course many gardeners hate dandelions to take over their lawns. But dandelions are another flowering plant that spreads quickly which can be very useful in your garden, and also delivers a range of yields.

These are just a few examples of some common weeds which spread easily, but which may be beneficial rather than something you don’t want in your garden.

This brings home that sometimes, weeds are just plants which thrive and spread easily where you live. They are not always a negative thing in an organic garden. Every organic garden will have weeds – but this can be a very good thing.

Plants that spread easily can make things a lot easier and lower maintenance. So rather than thinking of quick-spreading plants as garden ‘thugs’, it can sometimes be a good idea to give them a second look. And to recognise the many benefits that, as plants ideally suited to the environment, they can bring. Plants that spread easily always need to be considered carefully before they are placed in a garden or allowed to thrive. But in the right places, these prolific plants can make your gardening easier, and help you create a beautiful planting scheme, wherever you live.

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