How to Choose the Right Ground Covers for Your Garden

Are there bare spots in your garden? Do you have too much shade in certain areas? Your garden can have a more polished look without all the blood, sweat, and tears or the wear on your knees. Ground covers add that finished look to the garden and a very low maintenance. No category of plants works harder than ground covers to help a gardener create a beautiful yet low-maintenance landscape. They can be used to stabilize banks and control erosion, substitute for turf where grass won’t grow or is hard to mow, line curbs and driveways where salt will damage ordinary plants or to enhance a landscape with broad, dramatic sweeps of green or color.

There are many types of ground cover and some will work in your area and some won’t. To find out which ones are the best for your region your best source of information is your local garden center or a local landscaper. Once you have discovered which options will work in your neighborhood then you need to consider your specific garden. Here are some considerations and guidelines to help you understand how to use ground covers in your garden’s design:

Size: In general, look for low growing varieties for smaller areas such as between shrubs and along pathways; taller ground covers will look best in large areas and on slopes.

Form: A variety of forms including compact, mounding, leafy, succulent, and trailing can be utilized depending on your design, the planting environment and the plants (if any) that they will accompany.

Color: The variation in foliage and flower color for ground covers is extensive. Consider a flowering ground cover to cover large areas without other plants, or a cover with Interesting foliage if your design goal is to provide a background for focal points or specimen plants.

Shade gardens: Try a mixture of the golden tones of Hakonechloa macra (Japanese Forest Grass) or Acorus ‘Ogon’ combined with velvety green Baby Tears and a bit of Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ with its luminous light green leaves. These covers will work well with azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas.

Perennials: Use perennials as alternatives to traditional ground covers. Lamb’s Ears, lamium, Lantana sellowiana and Erigeron karvinskianus are just a few perennials that can help you tie together a garden design. Bacopas are an excellent choice for cover, too.

Large areas: Carpet roses have become quite popular with gardeners who are looking to add a lot of color. Nasturtiums, trailing vines, and of course ivies are equally effective
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Below trees: Under oak and pine trees, consider Vinca major or Festuca california (the leaves and needles fall through the ground cover!) Below a Japanese maple, a combination of Irish and Scotch moss with Vinca minor (which comes in white, blue or rose) will look great.

Perennials: Use perennials as alternatives to traditional ground covers. Lamb’s Ears, lamium, Lantana sellowiana and Erigeron karvinskianus are just a few perennials that can help you tie together a garden design. Bacopas are an excellent choice for cover, too.

Large areas: Carpet roses have become quite popular with gardeners who are looking to add a lot of color. These carpet roses are disease resistant and come in pink, white, apple-blossom, or red flowers. Trailing vines, and, of course, ivies are equally effective.

Some ground covers can become invasive if not controlled. An easy way of controlling this invasion of plants (if you want to control them) is to plant them within a bordered area. While this will limit their spread, the occasional plant will escape and need to be pulled.

The number of plants needed to cover your area will depend on how much room you have and how much room the plants require. For an area of 11 square feet, approximately 100 plants spaced 4″ apart, will be needed. If they are planted 8″ apart, the 100 plants will cover an area of 44 square feet. It may take your ground cover a year or two to completely fill the designated area but you will love the results. No matter which type of ground cover you choose, your garden will benefit from the new growth and color.

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