Ground Covers are the plants we use to fill in difficult places-too wet, too dry, too shady, steep slopes, or rocky areas. There are many places that some plants won’t fit. They are too tall, need too much sun, use too much water, or interfere with other garden objects. This is where ground covers fit in. It has always been my idea that they had to be short, but I have noticed ground covers advertised that grow several feet high. So it may be any

special plant that fits a special place.

          For shade, I have mentioned “Snow on the Mountain” (Aegopodium podagraria) as an aggressive variegated plant that finds room for its roots most anywhere. I don’t like digging into tree roots as they have enough problems with diseases, drouth, and insects.  “Vinca Minor” (also called “Common Periwinkle” or Creeping Myrtle”) is one of the most used covers I have noticed in Lincoln. It will grow in sun but does much better in moist, shady, soil with lots of organic material.  It never gets more than six inches high with dainty blue blooms in spring.  Small bulbs that bloom early do well coming up through the vine that roots as it spreads.

          “Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is a dainty looking plant about eight inches high.  Each plant has only 2 leaves but spreads from underground stems rapidly in damp, light shade but will survive in very heavy shade.  They have pink or white blossoms and is quite often found in wedding bouquets. 

          Ajuga reptans, known as “Bugleweed” or “Carpet Bugle” does well in shade some years and in others disappears during the winter.  There are several color variations in leaves and a thick carpet will be blue, red, or purple with blooms in early spring.

          For sun, “Creeping Speedwell” (Veronica repens) is my favorite that never is over 4 inches high with tiny solid blue blossoms in the spring. It has shallow roots so needs to be watered regularly. Plant miniature “Daffodils” underneath for a neat spring show.  Because it can take heat so well, I have “Dwarf Barberry” in one spot of the parkway. It is reddish purple all year round.  It does have thorns so use caution where it is planted.

          Under my “Rose” bushes, as a cover for their bare stems, I have “Moss Roses (Portulaca grandiflora). They don’t bloom vigorously until after the middle of June when the Roses are resting from their earlier show. Also called “Purslane” (same family as that weed that tries to cover everything) they come in all colors, singles, and doubles and they produce hundreds of seeds so they are always there. My bed is 80 feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide and they bloom for weeks. The flowers do not open on a cloudy day. With good drainage and heat, they create a riot of color up to 12 inches high.

          A few years ago I bought 3 small pots of “Sweet Woodruff” (Asperila odorato) and put it in a slightly sunny spot.  It lived but didn’t do much and did not produce very many of its little white flowers. Last year I moved it to under a ‘Redbud” tree after I read it liked shady, moist soil and now it’s trying to cover up its less vigorous neighbors. One book I have says it’s used in making wine.

          Somewhere I noticed a small “Strawberry” plant with a bright pink blossom so I found three and planted them in a sunny spot near some shrubs. They immediately exploded!!! They do have berries about the size of my little fingernail but not many. And they do have runners and more runners. Last fall I tried to pull up most of them as they went under the bushes, covered my gravel path and went back into the shade to try to cover the “Jack in the Pulpit”. This summer everything is covered again. I do love that pink so I will need to find some corner where I can put them in captivity.

          Several people have asked me about the short yellow flower growing along the edges of roads, ignoring the drought. In good soil they can become weeds, so you can plant them in your poorest, driest places. This is called “Birds-foot Trefoil” (Lotus corniculatus) as the seed pods open in a claw-like shape.  You can find seeds in the nurseries or start cuttings in the spring.  You may have noticed they survive mowing. 

          Many of the grasses are used as groundcovers, and many times, in places nothing else does well. We have many to choose from. There are grasses for dry or wet and grasses for sun or shade.  After all lawns are ground covers.

          I have never had Pachysandra but noticed the white blossoms in late spring in several shady yards. The closer you plant clumps or summer cuttings the faster it fills up the space to prevent run off.  It is listed as semi-evergreen for Zone 6 so needs to be in a protected area or leave fallen leaves on during the winter.

          For a hot dry space I have Lambs Ears (Stachys lanata) also called Wooly Betony. There is a small variety about 12 to 18 inches tall and a new one with a larger leaf. Both are silvery and wooly. Their roots can fill a space very fast unless they get too much water in spring. I need to use a leaf rake to get the old foliage.

          Wherever soil erosion is a problem, ground covers can help to stabilize the soil and prevent a pounding rain from hitting the ground so hard it starts to run off immediately.

Copyright 2012