Ground cover is any plant that grows over the ground, covering the bare earth protecting it from erosion and drought. When used in landscaping, ground cover is a low plant that increases the areas aesthetic appeal.
Ideally ground covers spread either by underground roots or above the ground developing roots at each node producing a dense mat. The denser the plant, the less likely weeds will grow within the area. Ground covers need to be weeded regularly until they become established. Once established they will still need to be weeded periodically.
Ground covers in areas where there will be foot traffic are usually less than four inches (10 cm) tall. Plants that cover areas that are further afield range up to two feet (60 cm) in height.
The most common ground cover is low growing grass or lawn. It is used as it is readily available and relatively inexpensive. Once established a lawn will grow in the same location for years. Grass is ideal for locations that will be walked on or trampled as the plant will grow back.
Thyme makes an attractive ground cover. Creeping varieties hug the ground while the slightly taller, woody varieties add height to the design. All thyme plants are fragrant and flower once a year. Bees and other insects are attracted to the plants during their blooming stage making them an impractical plant to place between patio stones.
There are numerous varieties of low growing sedum available. These succulents spread quickly filling in bare areas of earth. The pink yellow or white flowers add colour for a few weeks each year. As the plants break easily, do not place them in an area that will be walked on.
Low growing or spreading junipers add colour and depth to any landscape year round. For large areas use a weed barrier and mulch to keep the weeds to a minimum. Once established these plants need very little maintenance. A common mistake is to plant junipers too close together. Plant them far enough apart that they will overlap at maturity.
Wild strawberries make an attractive ground cover that is not used very often. Like the tame strawberries the plants spread by runner. It is possible to fill in areas by placing the runners in the correct locations. Wild strawberries bloom in June and provide sweet fruit in July.
Hot dry areas require plants that are adapted for that climate. Look for plants that appear to be silver but in reality are green leaves covered with tiny white hairs that reflect sunlight. Snow-in-summer, lambs ears and sage are plants that will thrive in this climate.
Snow-in-summer will grow in most locations. This short plant will quickly spread outwards forming a dense mat. Small white flowers that appear in June are a bonus.
Lambs ears have fleshy leaves that are about an inch (two cm) in size. The plant spreads along the ground then produces upward stalks making it a little taller than your average ground cover. Pink or yellow flowers appear later in the season.
Sage plants are fragrant. The grey colour is a wonderful contrast to the many colours within the landscape. Silver mound is a plant that slowly grows larger keeping the mound shape. Perennial dusty miller spreads under ground by way of roots.
Vines also make great ground covers. Instead of spreading upwards they spread outwards. Virginia creeper will spread in the sun or shade. While the flowers are minimal, the fall colour can be fantastic.
These are but a few of the ground covers that are available. Use them to cover in large or small areas in your yard.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or firstname.lastname@example.org