Among our designers, not everyone is a fan of ground covers, but in certain situations they are a gardener’s dream. Ground covers are ideal for those spots in the landscape where grass is not wanted – on steep banks, under trees or across large areas in your border where mowing is a challenge. Ground covers hold the soil, are helpful for weed suppression, add color and texture, and require minimal maintenance.
Easy-growing ground covers can be the solution to a number of landscaping problems. Perennial ground covers are an indispensable part of any well designed garden providing colorful flowers and attractive foliage. Low growing ground cover plants are great for using as an alternative lawn, especially in shaded areas. So-called walkables or stepables are great for filling spaces between flagstone or pavers, often releasing soft fragrance in the air when stepped upon. The most common use in landscape is planting ground cover as a “living mulch” that cools the ground and suppresses weed growth.
Here are some of our designers’ picks for favorite ground covers for both beauty and functionality:
Lyn Duffy loves Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum, with sweet little white flowers and unique leaves as seen in the photo above. This attractive, low, spreading ground cover is perfect for pathway edging for shady gardens and woodland settings. It spreads quickly with rich soil and ample moisture. Leaves and stems have a vanilla-like fragrance when dried.
Myrtle, also called vinca or periwinkle, is an evergreen ground cover with bright-green leaves that darken with the season, sometimes taking on a bronze tone under the winter sun. Lavender-blue or white flowers appear in the spring and sporadically all season. It does well in dappled sunlight but will also grow in full sun and even in dense shade. Bethany Borchak says, “I use myrtle because it is pretty fool proof. Further, Bethany says, “I never will plant ivy, it’s a mess and climbs anything! Attracts insects like crazy.”
Sherrie Mallon and Lynn Cavanaugh agree on Sedum ground covers. If you’re looking for a beautiful plant that thrives with virtual neglect, a creeping sedum just might fit the bill.
Sedums strut their stuff where many other plants dare not venture. They make themselves at home, for example, in the cracks of a garden wall or walkway, on roofs or the tops of gently sloping birdhouses, or even under massive trees where enormous roots monopolize most of the soil’s moisture. They also perform well in rock gardens, borders, and containers. ~Ed Snodgrass, Fine Gardening, Issue 96
Samantha Conklin admits, “I am not a big fan of standard ground covers, but in shady situations where perennial masses can’t be used, I like European wild ginger.” European wild ginger is an attractive yet little-known ground cover. It is perfectly adapted to shady spots in the garden. This plant produces glossy, evergreen, kidney-shaped leaves on 5-inch stalks. Like many ground covers, it is easy to grow and care for.
Ground covers are varied and versatile, and most are drought tolerant. They come in various colors and textures. Some ground covers are evergreen, many flower, and others are valued for their fragrance. But most of all they fill awkward spaces, fight off weeds, and are a viable grass or mulch alternative.
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