Ground covers are very useful in protecting your garden from weeds. They provide shelter against wind and rain. If you have any doubts about which type of ground cover to choose, then you may want to read this article first before making up your mind. You will learn how to identify different types of ground cover, their benefits and drawbacks, their needs and requirements, and finally they are planted in various ways according to the soil conditions.
What Is A Ground Cover?
A ground cover is a type of vegetation that grows naturally on the surface of the earth. It consists of several stems, leaves or small branches with root systems. These plants grow in moist soil where it absorbs water through its roots and holds onto moisture in the form of organic matter such as dead leaves, grass clippings, bark fragments, etc., and releases it back into the soil when disturbed.
Types Of Ground Cover
There are two main types of ground cover plants: hardwood and softwood. Hardwoods include oaks, ash, maple, birch, poplar and other species; while softwoods include cottonwood, spruce and pine. The most common ground cover is the oak (Quercus robur). There are also grasses such as rye and fescue, sedges, wildflowers and clovers.
Hardwood plants are best for shady areas and softwood plants are suited to sunny locations. A few of the more common plants are described below.
Grasses are evergreen plants that thrive in dry or moist soil. In addition to their attractive appearance, they prevent soil erosion, prevent weed growth and retain moisture. They are easy to grow and they are very resistant to foot traffic. It is important to cut them back every year in the spring in order to keep them at a manageable size.
Vinca Minor (Lesser Periwinkle)
The Vinca minor, also known as lesser periwinkle, is a trailing plant that has clusters of small, dark blue flowers. It is good for covering rocky slopes and walls. This plant does not require much maintenance.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera Caprifolium)
The honeysuckle produces yellow and orange berries that attract birds. This is a deciduous vine that is good for covering walls and fences. It blooms from May to September, but it needs support such as a trellis or fence. Cut back in the spring.
Pachysandra (P. Terminalis)
Pachysandra is a plant that is native to Asia. It has attractive, glossy leaves and white berries in the spring. It needs shade to partial shade and moist soil. The P. Terminalis is a vine that grows on the ground, but can also be trained on a support.
English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
The English ivy is one of the best-known ground covers. It grows quickly and can easily become invasive. For this reason, you should only plant it in a pot or container. It needs shade and produces small flowers in the spring. Cut it back in the spring to keep it under control.
After you have decided which type of ground cover you want to plant, be sure to prepare the soil (if needed) and plant your ground cover according to the package directions. Also, keep in mind that many of these plants need to be cut back in the spring or they can become invasive.
Out of all the ground covers, English ivy is the most common one planted. While it is fast-growing and fairly easy to maintain, it is extremely invasive in regions that have mild winters, such as California. If you live in such a climate, make sure you only plant it in a container or something that will restrain its growth.
Before planting, your soil should be checked to see what, if any, additional fertilizer or amendments need to be added to it.
1. Check soil for pH level.
This can be done with pH test strips that you can get at a lawn and garden store, or by taking a soil sample to a laboratory for testing. Most ground cover plants prefer a slightly acidic soil (pH of 6-6.5).
2. If the soil is too alkaline, add ground dolomite.
While this shouldn’t be needed in most cases, if your soil is very sandy or clayey, you may need to add some extra material to reduce its alkalinity.
3. Spread a 3-4 inch layer of mulch over the bed, except for the part where you will be planting your ground cover, to help conserve moisture and keep down weeds.
Dead leaves, shavings or straw work well.
NOTE: DO NOT use hay or grass clippings as they may contain seeds that will grow!
4. Rake the mulch layer flat and smooth.
Be careful not to put too much stress on your back by over-raking. It may be best to let the mulch layer accumulate naturally over time by only raking it every few months.
5. Prepare your ground cover of choice.
Many ground covers are sold in 1-gallon containers, which can be planted right into the ground. Potted plants will need to be transplanted. Make a small hole in the earth with a trowel and gently remove the plant from its container. Be careful when handling as most plants at this stage are very fragile and damage easily.
6. Plant your ground cover into the hole you made with the trowel.
Make sure the crown (base) of the plant is level with the rest of the ground, or just slightly below. This will help prevent water from collecting and keeping the crown of the plant from rotting. Fill in the hole with dirt and gently pat down.
7. Water in the new plant well to make sure it has good contact with moist soil.
If the plant is too high or low, you can adjust its position by digging a little earth from under its crown. Be sure to keep the crown level or just below ground.
After you finish planting your ground cover, you may want to spread a thin layer of mulch over the new bed to help conserve moisture and keep down the weeds. Try to choose a mulch material that is not overly acidic, such as hay or shredded bark. Oak leaves are acidic and will not break down fast enough to prevent harming your new plants.
With a little time and patience, you should be able to create a lovely, green carpet that is fun for you to walk on and looks nice for everyone else to see.
Sources & references used in this article:
Selecting landscape plants: ground covers by D Relf, BL Appleton – 1997 – vtechworks.lib.vt.edu
Ground Covers for Arizona Landscapes by E Davison – 1999 – repository.arizona.edu
Tree-compatible ground covers for reforestation and erosion control by J Burger, V Davis, C Zipper, J Skousen… – … Approach: guide to …, 2017 – fs.usda.gov
The forestry reclamation approach by J Burger, D Graves, P Angel, V Davis… – … Approach: guide to …, 2017 – fs.usda.gov
Pests of landscape trees and shrubs: an integrated pest management guide by SH Dreistadt – 2016 – books.google.com