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Ground Cover Plants: Great-looking greenery year ‘round

Groundcovers are an excellent alternative to a high-maintenance lawn and can enhance the look of your landscape beautifully while reducing the amount of sweat-equity you need to invest. Right now would be a very good time to be planting most types of ground cover plants and today I’ll have some suggestions for groundcover varieties that would look great and thrive in your particular soil and sun conditions. In this column last time, I discussed the best ways to prepare your soil for planting groundcover and how to “beat the weeds” while you’re at it. If you missed that column, you can find it archived at my Web site www.landsteward.org when you click on “the Plant Man” header. So... your soil is properly prepped and is weed free. What should you plant? Two major considerations will be the amount of sunlight your planting area will be exposed to and whether or not you want year-round (evergreen) groundcover. First, let’s think about plants that enjoy basking in full sun to light shade conditions. Dragon’s Blood - Red Sedum.
Here’s a groundcover that seems to turn as red as you would if you laid out in the sun all summer! The more sun it gets, the more intense the color of its flowers and foliage. Dragon’s Blood grows to about 3" to 8" high and spreads thickly. It’s tolerant of poor, dry soil and variations in temperature. Creeping Phlox.
Also known as Phlox subulata, nothing spreads as effectively as Phlox. I think it looks beautiful as an edging to a pathway and spilling over a rock garden. There are so many varieties, it can be hard to choose, but that’s a good problem to have. If you can’t decide on a single variety, mix and match a few. You can find red, pink, white, emerald blue and even candy-stripe varieties! Even when not in bloom, Phlox has a vigorous green foliage that is very attractive. Phlox does need a good supply of nutrients. In early spring, sprinkle a 9-12-12 time release fertilizer around the young plants and add mulch. About 2 weeks after the blooms have appeared, pull back the mulch, fertilize again and replace the mulch. Looking for a groundcover that’ll work in a more shaded area? Think about this... Hosta.
There are several varieties of hostas out there, but there are a couple that are a little out of the ordinary. Look for one known as “Patriot,” a variegated plant with bright white edges to its vivid green leaves. It will grow to about 18" - 22" high and 36" wide. It will need at least a half a day of shade, so it’s ideal for the shadier spots in your landscape, and can tolerate a wide variety of soil types, as well as heat, cold and humidity. Another hosta variety that I like is “Sum and Substance.” The deeply-veined, bright chartreuse leaves really brighten up a shaded area. It’s very showy from early spring to late fall and is quite tolerant of moist locations. If you’d like to add an unusual splash of color to your hosta patch, look for a variety called “Blue Vision.” Evergreen groundcover, of course, provides year-round coverage. How about... Trailing periwinkle.
Periwinkle (Vinca minor) is a dense and fast-growing evergreen groundcover that works equally well in sun, shade or semi-shaded areas. It has dark green, oval leaves and small, pretty blue flowers in early spring. A good choice for slight slopes and around trees. Carpet Bugle.
Known to horticulturists as Ajuga reptans, this evergreen produces a nice horizontal spread and a height of about 4" - 6" with 8" - 10" spikes of purple blooms in the spring. Pachysandra.
Last but not least, pachysandra... the “green carpet” that retains its dense beauty even in quite adverse conditions! It’s ideal for steep slopes and terraces where it would be dangerous to try to mow grass, too. Pachysandra looks elegant in shaded courtyards and alongside walkways. There are so many options when it comes to groundcover, and these are intended simply as idea-starters. Drop me an e-mail with a few details such as sun and soil conditions, your location, and the look you wish to achieve and I’ll try to come up with some ground-breaking (and covering) solutions! The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.orgs