What is a Ground Cover?
A ground cover is any low-growing plant or group of plants that will make a living blanket over the area in question, crowding out weeds while providing visual interest. Most of the more common ground covers are rapidly spreading, long-lived perennials with soft stems, such as pachysandra, but low-growing woody shrubs like spreading junipers are often used also.
Ground Covers for Shade
Among the hardy herbaceous ground covers that are superb for shade are the European wild ginger (Asarum europaeum), which has rounded, glossy evergreen leaves and grows about 6 inches high, and barrenwort, or bishop’s hat (Epimedium spp.), which has semi-evergreen leaves that seem to flutter over its wiry stems.
Consider also lilyturf (Liriope muscari), with grassy evergreen foliage, and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), whose starlike leaves are, as its name suggests, fragrant; and an assortment of hostas.
There are a number of low-growing woody plants that are also good ground covers, including bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), whose tiny evergreen leaves often turn red in autumn; several herringbone-patterned cotoneasters (including Cotoneaster horizontalis) and C. dammeri; and the St. John’s wort called Aaron’s beard (Hypericum calycinum), whose yellow flowers dot its dark leaves through the late summer.
Covering Hot, Stony Ground
When you say hot, dry, and stony, you’re describing the perfect environment for creeping thymes. There are dozens of these gracefully spreading, tiny-leaved plants, many with strong scents other than that of the classic herb.
Choices include lemon-, coconut-, caraway-, and lime-scented varieties. Or if you don’t want to grow hungry every time you take a step, there is a well-named wooly thyme, which has only a light fragrance. It forms a very low mat of silver-green fuzz that makes you want to stoop down and pet it.
Over Exuberant Ground Covers
Beautiful, easy, quick to spread. When you read these words in the catalog, they sound very enticing. But be careful what you wish for. Many of the most common ground covers are actually hell-bent on covering the earth. Once they have taken hold in the garden, they are very hard to eradicate, and there’s a good chance that they won’t stop when they reach the property line.
- Bishop’s weed, or goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)
- Creeping bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
- Crown vetch (Coronilla varia)
- English ivy (Hedera helix)
- Houttuynia (Houttuynia cordata)
- Indian strawberry (Duchesnea indica)
- Mint – especially spearmint (Mentha spp. – M. spicata)
- Spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum)
- Vinca, or periwinkle (Vinca minor)
- Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)