Ground covers

Aug 06, 2018

Ground covers are versatile plants for any garden. Ground covers are often easy to grow, spreading plants that help suppress weeds while adding texture to your garden. They can be used to minimize turf space and generally require little upkeep. Many can take some foot-traffic and most are fairly inexpensive. In sloped areas, ground covers can be used to reduce erosion.

Liriope (also sometimes referred to as lilyturf) is a commonly used, grasslike ground cover growing to about 12-16 inches tall. It tolerates most growing conditions, and blooms purple (or white, depending on the variety) spikes of blooms in spring. It is evergreen, though looks best when cut back in early spring. Liriope muscari is a clumping form that comes in both green and variegated varieties. Liriope spicata is similar, but has slightly narrower leaves and a spreading habit.

Mondo grass is similar in appearance to liriope though perhaps not as vigorous of a grower. A slower growing cousin to liriope, Mondo grass appreciates part sun conditions. A dwarf variety exists that grows to only 2-4 inches tall and is a perfect solution for areas you do not want to mow. Black mondo grass has near black foliage and can be a showy accent in a plant bed, and is especially nice in a contemporary garden.

Pachysandra is another evergreen ground cover that is commonly used. It prefers shady conditions and grows 8-12 inches high, forming a carpet of green foliage. In spring, it has small white flowers that aren’t particularly showy, but nice none the less. Pachysandra is good for sloped areas, though may have difficulty holding soil before spreading and filling it.

An alternative shade ground cover is sarcococca (Himalayan sweetbox). A shrubby, evergreen, shade-loving plant, sarcococca blooms with fragrant flowers in late winter and grows to 1-2 feet tall. Sarcococca does best in humusy soil and will not thrive in poor soils as readily as pachysandra.

Vinca (periwinkle) is a groundcover that tolerates a wide range of conditions from shade to sun. Also evergreen, vinca is a low growing (about 2-6 inches tall) with long, trailing stems and round leaves. Vinca has striking, blue-purple flowers in early spring. Vinca is another good option for areas with erosion issues.

Though ivy is often used and thrives as a ground cover, it should be planted only with careful consideration. Ivy is extremely difficult to remove from the garden and grows aggressively. That said, it is a good plant to use when little else will grow, or on large slopes where retention is needed and it can grow freely without impeding on garden space.

While these ground covers are perhaps the most widely used, it is by no means an exhaustive list. Creeping thyme, Virginia creeper, ajuga and mazus are just a few of the many others to consider. If you are trying to find a ground cover for a particular space, look to your local nursery for suggestions specific to your needs.