Groundcovers good choice where grass can't grow

Groundcovers are plants that grow low to the ground and can quickly spread to form dense plantings. In addition to being attractive, they grow on sites where other plant material is difficult to get established, like turf grasses. Groundcovers help bring unity to the landscape by providing masses of attractive foliage and help bring out contrast in the foliage, form, color and texture of other plants in the landscape.

Groundcovers are most frequently used in locations where turfgrasses are difficult to grow such as steep slopes, shady locations, areas with shallow tree roots near the surface of the ground and locations that are either too dry or too wet. The choice of a suitable groundcover depends on the growing conditions of the area it will be planted in. They are tough, durable and are relatively rapid growers.

Most groundcovers, like trees and shrubs, are best planted in the fall which gives them time to become established prior to the following summer's heat. When planting, incorporate organic matter into the upper 6 to 8 inches and add an all-purpose fertilizer such as a 10-10-10. Make sure the new plantings are well watered until established.

There are a multitude of groundcovers for many different planting sites. In areas that are hot and exposed to full sun, like slopes, several types of horizontal growing junipers, such as shore juniper, Parsons and blue rug junipers, thrive as long as the soil has adequate drainage. Another excellent choice for full sun is creeping phlox, often known as thrift, which has brilliant pink and white flowers in the early spring.

In shadier areas, liriope, mondo grass, pachysandra and Asiatic and Confederate jasmines will cover the ground in places where grass and other plants will not. They will grow and multiply rather rapidly so in a couple of seasons they will grow into a thick mass of vegetation.

Some groundcovers should be avoided. Several types of cotoneaster are afflicted with lace bugs, which turn the foliage yellow and make the plant unattractive. English ivy can be very invasive and easily take over a yard and any trees in its path. In older areas of the city, like around Emory University and the Druid Hills area, English ivy has taken over many properties and the forest at Fernbank Science Center is heavily infested with it.

So if you plant it, be forewarned that you will need to continually prune it to keep it under control. Some of the smaller leaf varieties or variegated types of English ivy are not as invasive. Also, certain types of vinca can become invasive.

Groundcovers can be an attractive and functional addition to the landscape if planted and maintained properly. Their presence will enhance the beauty and value of the landscape.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.