Groundcovers are problem-solving plants that create a dense carpet of green in a spot where it’s difficult to grow grass. Common places for a groundcover includes shaded areas, slopes and hills or beneath a thick canopy of mature trees. Ground covers also suppress weeds, keep a landscape looking tidy and, best of all eliminate the need to mow.
Keep in mind that ground covers aren’t just for those hard-to-plant areas, they can also create a stunning visual effect and link different parts of the garden together. A well chosen ground covering plant can also help achieve a sense of flow in the landscape.
Most ground covers are quite low maintenance, easy to establish, relatively inexpensive and become long-lived garden plants. When deciding on a ground cover, consider your site carefully prior to planting. Is it shady or sunny, moist or dry? Selecting plants that suit your area and requirements will help ensure a healthy and quick-growing carpet of green.
Ground covers can be sprawling vines or low-growing perennials and shrubs. Look for plants with multi-season interest, such as spring or summer flowers, winter berries or autumn colour.
Many gardeners opt to plant native species for their proven hardiness, desirability to wildlife and birds, and ability to thrive in our often acidic soils. There are many striking native plants that make excellent and quick-growing groundcovers such as bunchberry, bearberry, foamflower, wintergreen and wild ginger.
A native dogwood, bunchberry is a compact plant with very showy spring flowers and attractive whorled foliage. The flowers are replaced by bunches of bright red berries in late summer, which are eaten by birds and gardeners who enjoy the slightly dry, but mild apple flavoured fruits.
Bearberry is a native evergreen shrub that prefers a dry sandy site. The creeping plants can spread up to ten feet across the ground and are covered in small green leaves that persist all season long. In summer they are a bright green, while in winter the foliage turns a bronze colour.
Popular non-native groundcovers include sweet woodruff, vinca vine, pachysandra (Japanese spurge), lily-of-the-valley, ivy, mother-of-thyme, wood anemone and perennial geraniums. Even edibles can be used as ground covering plants and the website, www.gardeningwithconfidence.com, recently posted about using 40 everbearing strawberry plants as a low maintenance, yet productive groundcover.
Another favourite and extremely easy to grow groundcover is sweet woodruff. This exuberant plant grows about eight-inches tall with a pretty spiral of leaves and star-shaped flowers in spring. It does well in a woodland setting, even spreading quickly in a dry shaded spot.
Mother-of-thyme grows very low to the ground, only reaching a height of two-inches. It’s a fast spreader though and prefers a sunny spot in the garden with well-drained soil. The fragrant foliage and tiny soft pink flowers make this a popular groundcover for gardeners with dry slopes, rock gardens or who wish for a spot of colour in a flagstone pathway.
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.