Why Ground Cover?
Gardeners usually turn to ground cover plants like moneywort, ivies, clovers, vinca minor, hostas and thymes when they have tough areas of the yard to landscape. Ground covers are chosen for their hardiness, tendency to spread themselves, and tolerance for a variety of conditions.
These plants will grow where others won’t. But, once they’re established, they provide another benefit that makes them useful as a type of living mulch; they outcompete local weeds, keeping them from coming up. It may be that a ground cover plant is perfect as a border planting or a living mulch to keep weeds out of your garden or ornamental beds.
How Does Ground Cover Work?
The same properties that make these plants good ground covers make them great competitors to weeds. After all, weeds can’t come up where an established plant is already thriving, and ground covers form a mat of plant life that deters them.
Since ground covers rarely need as much sun and water as your showcase plants do, their roots slow water loss. They will prevent soil erosion as well, particularly helpful on sloping ground. This living mulch also will insulate the soil from temperature extremes and help to build up levels of organic matter in the soil.
What Kind of Ground Cover to Use?
Choose a ground cover that is appropriate for the location you want to plant it in. For shaded areas, try golden saxifrage, hosta, vinca minor, Oregon grape, or lungwort.
If you want year-round greenery, use an evergreen like cowberry, bearberry, rosemary, or harebell. Fit the height of the ground cover to the planting it is acting as mulch for; the taller shrub-like ground covers will do well under trees, while the creeping vines are better for mulching flowerbeds.
If you want to add a useful herb to your garden, any of the thymes are hardy ground covers, as is chamomile.
Ground Cover Maintenance
Plant in the spring, and remember that the weed-preventing aspects of the ground cover won’t start right away. You must plant it in a weedless location, and weed out any that pop up while the plant is establishing itself.
Add some compost and water to the ground cover in the spring as you would any plant, and water it along with your other plants. However, keep an eye on whether the groundcover spreads itself. If it has a lot of sun and water, it may become invasive and spread out beyond its original placement.
Trim it back from your main plantings, and mow it down where it’s unwanted in the yard.
Want to learn more about ground covers as mulch?
Check out these Web sites chosen by us for more information on the subject.
A list of good ground covers and their attributes is available from Colorado State University Extension.
The University of Minnesota discusses ground covers in its Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series.
Kim Slotterback-Hoyum is a Michigan-based freelance writer. She has been a proofreader, writer, reporter and editor at monthly, weekly and daily publications for five years. She has a Bachelor of Science in writing and minor in journalism from Northern Michigan University. Besides writing, her interests include gardening, traveling and reading.