By Kristina Valle, Master Gardener
Walking through the gates of your local nursery is sure to stir up feelings of excitement and inspiration. After a long, gray winter, it’s hard not to be pulled towards all the colors and textures that were missing over the season and imagine where you could find room in your garden to fit them all. Maybe your garden is well seasoned and as summer progresses, bursts at the seams. Or maybe you’re in the beginning stages and there is a lot of space left for your plants to mature. Whatever stage your garden is in, there is one plant that you can always find space for but is often an afterthought in the garden. This article will guide you through the uses, care, and selection for our Perennial Plant of the Month: Ground Covers.
Each year, many of us fill in open spaces with annuals, however, you can save yourself time and expense by investing in some ground covers. This season I plan to fill a 50+ foot long by 5-foot-tall rock wall with as much creeping phlox as I can get my hands on. There is nothing better than having early signs of spring cascading over and across your landscape and knowing that it will return year after year, lusher and more vibrant than the year before.
Beauty isn’t the only benefit that comes from incorporating ground covers into your garden. It may surprise you to learn that there are several ways ground covers can also help solve some common landscape challenges.
- On Slopes. Many homeowners in Minnesota live on a property that has some level of slope, or perhaps a hilly, hard to mow area. Ground covers are a terrific option not only for erosion control, but to add something beautiful to your property where it might be challenging or unsafe to provide upkeep with a mower
- In Shade. In mature landscapes, where spreading canopies cast wide shadows across the lawn, ground cover can be used to fill in spots where other plants won’t grow. They are also very happy growing over tree roots
- In High Traffic Areas. If you’re looking to add some greenery to an area where kids and pets frequently run through, look no further than ground covers. Certain ground covers are durable enough to withstand foot traffic while maintaining form and sometimes even releasing a fragrance when disturbed
- Weed Control. Weeds are opportunists. Adding ground cover to an open area gives weeds little hope in maturing when they must compete with a healthy carpet of ground cover
- In Gaps. Rock walls and gaps between steppingstones are ideal locations to add ground cover which will help soften the rough landscape edges
- As Companion Plants. Looking for a low growing perennial to keep the roots of your clematis cool? Add some ground cover plants!
As a low maintenance plant, ground covers don’t ask for much and in many cases, once established, can handle challenging soil and site conditions. Pruning is usually not needed unless you’re cutting out dead stems or spent flowers, or you need to tame a section for aesthetics or function, for instance clearing part of a path.
Before selecting a ground cover, be sure to consider your hardiness zone, soil and available light for the plant. No matter what your ground cover interest or need, you’re sure to find a ground cover plant that will fit the bill. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Creeping Phlox
- Candy Tuft
- Creeping Juniper
- Siberian Cypress
- Evergreen Periwinkle
Flowering / Fragrant
- Creeping Thyme
- Various varieties of sedum
- Sweet Woodruff
- Bugleherb (Bugleweed)
- Creeping Juniper
Tolerates Light Foot Traffic
- Scotch Moss
- Creeping Jenny
- Lambs Ears
Groundcover just may be the practical and economic answer to your gardening need. One little plant may go a long way.