The Best Groundcover Choices For Your Garden
As we gardeners get older, the labor attached to our passion doesn’t get easier. The aches and pains are as fruitful as the yield of our gardens. Aside from ibuprofen to take the ache out, there ARE productive ways to ease the pain.
Groundcover. Yes Groundcover can reduce the need for so much weed pullin’ maintenance.
You see the groundcover you choose can do more for you than you know. To some, fabric and stone might be your solution, and while this works well in some situations, it could be too harsh for others. Fabric and stone for pathways or borders, or small breaks in your beds are all great ways to eliminate weeds or just keep clean and add fluency to your landscape.
The more natural groundcover I want to enlighten you about is living.
NOTE: Keep in mind that I am growing in Zone 6 of the USDA Hardiness Map.
Over the years here at La Ferme Rouge, (my residence and work place) I have installed extensive planting beds with trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers. La Ferme Rouge is an All Occasion rental facility, primarily a wedding venue.
Tractor- trailer loads of single ground bark mulch have been my salvation to keep things manageable. The single ground bark mulch costs less per yard, lasts longer, and keeps weeds down better than the double ground bark mulch. (Most folks prefer the contrast of the dark double ground bark mulch. It does look good, it does hold moisture, it does amend the soil, but what many don’t realize is that it is almost compost already, making an ideal growing medium for weed seeds.)
In that built up compost over the years, with long term goals in mind, I have strategically incorporated a variety of quick growing and handsome groundcover. Staying maintained and tidy outside for me is as important as those wedding pictures are for the Bride and Groom.
NOW FOR THE MEAT:
I reiterate that bark mulch amends soil and retains moisture while composting into rich organic matter. THIS IS IDEAL GROWING CONDITIONS FOR MOST GROUNDCOVER.
- Before installing your groundcover plants, you should apply mulch to your area with uniform thickness of at least 5-6 inches. That 5’’ of mulch will settle to be only 2.5”. So in preparation apply heavily and uniformly.
- Ground cover plugs or plants are installed once area is mulched. Nurseries generally sell flats of peat potted plugs with 50 plants per flat. In calculating how many you need, figure one flat per 10 x 10’ area roughly for good coverage.
I use a chipping hammer to chip through the mulch and into soil. (A mason’s chipping hammer has been my gardening tool of choice, the tool I would be lost without.) Tuck the peat pot, then pat soil and mulch around each plug to ensure good soil/root contact. Spacing should be at least every 10-12” off center for good cover. The closer you put them, the quicker the cover.
A trusty favorite that grows well in full sun OR full shade:
- MYRTLE (Vinca minor) Periwinkle or creeping myrtle
Periwinkle is a low growing evergreen groundcover with glossy leaves, and aggressive growth habit. It blooms a purple violet like flower in spring and again sporadically during the summer season. It is not particular about soil and spreads quickly, but even quicker in composted organic matter. The evergreen leaf is a bonus as you will have a look year round. It makes excellent undergrowth for trees and shrubs, or cover for banks and trouble spots. Icing on your landscape cake!
For a more formal look:
-PACHYSANDRA (Pachysandra terminalis) Japanese spurge.
Interesting to note it is from the Boxwood family Buxaceae. Pachysandra grows best in full shade, but half day sun is tolerable in rich humus soil. An excellent choice ground cover as undergrowth for trees or shrubs. It grows 8-10” with a discreet white flower. The rosette of evergreen glossy leaves fit into a formal or informal landscape quite handsomely.
For some contrast and versatility:
-CREEPING JENNY (Lysimachia nummularia) Moneywort.
Creeping Jenny is on stage when nothing else is ready. From early spring, this penny size leafy perennial shines by sprawling its yellow green foliage naturally along the ground. It prefers moist soil and does well in wet boggy areas. Use it to highlight a pond or rock garden. The vibrant color works well as a visual constant. (The ‘constant’ reappears in the landscape to keep the eyes moving throughout) Add to your planters for the drapey spiller effect, preferably NOT in full sun. They tend to scorch if in direct sun too long.
