What are Ground Covers & How to Use Them?
What are ground covers?
In the world of gardening, the term ground covers refer to any group of low-lying plants with a creeping, spreading habit that is used to cover sections of ground while requiring minimal maintenance. Just about any low growing plant can be used as a ground cover. However, more often than not, ground covers are evergreen plants.
My definition of a “ground cover” goes like this... ground cover plants are low-growing evergreen plants that can be used to cover areas where turf grass or select plants will not grow due to shade, moisture issues, or tree roots. They are ideal for steep slopes that are hard to mow or where erosion takes place during rain events. Ground cover plants are commonly used to cover large areas of the landscape to reduce mulching costs and labor, but my favorite reason is to reduce the use of weed-killers such as round-up or preen.
The best ground covers are evergreen plants. Pachysandra, for instance, is evergreen and will cover an area for four seasons. There is beauty and peace in the garden when the first flurries of winter leave a light dusting of snow perched on the dark green leaves of pachysandra. Pachysandra is just one example of an evergreen groundcover and we’ll touch on the various types of groundcovers available later in this article.
Why use ground covers?
Once planted and established, ground covers do exactly what their name says they do, they cover the ground. Many types are fast growing and grow thick creating an effective weed control method without using a herbicide. They also prevent the sun from baking the soil which keeps the root zones of larger plants cool. Ground covers help draw rainwater into the soil, reducing runoff to the sewer system or nearby creeks and rivers.
Ground covers actually help to reduce mulch and labor cost, gardeners single biggest yearly expense. Drought-tolerant ground covers are also used control and eliminate erosion on slopes. Plants such as Vinca or Junipers are used in this application because they are strong and will stand up to the harsh environment of steep slopes and dry soil.
Types of ground cover plants
Mondo grass is also known as monkey grass. It is an evergreen grassy perennial that makes a great ground cover. Mondo grass performs well in almost any soil and lighting condition. Mondo grass is a slow-growing groundcover that requires minimal care once established. A truly attractive and outstanding landscape plant, it is well worth the time to get it established.
There are two main types of Liriope, clump-forming and spreading. Clump forming varieties such as Liriope Big Blue or Variegated Liriope can be used as ground covers by planting close together. They are perfect for smaller gardens where less coverage is needed. Spreading Varieties such as Liriope Silver Dragon spread quickly and form a mat that will inhibit weed growth.
Pachysandra is an evergreen perennial that forms dense mats of glistening green foliage. Pachysandra looks good year-round. In spring, short spikes of fragrant white flowers top the plants. The blooms themselves may seem small, but in combination with the green foliage, the plant is truly stunning when planted en masse.
Vinca minor or dwarf periwinkle is one of the evergreen perennial ground covers. This should not be confused with the annual Vinca. With its long wiry stems, it covers even large areas and forms a beautiful mat that produces blue-violet flowers in the spring and summer. You can enjoy this wonderful flower from spring to the end of the summer. The stems tend to root where they come in contact with the soil so it’s a great choice for erosion control on slopes.
With a name like carpetweed, you would be right to assume that this plant is a vigorous grower. Ajuga spreads rapidly by sending out plenty of wandering plantlets. This also makes propagation super easy, simply dig up a few of the rooted plantlets and replant them wherever another section of ground cover is needed. Our favorite variety is Ajuga Bronze Beauty which has dark foliage that really highlights the blue flowers in the spring.
The Creeping junipers are versatile and highly resilient ground cover plants that are fast growing in any location exposed to direct sunlight. They can be blue, bluish-green, or green and are evergreen. Depending on the variety of juniper you choose a single plant can have a wide-spreading radius of approximately 4 to 8 feet when mature. Junipers grow vigorously in most well-drained soil types in full sun. Once established junipers are considered to be drought tolerant and will only need water during hot, dry spells. This extremely versatile ground cover requires very little care or pruning.
Are groundcovers Deer Resistant?
Deer are notorious for grazing on even the loveliest plants in any garden, including ground cover plants. I have tried to list several species of attractive ground cover plants that deer will not eat.
Planting & Spacing
We sell our Pachysandra, and Vinca in flats of 50 cell ready to plant peat pots. Using the above spacing 50 plants would cover about 25 square feet or a 5 foot by 5-foot area.
Liriope and Mondo grass are sold in flats of 18 plants. Spacing on the Liriope and Mondo grass can be opened up a bit and planting them on 12-inch centers, therefore, works best. A flat of 18 plants would cover about 20 square feet or a 4 foot by 5-foot area.
Ajuga is grown and sold in flats of 24 and should be spaced at 8-inch centers. A flat of Ajuga would cover about 13 square feet.
Junipers would be spaced at about three feet on center so to calculate how many junipers you will need to calculate each plant at 9 square feet. So to cover 90 square feet you would need 10 plants.
The spacing I’ve provided is based on our experience for quick establishment and coverage. Groundcovers can be spaced apart as far as you’d like to meet your budget. Remember the further apart you plant the longer complete coverage will take.