Ground cover can be a beautifully effective weed control barrier. It adds depth and layer to the landscape design, and it provides habitat for ground-dwelling insects and small mammals. Ground cover fills in spaces where it’s hard for mowers to reach and adds interest and stabilization to sloped areas. There are several native and ornamental ground cover species to choose from, ranging from full sun to deep shade in tolerance. Most are pretty low maintenance, too. At Wellfield, we utilize ground cover in most of the gardens: bugleweed, rupturewort, liriope, ginger, creeping jenny, creeping juniper, Japanese spurge, sedum, mondo grass, Pennsylvania sedge, strawberry and the list goes on! We also tailor low-growing Spring annuals to serve as ground cover in several designs.
Another way to use ground cover is the planting of a cover crop to hold soil in place and add nutrients until the next planting season. In mid-September, after most of the blooms of the Quilt Garden have faded, we pull the plants and add annual rye as a cover. I’ve also observed production beds utilize red clover as a cover crop, to be tilled under and add nitrogen to the soil before replanting.
Make sure to check your state’s list of invasive species before purchasing something that may spread into wild areas and take over. While many states have made progress in prohibiting the sale of invasive species, there are still some species that slip through the cracks! Vinca vine (Vinca major) is one of those that comes to mind.
Before planting, prep your beds. Mow, pull, and rake weeds and undesirable plant material away from the area. Some species need to be planted a few inches into the soil, while species such as sedums need some raking to rough up the soil surface to give them a place to attach their roots. Water everything in after planting, and keep at it until established. Pay special attention to ground cover in sunny areas to make sure it doesn’t dry out before establishing roots.
One unique feature of most ground covers is the relative ease at which they can be divided and propagated. We propagate our ginger, Japanese spurge, rupturewort, liriope, and Pennsylvania sedge from rooted cuttings or splitting of current plants from various garden beds. Not only does this allow us to flex our horticulture muscles, but we can quickly recover an area that may experience drought, heavy traffic, or equipment damage. For the home gardener, this could mean saving money replacing plants (and you’ll feel good about flexing your hort muscles, too). There are many wonderful websites full of native and ornamental ground cover ideas to choose from. Make sure to check out local extension services, too, for lists of invasive plants to avoid.
Mary Wojcik, Horticulturist