For wood line coverage, AWAY from frequented beds:
CHAMELEON PLANT (Houttuynia cordata) (pictured at top of page)
For those of you who know it and are cringing, lighten up. It does have purpose, and can be quite beautiful in it’s own spot, or should I say ‘lot’?
Chameleon plant is called so because it takes on many colors. In sunshine, and not particular of soil type, it’s heart shaped leaves takes on a blend of red, yellow, green, and orange. In shade the foliage colors are not as vibrant. Use this deciduous ground cover by itself under a wood line or as a border plant buffered perhaps by wall or sidewalk as it tends to really want to keep going. I like it. It can be mowed if it goes beyond it’s boundaries. It grows approx 10-12” high. It IS pretty.
For an elegant wall drape or steep shady bank:
Vinca Vine (Vinca major ‘variegata’) Vining vinca
Most know it as the $2.50 vine that you buy each spring in the 4” pots with spikes to put in your planters with geraniums. A common sight. Did you know Vinca vine is exceptional as an elegant drape down around a stone wall. It cascades lazily and gracefully at the same time. It’s variegated leaves brighten up a shady spot and add interest or finish the planting. Again, the icing on the landscape cake. Banks are often a nightmare to address and vinca incorporated even in a small degree will eventually help to smother out the unwanted weeds.
While keeping vinca vine on your property, you never have to buy that trailer for your planters again. Dig or pull starts with roots attached when you need it for planters, or for starting at another point in your garden, OR for that Garden Club plant sale. I simply pull it out from where I don’t want it to be. Use it as a give and take plant. It is invasive, like other ground cover, but used in proper landscape situations works quite well. Do not plant it with your most desirables.
For taller design statement, erosion control and mass cover:
DAYLILY (Hemerocallis species)
Daylillies are not often thought of as ground cover. They are however, versatile with their quick growing growth habit. Clay soil to dry soil don’t bother the daylily. They are perennial and bloom at different periods from late spring to late summer depending on the variety. There are over 20,000 cultivars in every color imaginable. The foliage is grass like (8-30”) with taller stems of large trumpet like flower heads.
I first used it as cover when I had a client with a new house and a steep bank in the backyard. An ornamental planting for aesthetics was called for, but it was steep so stabilizing the soil was also the clients requisition. Planting 300 bare root daylilies en masse in an angular formation along with some other ornamentals added texture and gave the design a new dimension. Daylilies spread by root clusters and in that setting framed the design quickly and effectively. The foliage decomposes each year thus fertilizing the mass planting and blooms beautifully year after year. Using daylilies as undergrowth for individual trees in your lawn, or as border plants along a foundation not only create interest, but also finish your area so little maintenance is required. Don’t overlook the daylily for tough spots.
Some other blooming and aggressive perennials suitable as ground cover in smaller areas:
-Phlox subulata. Creeping Phlox or Moss pinks. Powerful show in spring with array of pastel colors. Use in trouble spots amid rocks or embankments or slopes. Drought tolerant. Cut back with scissors to keep looking tidy.
-Iberis sempervirens. Candytuft. Considered a subshrub. A woody evergreen perennial. Blooms white flowers in late spring, early summer. Low (8”) and spreading.
-Arabis caucasica. Garden Rockcress. An elongated grey-green foliage with tufts of white flowers in the spring. Low and spreading. Drought & Deer tolerant.
-Creeping Thyme and sedums need an honorable mention too. Great choices for foot paths or between stepping stones.
I could go on and on with variety and choices. These are simply the ones that are on top of my list. The wide world of ornamental plants provides personal favorites for all of us. Most are easy to grow and require little maintenance. Anticipation each year for a blooming bonus is part of why we garden. Passion for the living is the other part. Happy Gardening.
Plant and enjoy!