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The Benefits of Ground Covers

By Edited Apr 26, 2016 2 4

Ground covers have many uses in the garden.  There are many benefits to growing ground covers, but not all ground covers have each of the following properties.  You should figure out what is the most important to you and choose your plants accordingly.  Do you want to water less?  Possibly mow less.  Have a fast growing plant to make your garden feel mature.  Whatever your reasons these plants can do a lot in your landscape.

Ground covers help to prevent erosion.  If you have a bare spot of earth on either a hillside or a slope, planting it with ground covers can help to hold the soil in place.  I happen to have both and have quite a few different kinds planted about.  I did not actually plant them, they were here when I moved in but I have been removing the ones that I do not like and moving around the ones that I do like.  This living mulch is very low maintenance.  I have a cliff in the back and a steep slope in the front.  I have a mixture of ferns and ground covers that (I hope) are holding the cliff in the back up.  I imagine the oak roots help too.

These low growing perennials are fast growing.  They normally spread by running and rooting across the ground but some spread by underground runners.  You will often notice a particular phrase on the plant tags of the more aggressive spreading plants.  That term is “vigorous grower”.  If you see that phrase on any label, it means it is aggressive and it will spread.  Use caution with all vigorous growers.  Violets are vigorous spreaders.  They are notorious for invading lawns, but if you give them their own area, they will colonize it quick.  They do this via seeding rather than rooting around but it has the same effect.

Ground cover plants are very easy to propagate.  I mentioned earlier that some grow by running and rooting across the ground.  Propagating this type of plant is easy, once a node has rooted, you can dig it up, separate it from the main stem, and replanted where you want it.  The plants that grow by underground runners tend to make new plants off to the side of the parent plant.  These you dig and separate.

In today’s green living society using ground covers as a lawn, replacement is popular.  Some green benefits of ground covers are that they are no mowing required and drought tolerant.  Many of these hard plants root deep and do not need much watering.  They are also living mulch and shade the soil, which causes less evaporation to happen.  They are so hardy that they are almost impossible to kill.  I have been trying to kill a certain spreading ground cover for a few months now.  I do not think that I am winning.  It is a variety that I do not know and, frankly, do not like.  This plant spreads like wildfire and roots all over.  I have been pulling 6 to 8 foot vines out of my yard and it starting to tear up my hands.  Ok – Enough whining from me.

If you do not want to completely remove your lawn, but have an area that is hard to mow planting ground covers can help a lot.  You can simply replace that section of lawn with your ground cover of choice.  You will probably need to purchase many more than you would first think.  You should plant your ground covers thick at the start so that they appear, as you would want them to.

Ground covers also have many landscaping benefits.  Landscapers use these perennials to connect different areas of the garden.  Instead of having many totally unrelated sections, this gives the garden a contiguous feeling.  Gardeners can use ground covers to soften the edges of paths, edging, and other sharp objects in the garden.  You can use these plants to make an area appear larger than it really is.

You should not plant ground cover singly.  Gardeners should plant several per square foot so they actually do cover the ground rather than, sort of, speckle the ground.  Since it is difficult for a homeowner to cultivate the ground once planting is finished, the soil should be well prepared at planting time.  Dig deep to break up the soil and add a lot of organic material to the soil.  This will feed the plants and condition the soil for several years. 

Ground covers do great in poor soil if you choose not to amend the planting area.  There are varieties suited to acidic soil, clay soil, sandy soil, and lean soil.  This is why researching the right plant for your garden is so important.  I could tell you my favorites or what works in my landscape but your conditions will not be the same as mine.  What does great in my zone might totally fry in yours.

Many ground covers have fruits, seeds, and flowers that help the local wildlife.  If you want to attract a certain seed eating bird or nectar sipping butterfly check and see if there is a variety that you can grow that will attract the animals that you would like to see in your yard.  They also give cover to small animals.

Some of the benefits of ground covers are also their pitfalls.  It is true that they are fast growing but if you change your mind, you will have a hard time getting rid of them.  Ground covers tend to form a monotonous planting bed.  The only plants that will survive with them are other aggressive plants.  If you do not mind a sea of the same thing then you should go wild with your ground covers.  The spreading quality can mean that they wander out of the area that you want them in and into other places.  You might find them coming up in between paving stones or in your precious rose bed.

Types of Ground Cover Plants

Ajuga, Arum italicum, Candytuft, Cliff Green, Ivy, Mother of Thyme, Pachysandra, Sweet Woodruff, Vinca Minor



Mar 15, 2011 7:33am
Thank you for the ideas. I am in the process of moving (slowly) and have a large ravine in the backyard that needs to be "grounded". I was thinking of a sea of wild flowers but really had no idea what to do. Enjoyed your article.
Apr 1, 2011 3:21pm
I have a steep lot also. The backyard looks more like a cliff than a hill.
Apr 1, 2011 8:26am
For the ground cover that you are trying to get rid of pour boiling water over them and it will kill them off. This is a simple and pesticide free way to get rid of weeds too.
Apr 1, 2011 3:22pm
Thanks, I'll have to try that. I have some stuff I don't care for in the front. Hopefully that'll kill the little devils.
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