A good groundcover can be a landscaper's best friend, but despite
being a relatively simple family of plants, there can still be some
confusion and misunderstanding. This seems like a good time to take a
look at the pros and cons of groundcovers and how and when to use
At its most basic, a groundcover is a plant that spreads out
horizontally, rather that sprouting up vertically like most other
As for the pros and cons, the benefits definitely outnumber the
disadvantages. The main "con" to be aware of is that certain
groundcovers can spread out further than you intended. Before planting
any groundcover, check into its invasive tendencies, if any, and be
prepared to corral the area with a sturdy barrier such as lawn edging
that you can find at most garden centers.
Now to the benefits of planting groundcovers.
Groundcover plants provide a thick, attractive mat of foliage that
suppresses the growth of weeds. This is a major advantage if you
For the most part, groundcovers are the low-maintenance heroes of the
garden world. You can almost set 'em and forget 'em. Almost.
Hilly or sloping areas can be difficult or dangerous to mow. Replacing
sod with an alternative groundcover in these areas provides a safe and
Regular lawn grass around the base of trees can be patchy due to the
shade, but a shade-loving groundcover such as Pachysandra terminalis
can be an excellent alternative.
If soil erosion or moisture control are problems, a suitable
groundcover could be your answer. As you can see, groundcovers can
solve a lot of landscape problems.
When choosing the right groundcover for the site, you need to consider
hardiness, size, growth rate, sun, shade, soil requirements, blooming
time, and perhaps fall color. Be aware of the conditions of your land
and select plants that meet those conditions and are best suited for
any specific situations, such as hillside soil erosion. You are
welcome to send me your particular groundcover questions and I'll send
you a personal response. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Now for a brief look at a few groundcovers you might find useful:
Pink Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
Ideal for banks, slopes and difficult-to-mow hilly areas, it also
looks good in rock gardens and atop retaining walls. Look for other
varieties such as Emerald Blue or Candy Stripe.
Just about the only plant that will grow successfully under pine trees
or other spreading trees, against deeply shaded walls and in enclosed
patios. It's a low, dense, compact beauty that eliminates the need to
mow around, and possibly damage, exposed tree roots.
Trailing Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
An excellent choice if you want a very low, trailing groundcover that
does well in full sun, shaded or semi-shaded areas, particularly in
rich, moist, evenly-drained soil. The dark green, oval-shaped foliage
is a delightful background for the bright blue flowers that appear in
Elfin Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
This one is ideal for planting between bricks or paving stones. As an
added advantage, it is highly aromatic, providing the delightful scent
of fresh thyme as well as tiny lavender flowers in the summer.
Purple Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
If controlling erosion on a slope is a concern, this one is worth
considering. It's a dense, woody, broadleaf evergreen that grows from
6" to 9" tall and can spread indefinitely by rooting stems. It can
also be trained into a climbing plant for covering walls or chimneys.
Planting groundcovers is not particularly complex. Generally, you will
need to rid the soil of all weeds and debris, till the soil then mix
in some organic matter such as compost or manure. Usually, you will
plant groundcovers about a foot apart and then water regular for the
first year until established. Be sure to follow specific planting
directions, however, as the needs of different plants will vary.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to email@example.com and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org