What is a Ground Cover?
Ground covers are the “carpets” of the Garden, adding color and texture to the landscape. Ground cover can mean many different things to different people or professions.
From mulch to shrubs, gravel to grass, they all fall into the definition of ground cover.
When most people ask about ground covers, they are looking for a low growing plant that covers a large area quickly. Also, we are looking for a plant that is relatively inexpensive because you usually need to buy a lot of them to fill the purpose.
Successful Ground Covers
When choosing your ground cover, be mindful of the conditions of the area to be covered. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Does the ground cover need to be watered, and if so, do you have easy access to a water source?
Is the area sunny or shady?
Is the area naturally wet or dry?
Even though a ground cover should be low maintenance, it is still a plant with needs.
Ground Cover Uses
Ground covers can serve many purposes. We use ground cover to add a splash of color to the landscape. It can be used to effectively retain moisture and keep weeds smothered out acting as a living mulch. Sometimes ground cover is just used to fill a problem area in the garden where nothing else will grow.
Whatever the ground cover is used for, here are a few I have effectively tried over the years that required little to no maintenance and did quite well in the extreme heat and full sun of my Garden in Southern Alabama.
Petunias are my favorite ground cover. Mainly because I do very well with them and they like my sandy soil.
There are so many different combos of color. I even have a pink and green one. There are wave petunias that cover a very large area and trail low to the ground and others that mound a bit more.
Depending on how you want them to grow, I recommend pinching them often. I have a great guide for ways to keep petunias looking great all summer here
Pinching them removes the tip of the vine that has the growth hormone and will cause more branching lower down the plant resulting in a fuller more compact plant with more flowers.
These days, periwinkle is sold everywhere as “vinca”. It is a very common ground cover in the south. It does well in the shade or part sun.
In fact, it does so well, it is considered an invasive species in some areas. Although it’s an annual, I have had it re seed itself and grow back the next year.
Evolvulus is a morning glory hybrid that just started showing up in my area last year. It gets about 8 to 10 inches tall and is trailing growth similiar to a petunia.
It covers about a two foot by two foot area so far. This little gem also survived a dip into high teens temperature range this year and has come back beautifully for Spring!
Creeping Phlox gets about 6 to 8 inches high and will spread about 2 foot or so. The flowers can get so thick that you won’t be able to see the leaves or stems.
The stems will harden and get woody over time. These will quit flowering and will need to be cut back to produce flowers again.
Coleus is a leafy annual grown for its colorful foliage. It grows very fast and can cover an area quickly. There are many shades of color to pair with other plants in the garden.
Bright fluorescent greens, oranges and reds in different combinations to fill any space. There are varieties that work well in full sun and some that will do well only in deep shade.
LIRIOPE OR LILY TURF
I think Lily Turf is the most common ground cover I have seen in my area. It grows well in the shade or full sun.
They make a great border for flower beds and are easily propagated by dividing the clumps to make new plants.
The last few years here in Alabama, mine did not even die back during the winter.
They are doing so well at my house I have divided them two consecutive years in a row. I have an illustrated guide on how to divide Liriope here.The purple blooms come in late summer and last through to Fall.
Although commonly used as ground cover, Impatiens are interesting to me in the fact that if you plant them close together, say 4 inches or so, they will grow very tall like two feet or more.
So if you want to use them as a low ground cover, space them apart about 12 to 14 inches or so to get a lower more compact plant. They also do much better in damp shade so keep them watered.
Candy tuft are great for borders and ground cover in dry areas. They are evergreen perennials which is an added bonus. They bloom in late Spring are deer tolerant, and drought tolerant.
I am trying sedum in my garden for the first time this year. I can recommend it because it survived a hard freeze here, and that is a quality I am always looking for.
It comes in so many shapes and sizes and is one off those plants you just want to touch to see what it feels like. Despite there fleshy and delicate looking texture, they enjoy full sun and are pretty drought tolerant
I let mine get completely dry before watering it again. I was growing it in a pot at first and the freeze killed it completely to the ground but it has grown back completely.
This full sun perennial grows about two feet tall and wide. It is known for its silvery grey foliage. Its stems are covered in a white “fur”. It provides a great contrast for boldly colored flowers in a flower bed. It’s great as a border around other ground covers. It is also used in flower arrangements.