Gardening With Tony
The Lowdown On Ground Cover
By Tony Tomeo
Mar 1, 2013 - 9:59:14 AM

UNITED STATESOf all the functions that the many and various plants in the garden serve, ground covers have the lowliest job description. Well, maybe it is just the lowest job; covering the ground. It is an important job though. Ground covers fill in the space between other desirable plants to obscure otherwise bare soil. They also control weeds. Some ground covers help to limit erosion. Others help to insulate the soil for plants with sensitive roots.

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Most euonymus are upright shrubbery. This one though, stays low enough to be useful as a shallow shrubby ground cover.

There certainly are all sorts of ground cover. Lawns are the most familiar. Many other ground covers are perennials like gazanias, African daisies and iceplants. Some like ivies, honeysuckles and star jasmine are vines. Others are low growing shrubs like certain coprosmas, cotoneasters and junipers. Some lay about as flat as carpeting. Some get a few feet deep.

Many perennial ground covers as well as some of the vines and low growing shrubbery provide colorful flowers. Japanese honeysuckle and star jasmine are not as colorful, but provide delightful fragrance. Some of the cotoneasters have colorful berries in winter. Although not seen, many ground covers are appreciated more for their network or roots that help to stabilize soil that might otherwise erode. One feature that most ground cover plants have in common though, is their foliage that is dense enough to keep weeds out, as well as to obscure the soil below.

Like all other plants in the landscape, ground cover plants need maintenance. Lawns probably need more maintenance than any other ground cover, since they need to be mowed, weeded, fertilized and watered quite regularly. Vine ground covers need to be pruned so that they do not get into trees and shrubbery. Some ground covers look best if mowed annually (typically at the end of winter) or even more frequently. Some of the deeper ground cover shrubs should be pruned down to stay low. Almost all ground covers need to be edged for confinement.

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Variegated Coprosma X kirkii has very glossy light green leaves with white margins that look great cascading over retaining walls.

Ground cover plants must be selected for their appropriateness to particular applications. For example, most low growing shrubbery needs space, so its best for larger areas. Smaller iceplants that may not be aggressive enough for big areas are great for tight spots, or for mixing with other perennials. Tough Algerian ivy that is so useful for freeway embankments may be too aggressive for home gardens. As with all plants in the garden, careful selection helps to get the best ground cover plants for each particular situation where ground covers are needed.

Highlight: CoprosmaX Kirkii

Coprosmas are so innately undemanding and complaisant to all sorts of conditions, that some types self sow and thrive untended in riparian or coastal environments. If they were more aggressive, they would likely naturalize (proliferate as if native) where the soil does not get too dry through summer. With such glossy foliage that looks like plastic, they might be appealing weeds.

CoprosmaX kirkii is a resilient ground cover that mostly stays less than two feet deep and five feet wide, although overgrown plants can get three feet deep. Varieties with colorful or variegated foliage probably stay too small to be reliable ground cover over large areas, but make nice edging, or can cascade nicely from raised planters or urns.



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