What would you rather gaze at in your backyard: bare earth or a carpet of clover? In gardening, groundcover refers to low-growing plants – such as creeping thyme or violets – that spread (or creep!) over an area of ground.
From steep slopes to stepping stones, areas of bare earth can be difficult to avoid – and unpleasant to look at. Adding mulch can help, but it’s really just another shade of brown. Or even worse, weeds can settle in and spread out. That’s where groundcover comes in! Groundcover plants elevate the appearance of your yard by adding colour and texture to otherwise bare ground. And some groundcovers, such as creeping phlox, grow densely enough to block out weeds.
Not only is groundcover low-growing – it’s also low-maintenance! Groundcover requires no mowing and, once established, minimal (if any) weeding, watering or fertilizing. And compared with most other plants, you won’t be spending much time trimming, dividing or replanting it.
How can I control the spread of groundcover plants?
When adding groundcover, make sure you don’t let it spread to the border of your yard. If spreading plants get into your neighbour’s yard, a public park or another natural area, they can be very difficult to remove. Consider digging and adding a barrier several inches deep to contain the roots and limit how far groundcover plants can spread.
You should also be careful to avoid non-native invasive plants. These plants are from a different region and spread very quickly, pushing out native plants that have spent eons co-evolving with local wildlife to form their perfect food. For example, periwinkle, which is sometimes used as groundcover, is a non-native plant that can invade natural areas. Take the time to do some research before purchasing groundcover for your yard. You can also check out our blog on invasive plants – scroll to the end for a list of invasive species councils and agencies across Canada.
Where does groundcover work best?
So where might you add groundcover to your yard? Let’s take a look at a few scenarios! Make sure to consult your local garden centre to ensure you choose the best native species to suit your garden and achieve your goals.
Hillsides and slopes
Do you have a slope that is too steep to mow and maintain? Or a windy, sunny hillside that is difficult to keep watered? Low-maintenance, low-growing groundcover plants might be the perfect solution, especially drought-tolerant varieties.
Adding groundcover to a slope or hillside can also help to control erosion by slowing rainwater and absorbing moisture. However, if the area is especially steep or spacious, your best option is to add trees and shrubs to help stabilize against erosion. Trees and shrubs will also help to add layers, habitat and visual interest to the area.
You can cover large areas of lawn with a blanket of creeping, clumping groundcover plants. This is ideal if you want to mimic the appearance of an open, grassy lawn but with a bit more colour and texture. Opt for species that spread at similar speeds so they won’t compete and will each stay distinct.
All groundcover plants spread, but some species stay more controlled than others. If you’re adding groundcover to your garden or a small area, choose plants that spread less widely and grow slightly upright. And as with lawns, choose species that spread at similar speeds so one plant doesn’t take over.
Pathways, patios and pavement
Groundcover can be used to create an attractive border along patios or pavement, adding a wild, natural touch to otherwise artificial areas. To achieve a uniform border, opt for groundcover plants that stay low-growing and don’t spread too widely. Groundcover can also be used to fill the spaces between stepping stones or other pathways. For these high-traffic areas, look for groundcover plants that can withstand foot traffic, such as creeping thyme. And for any pathways or paved areas, look for plants that can grow in gravel or sandy soil.
Trees and shady areas
What can you plant under a large tree or in a shady area that will survive? Again, groundcover might be the perfect solution. Shade-tolerant, spreading groundcover plants can add texture and greenery to shady spots that won’t support most other plants. Canada Anemones are a good option – these native plants grow a few inches tall, so it’s best to use them under trees rather than along a walkway.
From sprucing up a pathway to creating an open, textured lawn, groundcover really is a low-maintenance, high impact landscaping solution. How has groundcover helped you transform your property? Let us know in the comments!
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