Thinking Low To The Ground: Ground Covers For A New
know that it's time to take global warming seriously
when the Weather Channel gets on board. According to a
piece by Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe, the
Weather Channel will begin a new series this fall. One
of the topics is reflection on the potential disaster
of global warming. The Weather Channel's climate
scientist admits that her station was, "very
conservative for a long time. It didn't want to offend
anyone." They intend now to educate the public that
even one degree of warming can have a huge impact on
our climate and ecosystems.
What's a concerned gardener to
do, especially in the wake of one of the hottest
summers on record? Like all problems, start with the
simplest solutions first. We must seek to conserve
moisture in the landscape. Adaptive gardening starts
at the ground level.
Almost all gardeners know that
mulch is essential to stave off the drying effects of
a hot summer. But don't limit your thinking to
hardwood or pinebark mulch. What would Mother Nature
do? Well, nature uses low-growing plants as mulch.
A perennial groundcover
reduces maintenance, conserves water, and makes your
landscape more beautiful. As with any perennial you
can select for time of bloom, autumn color, winter
interest, or attraction for wildlife. What a great
alternative to the monotony of a lawn! If you choose
the right ground cover, you will rarely need to do
more than a little weeding and watering during severe
I will highlight some native
plants that function beautifully as groundcover. The
ones noted are adapted for drier habitat.
uva-ursi) is in the heath family and forms thick mats
12"tall. It features bright red fruit July through
August, and is an evergreen. It is well suited for
pairing with conifers. Bearberry is graced with dainty
urn-shaped flowers in spring.
peregrina) is at least 80 million years old, native
from Nova Scotia to North Carolina and west to
Indiana. Sweet fern is a multi-branched shrub that can
be up 3 feet tall. It is ideal for bank planting in
light shade, and the foliage is slightly aromatic.
Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia
punctiloba) is a deciduous fern (deciduous means that
it is not evergreen) that spreads rapidly on creeping
rootstalk. It grows up to 3 feet tall, and easily
forms large masses. So easily, that the Forest Service
often finds it necessary to eradicate because it
crowds out tree seedlings. But if you have a gently
sloping forest area in which you want good coverage it
is ideal. Plant it with wildflowers or native shrubs
and trees. It has a pleasant, hay-like, odor.
Southern bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla
sessilifolia) is a low growing, suckering, shrub. The
foliage is red in fall and has a spring and summer
bloom of yellow flowers. This is another great choice
for banks because it fills in very well. It tolerates
a range of partial shade to full sun
Creeping Phlox 'Bruce's White'
(Phlox stolonifera) is a great native plant particular
to Pennsylvania south to Georgia. Foliage is
evergreen, 3 to 6 inches tall. The springtime white
flower is very showy in dense clusters. It tends to
form solid mats, and must be kept free of debris in
winter. It grows best in partial shade but will take
nearly full sun with rich, amended soil. There are
other cultivars with blue and purple flowers. It can
be nicely paired with columbine.
Christmas fern (Polystichum
acrostichoides) is from the oldest family of ferns and
another terrific native. The evergreen fronds can be
up to 2 feet tall, with a characteristic twist toward
the top. Once established, they will withstand
considerable abuse and will tolerate nearly full sun.
Fragrant sumac 'Gro Low' (Rhus
aromatica) is a multistemmed, woody shrub up to 3 feet
tall. There is a nice orange to red to bronze fall
color, with a distinctive tri-foliate leaf. This
interesting plant is in the cashew family, and will
quickly cover a bank. This plant adapts from light
shade to full sun, in poor to average soil.
As you can see, the
possibilities are endless. There are hundreds of
native and non-native plants suitable for groundcover.
Let's say goodbye to monoculture and expand our
gardening range, while adapting to a new climate.
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Read other articles by Kim Blocher