Groundcovers provide solutions for many landscape problems

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 them.
At its most basic, a groundcover is a plant that spreads out horizontally, rather that sprouting up vertically like most other plants.
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 dislike weeding!
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 attractive solution.
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 snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.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.
Pachysandra terminalis 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 early spring.
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 snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org
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