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GARDENING: Groundcovers: A pleasing alternative to grass

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Groundcovers are low growing plants that grow rapidly to form dense plantings.

They are attractive and thrive in areas where turfgrasses have difficulty growing. By providing masses of attractive foliage, groundcovers help unify the landscape. They contrast the foliage, form, color and texture of the various other plants in the landscape. The plants are tough, durable and most are rapid growers. The choice of a suitable groundcover depends on the growing conditions in the area it will be planted.

When planting groundcovers, till organic matter into the upper six to eight inches of the soil. Add an all-purpose fertilizer such as a 10-10-10. Apply a one- to two-inch layer of organic mulch, such as pine straw or pine bark. Keep the plants properly watered until they are established. Proper spacing is important to prevent the plants from crowding out other plants and each other. Most groundcovers should be planted about one to two feet apart. Until the plants fill in the area, some hand weeding may be necessary. Also, you can use a pre-emergent herbicide to help reduce the weed population.

There are many different groundcovers that can be used in a variety of site conditions. 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. It has brilliant pink and white flowers in the early spring.

Liriope, mondo grass, pachysandra and Asiatic and Confederate jasmines thrive in the shade. They will cover the ground in places where grass and other plants will not. Sometimes moss is used as a groundcover. It thrives in heavy clay soils, moist conditions and shade. Mosses require very little maintenance other than occasionally removing fallen leaves.

Groundcovers also have practical functions as well. They are sometimes used to control erosion on slopes and banks. Thick masses help reduce weed populations in landscape plantings.

Some groundcovers should not be planted due to their invasive nature. English ivy can be very invasive and easily take over a yard and any trees in its path. Some of the smaller leaf varieties or variegated types of English ivy are not as invasive. Vinca, or periwinkle, is another commonly used groundcover that has an invasive growth habit. It has small leaves and purple flowers. The plant rapidly spreads and can form mounds up to two feet high. If you plant either one of these, continual pruning will be necessary in order to keep them under control.

If properly selected, planted and maintained, groundcovers can be attractive and functional additions to the landscape. Their presence will enhance the beauty and value of the landscape.

Do not forget the Gwinnett County Extension Plant Sale. Go to the extension website at www.gwinnettextension.org to download the brochure and order form or call the Gwinnett County Extension office for a form to be mailed to you. The deadline for ordering is Feb. 28. The order pick-up day will be from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. March 10 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville.

Timothy Daly, MS, Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. Tim may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by e-mail at tdaly@uga.edu.