Introduction To Groundcovers

When planted together in large numbers to form a mass that covers the soil, many, many plants can serve as groundcovers. This includes turfgrass, vining and climbing plants like English Ivy, annual and perennial flowers, bulbs, ferns, evergreen shrubs--even lowly mosses. Some groundcover plants prefer shade, others require sun; some provide mostly foliage, while others offer flowers too. With this diversity, there is a suitable plant to cover the ground in every situation in residential yards.

Groundcovers are useful as well as ornamental. They help the soil retain moisture and precious organic matter, discourage weeds, harbor beneficial creatures, feed birds and other wildlife, and control erosion. They are enormously helpful in reducing the size of your high maintenance lawn. Generally cheaper than turfgrasses to plant and maintain, a wide variety of plants do a better job of keeping soil healthy under trees and shrubs.

Checklist for Suitable Groundcovers

A groundcover plant is simply one that, planted en masse, effectively covers the soil to form an attractive tapestry of color and/or texture. No one particular group of plants is better than another at covering the ground, but particular individual plants within a group--perennials, annuals shrubs, vines or bulbs--make better groundcovers because of their specific characteristics.

These characteristics are:
 Grows compactly.
 Spreads quickly by runners or widening clumps to forms a mat of plants.
 Spreads with discipline
 Is easily removed if it grows beyond its boundaries.
 Does not need constant watering, feeding or grooming.
 Looks good all season (annuals) or for years (perennials) with little care.

Groundcovers for Shady Spots

Even shade-tolerant turfgrasses need at least 6 hours of sun a day to thrive, so they are never very successful in shady areas. Lots of other plants featuring textured, colorful or variegated foliage and sometimes flowers do very well in partial shade:


Typical Groundcovers
Perennials Perennials Shrubs
Ajuga /Bugleweed Hosta Azalea
Astilbe Hypericum Dwarf pieris
Bishop's Hat Lenten Rose Sarcococca
Bergenia Lilyturf (Liriope)  
Creeping phlox Mondo Grass  
English ivy Moss Annuals
Ferns Pachysandra Baby's tears
Bleeding heart fringed Sweet woodruff Coleus
Foamflower Vinca Impatiens
Ginger Violets Wax Begonia



Groundcovers for Wet Soil

Low-lying areas with poor drainage are difficult. Rain runoff collects and make soil soggy a good bit of the time. Turfgrasses will not grow there, nor will many other plants. However, there are some plants that do not mind damp soil some of the time. Here is a sampling:

Plants for Wet Spots
Perennials Shrubs
Astilbe Bayberry
Bee balm Buttonbush
Canna Caroliana allspice
Cattails Dogwood(some)
Chameleon plant Inkberry
Cinnamon fern Pussy willow
Daylily Red chokeberry (Aronia)
Ornamental grass (some) Spicebush
Primrose Summersweet (Clethra)
Ligularia Virginia Sweetspire
Lily-of-the-valley Viburnum Cranberry
Moneywort Winterberry
Siberian Iris Wintercreeper
Spiderwort Annuals
Turtlehead Forget-me-Not.
Wild ginger  
Yellow flag iris  



Groundcovers That Handle Drought

In some regions of the country rainfall is normally scarce, so homeowners turn to drought resistant plants to cover the ground. These plants make equally effective groundcovers elsewhere in areas of yards where the soil is sandy and/or lacks sufficient organic matter to help it hold water. Some plants that, planted as groundcover, can handle sunny, dry locations with a minimum of watering are:

Plants That Survive Drought
Artemesias Junipers (certain) Sun rose
Barren strawberry Ozark sundrops Verbena
Bearberry Portulaca Wintercreeper
Broom (Cytisus) Prairie smoke (Geum) Yarrow
Crown-vetch Rock cress Yellow archangel
Double dropwort Rock rose (Cistus) Yucca
Dwarf coyote brush Rosemary  
Ice plant (various) Santolina  
Lantana Sedums (Stonecrop)  



Groundcovers to Avoid!

Groundcover plants sometimes grow more rampantly than expected or desired because they are in particularly rich soil or are overfertilized. However, there are some that are notable for their naturally aggressive spread and have earned the reputation for being invasive. They drive out or overwhelm nearby plants, are difficult to dig up, or reseed and spread prolifically all over the yard. These plants are best restricted to areas between paved walks or drive or to containers which control their root spread. Cut off dead flowers before they develop into seeds.

Beware of:

Plants To Avoid
Barren strawberry Oriental Bittersweet
Gooseneck loosestrife Purple loosestrife
Goutweed Running bamboos (Sasa/Arundinaria)
Hall’s (Japanese) honeysuckle Various Mints
Japanese butterbur (Petasites) Wild morning glory
Kudzu Zoysia grass



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