Tag Archive | ground cover

Plant Now for Fall Color

Ground covers are a frequently neglected part of garden design. How else to explain the overwhelming use of Vinca minor, English ivy, and pachysandra when so many other choices are available?

Instead of thinking only of very low-growing evergreen selections, broaden your possibilities to include other plants that can be massed to tie together areas of the garden. The relationship between a ground cover and its location and use should determine the appropriate height, not some limiting idea that anything more than 4 inches tall cannot qualify.

Fall color is an important part of garden design, and it should be part of your ground cover selection process, just as it is for trees and shrubs.

Some ideas for ground covers:



Fragrant sumac

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’): The glossy, deciduous leaves, which are aromatic when bruised, turn a fiery orange-red in the fall. The wide-spreading shrub grows to 2 feet tall and works very well, even on a slope, in full sun or partial shade.

Bigroot cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum): This


Bigroot cranesbill

mound-forming semi-evergreen perennial has leaves with a distinctive medicinal scent that turn reddish in the fall. It grows from 12 to 15 inches tall and spreads well through a thick, rhizomatous root structure. It is easy to grow and is both heat and drought tolerant. Different cultivars have different spring flower color



Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides): Fall color and flowers occur at the same time. The shiny green leaves turn strawberry tints, then bronze-red in fall, while the cobalt blue flowers last from late summer until frost. Cut back the bare wiry stems in late winter.


Siberian carpet cypress

Leaves appear in late spring, just after you’re convinced it is dead. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall. It works well in full sun or shade, but colors up better in the sun.

Siberian carpet cypress (Microbiota decussata): This wide-spreading evergreen grows to2 feet tall, with arching, scaly, feathery foliage that turns bronze after a frost. It’s unusual in that it is an evergreen that tolerates shade. It really is from Siberia, and very cold hardy.




Rockspray cotoneaster

Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis): The dark, shiny deciduous leaves turn orange-red, complementing small red berries growing along the stems. This densely branching woody shrub grows from 2 to 3 feet high, spreading to 6 feet. Its arching habit makes it looklike the perfect refuge for rabbits or chipmunks as it covers and cascades down a bank. Lower-growing cultivars are also available.

Ground Covers

What is a Ground Cover?

Groundcover_6695A 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)

A Geranium by any other name…


by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman


Geranium ‘Brookside Blue’

When you hear ‘geranium’, I’m guessing you picture the beautiful annuals that are so beloved by northern gardeners. While I, too, love those gorgeous full heads of color all summer long, there is another geranium that I love as much: the ‘hardy geranium’.

Hardy geraniums are distant cousins of the tender plants known as geraniums. The irony is that the hardy plants have technical rights to the name (they belong to the genus Geranium), but it is the tender ones that most people think of when they hear “geranium”.

Technically, the familiar houseplants are not geraniums. They belong to the genus Pelargonium. But the confusion is natural. Both the hardy and tender versions belong to the Geraniaceae family, and they both used to be in the genus Geranium. Then the tender ones got split off into Pelargonium, but people kept right on calling them geraniums.

Pelargoniums were brought to Europe from South Africa early in the seventeenth century. They found immediate favor, but it was their scented leaves and not their flowers that caused the sensation. By the time they came to the U.S., more than a century later, Pelargoniums’ large clusters of bright red, orange, or hot pink flowers had taken center stage, a position they still hold; scented-leaved geranium fans are passionate, but a minority.


My Cranesbill: ‘Bikova’ clustered at the base of a tree peony

Meanwhile, back in the temperate British and American countrysides, numerous species of native Geranium, known to the populace as cranesbills, were finding their way into gardens. The cranesbills do double-duty, offering beautiful, long-lasting leaves as well as loose umbels of flowers in a wide range of pinks, blues, and purples.

You can usually tell these plants apart by general appearance: the leaves of Pelargonium are thicker than those of true Geranium, their flower stems are stiffer, and though individual flowers are smaller, they tend to be clustered more densely. And if you look closely at the individual flowers, you can usually see a tiny spur on the pelargonium flower stalk (geranium flowers don’t have them).


Cranesbill ‘Bikova’ in bloom

Color helps too: although both kinds might be white, plants in the genus Geranium come in purples, blues, and blue-tinged reds and pinks; those in Pelargonium may be true red, orange-red, pink, or orange, but they do not sing the blues.

Note: Wild geranium, also known as cranesbill,  (Geranium maculatum) is a hardy perennial excellent for naturalizing, or filling in, under bushes or wherever there is dappled shade or part sun. The American native wildflower, with it’s flat, delicate-looking pink-lavender flowers and deeply notched foliage, is very easy to grow, ultimately reaching between 12 and 18 inches.