The Plant Man column
for publication week of 04/03/05 - 04/09/05
The Plant Man
by Steve Jones
Groundcover: great-looking greenery, year 'round
Groundcover is an excellent alternative to a high-maintenance lawn and
can enhance the look of your landscape beautifully while reducing the
amount of sweat-equity you need to invest.
Right now would be a very good time to be planting most types of
groundcover, and today I'll have some suggestions for groundcover
varieties that would look great and thrive in your particular soil and
In this column last time, I discussed the best ways to prepare your
soil for planting groundcover and how to "beat the weeds" while
you're at it. If you missed that column, you can find it archived at
my Web site www.landsteward.org when you click on "the Plant Man"
So... your soil is properly prepped and is weed free. What should you
plant? Two major considerations will be the amount of sunlight your
planting area will be exposed to and whether or not you want year-round
(evergreen) groundcover. First, let's think about plants that enjoy
basking in full sun to light shade conditions.
Dragon's Blood - Red Sedum.
Here's a groundcover that seems to turn as red as you would if you
laid out in the sun all summer! The more sun it gets, the more intense
the color of its flowers and foliage. Dragon's Blood grows to about
3" to 8" high and spreads thickly. It's tolerant of poor, dry soil
and variations in temperature.
Also known as Phlox subulata, nothing spreads as effectively as Phlox.
I think it looks beautiful as an edging to a pathway and spilling over
a rock garden. There are so many varieties, it can be hard to choose,
but that's a good problem to have. If you can't decide on a single
variety, mix and match a few. You can find red, pink, white, emerald
blue and even candy-stripe varieties! Even when not in bloom, Phlox
has a vigorous green foliage that is very attractive.
Phlox does need a good supply of nutrients. In early spring, sprinkle a
9-12-12 time release fertilizer around the young plants and add mulch.
About 2 weeks after the blooms have appeared, pull back the mulch,
fertilize again and replace the mulch.
Looking for a groundcover that'll work in a more shaded area? Think
There are several varieties of hostas out there, but there are a couple
that are a little out of the ordinary. Look for one known as
"Patriot," a variegated plant with bright white edges to its vivid
green leaves. It will grow to about 18" - 22" high and 36" wide. It
will need at least a half a day of shade, so it's ideal for the
shadier spots in your landscape, and can tolerate a wide variety of
soil types, as well as heat, cold and humidity.
Another hosta variety that I like is "Sum and Substance." The
deeply-veined, bright chartreuse leaves really brighten up a shaded
area. It's very showy from early spring to late fall and is quite
tolerant of moist locations. If you'd like to add an unusual splash
of color to your hosta patch, look for a variety called "Blue
Evergreen groundcover, of course, provides year-round coverage. How
Periwinkle (Vinca minor) is a dense and fast-growing evergreen
groundcover that works equally well in sun, shade or semi-shaded areas.
It has dark green, oval leaves and small, pretty blue flowers in early
spring. A good choice for slight slopes and around trees.
Known to horticulturists as Ajuga reptans, this evergreen produces a
nice horizontal spread and a height of about 4" - 6" with 8" - 10"
spikes of purple blooms in the spring.
Last but not least, pachysandra... the "green carpet" that retains
its dense beauty even in quite adverse conditions! It's ideal for
steep slopes and terraces where it would be dangerous to try to mow
grass, too. Pachysandra looks elegant in shaded courtyards and
There are so many options when it comes to groundcover, and these are
intended simply as idea-starters. Drop me an e-mail with a few details
such as sun and soil conditions, your location, and the look you wish
to achieve and I'll try to come up with some ground-breaking (and
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org