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Desirable Groundcovers Mean Less Weeding

Green and gold groundcover

Green and gold groundcover

We all know that groundcovers cover the ground.  However,the problem is that there are good groundcovers and bad groundcovers. If you are like me you spend a bit of time cursing the weedy plants sneaking over our ground. I have two responses to the problem. Sometimes I weed casually, then put down paper or cardboard topped with bark mulch. Sometimes I cover the ground with good low growing plants that do a good job of holding weeds at bay.

tiarella

Tiarella – Foam Flower

Actually, there are many blooming ground covers. I have long used foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) that spreads by runners. The flowers are airy racemes on wiry stems and will bloom for about six weeks in the spring.

Barren strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

In addition, I use barren strawberry (Waldsteinia) which is definitely not a strawberry plant. However its shiny dark green foliage is strawberry-like as are the little yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. I’m told they can be up to eight inches high, but the dense mats of foliage in my garden never get that tall. You can use this around walkways because it can tolerate light foot traffic.

Lady's mantle

Alchemilla mollis

However, all sorts of plants can be called ground covers. I use lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) around some of my roses. Lady’s mantle is a lusty low growing perennial with soft frilly light green leaves that can be six inches across. It can reach a height of about 12 inches with flower stalks holding chartreuse blossoms that last most of the summer. It spreads and grows thickly enough to keep out most weeds. And it is very pretty.

Tiarella, Waldsteinia and Alchemilla thrive in full sun or part shade and spread energetically in rich soil.

Primroses (Primulla) produce their pretty flowers in the spring, but their dense foliage does not allow weeds to take hold. Primroses prefer at least some shade, and a moist area. This means they are absolutely perfect for my wet garden.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) covers dry ground happily. It is very attractive in rock gardens. The silver-gray flowers on foot tall stems are thought to look like cat’s feet, but the velvety foliage is dense and flat. It is not only pretty, and good for dry sunny areas, it is poisonous to deer and rabbits. And they know it and avoid it.

Epimediums (sometimes called bishop’s hat) are wonderful groundcovers. They have green and reddish foliage on wiry stems and reach a height of eight to twelve inches. The appeal is their dense growth and the miniature flowers that come in an array of colors and forms in the spring. They welcome sun and shade and prefer a moist site with rich soil. Given good soil they will spread nicely. They should be cut back in the fall.  We are fortunate to have a wonderful epimedium nursery in Phillipston, Massachusetts https://epimediums.com with hundreds of beautiful varieties.

Chrysogonum virginianum, much better known as green-and-gold, is new to me. The name is self descriptive. There are low green leaves with golden flowers in the spring. They prefer some shade and moisture. Not a problem in Greenfield these last months. I became acquainted with this lovely little plant when it was included in the meadow garden plantings at the John Zon Community Center. It is beautiful right now.

I never thought of Coral bells (Heucheras) as ground covers because of their height. The foliage is often about 10” high, but the flower stalks can be two feet high. Each clump will gain in width, but they do not spread by runners. Groupings of several plants do serve well as ground covers.

Violets are always found in lists of ground covers. Many call them weeds, but there certainly are areas in many gardens where it is easy to give up the fight and let the violets have their way. With strict limits, of course. Violets grow densely and keep out other weeds. In addition violets are the only food to nourish frittilary butterfly larvae.

The list of blooming ground covers is long and includes familiar lamb’s ears, ajuga, , mazus, creeping baby’s breath, hostas, fringed bleeding heart, wintergreen and partridgeberry.

Fringed bleeding heart

Fringed bleeding heart – Dicentra eximia

Obviously, groundcovers come in many forms including shrubs and vines which I will not touch on today. However, I’d like to mention the family of sedums, or stonecrops. I have some edging areas where I have grown sedums. Unfortunately, I have lost their names, if I ever knew them

Many of us are familiar with low growing hen-and-chicks and the taller, more substantial Autumn Joy that blooms in the fall. Those are common sedums but there are countless unique sedums available in nurseries.  Of course, we often have neighbors who are willing to share their ever increasing  sedums. Or we can  buy them at plant sales.

In my own garden I have several sedum varieties, including two low creeping sedums.

Sedum spurium

Sedum spurium

Sedum reflexum has bright golden needle-like leaves that outshines any other sedum in its brilliance. It grows vigorously and the color is an eye-stopper.

Sedum spurium is comprised of creeping succulent florets. My nameless variety is green with a touch of red, but the Dragon’s Blood variety turns rich shades of red in the summer and is popular because of its dramatic presence.

Do you curse the weeds? You might want to add some groundcovers to your plantings.

Between the Rows  June 29, 2019round

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