So how can you use a ground cover? They mean different things to different people. For some it is to keep weeds from growing, for others something to take care of hard to mow places like slopes, for many just to prevent soil erosion.  Usually thought of as low, creeping and spreading, but others consider anything that covers the ground area with leaves, and they may have a taller structure.  There are many for sun or shade, for wet or dry soil, for acid or alkaline pH soil. Some have showy blooms and others have hidden ones, such as wild ginger with its little brown blooms hugging the ground.  You won’t see them unless you get down there but beetle’s (pollinators) and the ants (sugary seeds) know where they are.

          For years now the Hosta has been a best seller for a shady spot.  They range in color from almost white leaves to almost black ones. And some have spots and others stripes and some with colored edges. They are easy to grow, like a fair amount of water, range in height from 4 inches to 3 feet tall, and are not particular as to soil, and some actually do well in sun.  They are a favorite food of slugs.

          Some ground covers are considered invasive but most people like something you don’t need to “babysit”. I like at least two of these: one is SNOW ON THE MOUNTAIN (Aegopodium variegatum) also known as GOUT WEED or BISHOP’S WEED. There is a green form just as aggressive but not as interesting to me. It does well in shade or sun, with lacy white blooms in late summer and about 18inches long. Be careful if you look for this one as there are several with the common name of SNOW ON THE MOUNTAIN. One gets about 3 feet tall and likes only sun. 

          Another one I like is RIBBON GRASS, also known as GARDENER’S GARTERS (Phalaris arundinacea). It grows on the west side of a brick garage where everything else struggles.  It can’t go anywhere I don’t want it because there is a cement walk on the other side.  In spite of hot bricks, blasting wind, and a dry area, it thickens up every year, and is about 2 feet tall with handsome white stripes full length of its leaves.  If it gets knocked down I just mow it and soon is back better than ever. Make sure you have this plant in a contained place or it can be invasive.

          The true GERANIUM varieties are a joy anywhere as they bloom generously early summer and then again as it cools a little in the fall.  Only about 6 inches tall, I like them along the edge of my paths.  A clump will spread about 2 feet and hang over the edge with its blooms of nearly any color you might like, with spots, stripes, and color blends.  They don’t seem to be fussy about soil.  Most people call them CRANESBILL to separate them from their houseplant “GERANIUM” which is actually a “pelargonium”. They do not like wet feet and some of them like rock gardens.  I find the blue flowers a little harder to find so Johnson’s Blue is one of my favorite.

          Growing up I got the idea that ferns were hard to grow so avoided them for years. Also they had no blooms. Finally I bought CINNAMON FERN (Osmunda cinnamomea) as I liked those curly tops as they came up and then unrolled.  I planted them at the south end of the back yard in shade and they liked it!!! They have traveled the full length along the fence, sometimes in sun, but doing better coming up under other plants.  They leave little humps when they die down in the fall and they have now decided to grow into the dog pen.  Pepper, the Keeshond, likes to dig cavities to sleep in, so I water their pen down occasionally to keep the ground soft enough. The ferns enjoy it too as I have given many “humps” away. 

          One might not think of VIRGINIA BLUEBELLS (Mertensia ciliata) as a ground cover but mine has done that.  I have an area under the big cottonwood where I have chairs and a chaise so the dogs and I can sit and listen to the leaves.  It is covered with several inches of fine bark.  I picked this spot as I was sure nothing would grow there.  Not far from there I put out a few BLUEBELLS years ago.  They prefer to come up in the bark so in the early spring I remove part of the furniture in an area about 10 by 10 feet, which is a good half of my space, and let it turn blue.  Only 8 to 12 inches tall, the buds are pink but open blue.  One of the first plants up in the spring, they are traveling around the area going north.  They don’t mind my moving back in. I think the bark keeps me from compacting the soil. 

          LAMIUM  sp., quite often called DEAD NETTLE is a low (6 to 8 inches) cover for semi or heavy shade that sends out rhizomes to cover their space. There is quite a variety of various color arrangements in the leaves including spots with names like HERMAN’S PRIDE, GOLDEN CARPET, and BEACON SILVER. Blooms are tiny but very visible in yellow, white, and pink.  To give you an idea of its vigor, I had it planted along my 6 foot board fence and several years ago I noticed it had gone under so I dug it up.  Evidently my neighbor did not mind and kept it. Then this past summer it decided to move back home, so I have “WHITE NANCY” again along my fence.

Copyright 2008