Regular readers of this column already know that “the best weed control is complete darkness”. In other words, weeds can only grow if the sun is hitting the ground. That’s why we use mulch, and that’s why we have more weed problems in sunny areas than in the shade.
Using groundcover plants is a great way to reduce weeding and mulching, and cover steep banks with a carpet of foliage. Groundcovers look terrific, help control erosion, and don’t need mowing every week. Many are evergreen, most have nice flowers, and they are all easy to grow. Groundcovers form a “carpet” of low-growing clumps or vines that enhance your landscape and look very professional. When installing new beds, we like to add groundcover plants in all the open spaces. It takes about three years for the plants to completely cover, and once this happens you don’t need to mulch any more so the installation pays for itself!
Groundcover plants are available in flats of two-to-three inch pots, which can be spaced a foot apart for coverage in about three years. We’ve had much quicker coverage by starting with larger plants, spaced further apart. The key to success is digging a nice big hole for each plant, mixing fertilizer and peat in the planting hole, and mulching generously to keep weeds out until the groundcover spreads. Larger plants with a gallon or more of roots will get established much faster, forming a healthy pillow of new foliage. You can space larger plants as far as three feet apart.
Which groundcover works best depends on the conditions in your landscape. Pick groundcovers carefully for best results. Here are some of our favorites:
Pachysandra (Japanese spurge) is great in shady areas. It has glossy green foliage and little spikes of white flowers. Pachysandra spreads in the mulch and leaf litter, so you never have to rake leaves or twigs out of an established patch. It is shallow-rooted so it doesn’t compete with your perennials, shrubs or bulbs.
Vinca minor (also called Myrtle or Periwinkle) is great in full sun and on slopes, and also does well in shade. Once established it is very tough and trouble-free. It has delightful blue-purple flowers and dark glossy green leaves.
Liriope (lilyturf or monkey grass) makes a carpet of strappy dark green leaves with showy purple flower spikes. It makes a great border along bed edges and a filler in open areas, in full or part sun. Variegated versions with white or yellow stripes along the leaf edges are also popular.
English Ivy is traditionally used as a groundcover, and is a great way to cover large areas and “civilize” under trees where nothing else will grow. Ivy will climb trees and buildings and creep across paving. So make sure this is O.K. with you before planting it.
Euonymus coloratus (wintercreeper) is another climbing plant that makes an attractive groundcover. It turns bright red in fall and drops its leaves for the winter. We like planting it next to bare brick walls, where it climbs aggressively and makes a very lush background for specimen trees and shrubs.
Sedums (stonecrop) and delosperma (ice plant) of various kinds make great groundcovers in sunny dry areas, thriving with very little water or maintenance. Some of them are bright yellow-green, others are variegated, most have very showy blooms. They look great on slopes and in rock gardens.
There are many other groundcovers like creeping thyme, deadnettle, veronica and creeping phlox. All have their uses, and in the right situation will help reduce maintenance while providing a colorful show. Get suggestions from your nursery about which ones would work best in your situation, and how to plant them successfully.
Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Farm Nursery & Landscape, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. More information is available online at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.