Ground Covers

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

Ground covers in the landscape can become an integral part of any design. If you look to nature as an example of design, you would notice that the forest floor as well as the meadow floor is covered with something, and often times it is plant material. Not only does it add beauty to the landscape, but it plays an important part in water conservation and erosion control. I will hopefully introduce you to some new selections of plants that can be used as ground covers. I will share my own favorites, as well as open your eyes to some unlikely options.

Two of my favorite ground covers are bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and Golden Star, Chrysogonum virginiana. Both of these are native plants. Bearberry likes to grow in acidic soils ranging from 6 - 6.5. It favors well drained soils, sandy or rocky sites. It is naturally found on rock outcroppings inland and along the sandy coastline. This plant will only get 3"-8" tall and has nice dark green foliage year round. It is a woody evergreen. It flowers in the spring and bears colorful red fruit in the fall. Plant this one in part sun to full sun.

Chrysogonum virginiana, or Golden Star, is a low growing perennial. This perennial will flower from spring through summer, with a small yellow daisy-like flower that covers the plant. It likes the shade and well drained soils. It is tolerant of dry conditions, so it's a great choice for dry shade. Golden Star only reaches about 6" and is mat forming.

A common perennial ground cover is Phlox subulata, or creeping phlox. This is a native perennial that takes full sun and well drained soils. There are many cultivars of P. subulata and, as a result, the available flower colors range from white to pink and purple. This ground cover is very tough. It flowers in early spring and maintains a nice green color throughout the growing season.

Campanula carpaitica 'Blue Clips' is a pretty ground cover reaching 6"-8". This little guy will become covered in blue flowers in the summer. It likes full sun to light shade and well drained soils. It is hardy to zone 3, so it's a great choice for our region. It is a perennial, however it does not die down to the ground through the winter months.

Geranium sanguineum is another perennial groundcover that is at the top of my list. This geranium get about 8"-12" tall and blooms in May-June. The flowers are dark pink to purple. Full sun to part shade is its preference with good drainage. I have it growing successfully along a natural incline in my garden and it softens the path. It has a nice fall color of reddish-bronze. It will re-seed, allowing it to cover an area very nicely.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, plumbago, is an aggressive ground cover that is very easy to grow. It spreads by underground stolens, making for a quick cover. Unlike many ground covers, this one will bloom in late summer, August-September. It has a red fall color giving it a five star review for a late summer-fall show in the garden. It will take dry conditions, establishes quickly, and likes full sun to part shade.

Sedum album is another ground cover for dry conditions. This particular sedum is native to Eastern US and gets white flowers in spring. It spreads by simple layering, has small leaves and reaches about 8 inches. It likes it hot and dry, making it a good choice for rock gardens. There are many Sedum species that are easy to grow, and many that are native to the US.

Lilytuft, or Liriope, is a perennial ground cover that has a grassy appearance. It, however, is not in the grass family but the lily family. There are two species of this plant: Liriope spicata and Liriope muscari. Both species can have flowers ranging in color from white to purple on spikes that are above the foliage. Both will bloom in late July through August, will reach a height of 10"-18" and like sun to part shade. They differ in the way they spread.

Liriope spicata will spread by underground stems, making it a fast covering ground cover. Liriope muscari is clump forming. It also works as a ground cover, but will take much longer to fill in. Both are considered semi-evergreen in our region, which means it keeps it's leaves much of the winter, depending upon the harshness of the weather and exposure of the plant to the elements. New foliage will grow every spring, so it is recommended that the old leaves are cut back in the late winter, early spring.

Using different plants as groundcovers are always fun. Look into your options for your particular site. Hopefully, these few options mentioned here will encourage you to diversify your plant material in your garden.

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