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Go With Ground Covers

by Carole McCray

Looking for the answer as to what will grow where you have tried a lawn or what to plant on a shaded slope too steep to mow? The solution is to go with ground covers to help solve common landscaping problems. Ground covers can frame a flower garden, cover a bank, and even prevent soil erosion. Many ground covers bear flowers, which are a lovely addition to a blanket of leaf foliage. They hug and hold the soil, come in dozens of hardy varieties for deep shade to full sun in rich or poor soil. Fast to spread and fill in quickly, ground covers are low maintenance and quite resistant to diseases and pests. With different textures and shapes, ground covers present an attractive alternative for solving a landscaping problem and can create interest where only a lawn now exists.

In Sun or Shade on Slopes

Purple winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei 'colorata') roots well, spreads rapidly to form dense 6" mat, and this trailing vine is excellent for erosion control. Leaves turn burgundy in fall and winter. Zones 5-10.

Creeping lilyturf (Liriope spicata) bears pale lavender flower spikes on grassy, fountain-like foliage; it reaches 12" high. Tolerates drought and most soils. Zones 4-10.

Most sandwort or Irish moss (Arenaria verna) resembles moss when not blooming. Tiny white flowers appear above mat; shallow roots needs moist, well-drained soil. Zones 2-10.

In Full Sun

Carpet Bugle (Ajuga reptans) is an outstanding low grower planted as self-contained edging around entryways or patios; prefers enriched, moist soil. In spring, lilac flower spikes rise to 4"; leaves turn burgundy-bronze in the fall. Green Ajuga sends forth-blue spikes in spring. Zones 4-9.

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) likes well-drained soil; plant phlox for vibrant carpets of pink, white violet, or red flowers in early spring. This hardy spreader is excellent in front of a perennial border, planted on a slope, or cascading over a wall. Zones 3-9.

Evergreen Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) grows to a foot tall with small white flower clusters and shiny, dark green foliage; makes a handsome cover in small, well-drained areas. Along a walkway, my candytuft blooms in the spring. Zones 3-9.

Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) spreads its creeping stems quickly to set a hardy cover for a large area with a sea of mini-white flowers in summer. Plant does best in well-drained soil, including desert, mountain, or coastal regions; can reach to 24", and if it appears scraggly, cut back. Zones 2-10.

In Damp Shade

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) requires rich, moist, well-drained soil. Growth for beautiful, deep green, kidney-shaped foliage, its blooms in spring are violet-brown hidden under glossy leaves. Listed as a wildflower, too, it grows to 8" and can be dried and used as flavoring. Zones 4-10.

Hay-Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobular) is a fragrant cover with lavy leaflets that thrives in moist soil high in peat or leaf mold. Our surrounding woods shade the ferns where they mature to 20" in a natural setting. Zones 3-8.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria) with a height of 12" is good under shrubs or along a shaded path. Blue lungwort (P. angustifolia) blooms in clusters of pink, trumpet-shaped flowers then changing to blue. Different cultivars have white, yellow, and salmon flowers. Zones 3-8.

In Dry Shade

Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria) is one of my favorite old-fashioned, perfumed plants. Planted along a walkway or under shrubs, its waxy, white bells weep gracefully. The sweet lily likes rich, well-drained soil. Zones 2-8.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has fragrant, spoke-like leaves, tiny, white flower clusters, and likes acid soil. My plants form a lovely spring border about 8" high in a perennial garden. Zones 4-10.

Plantain Lily (Hosta) is a clump-forming, landscaping mainstay with heights from 8" to 2' and makes an excellent border plant and complements shade-tolerant daylilies (Hemerocallis). Zones 3-9 for Hosta; 3-10 for Hemerocallis.

You might need salt-tolerant ground covers, like Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus) that requires full sun and is zoned 3-9, or for full sun or partial shade, Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon) is hardy in zones 7-10. Moist, poorly drained sites can be planted with Bleeding Heart (Dicentra) or Variegated Japanese Sweetflag (Acorus gramineus), a good bog plant for zones 6-9.

Consult the Growise experts for additional information on planting and maintaining ground covers. Grow the right ground cover, and your garden will not grow wrong.

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