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COVERING GROUND WITH GROUND COVERS
By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

If you are ready to cover a barren and perhaps unsightly patch of soil in your garden, control erosion on a hillside, or spread a beautiful bed of color in your garden, now is the time to act!

With the Fall planting season right around the corner, now is an opportune time to learn how to utilize ground cover plants both to solve problems and to pull together your overall garden design. Fall is a particularly good season for planting ground covers in the garden. These often shallow-root plants benefit from relatively warm days and plenty of moisture to help them get established and grow quickly.

Planting ground covers is not difficult, and in fact, can offer quick visual rewards thanks to the prolific growth habits of many varieties.

When gardeners think of ground covers, the primary goal is often to cover barren ground, suppress weeds, and/or control erosion. While ground covers can accomplish these goals, one should also look at them as unifying elements in the garden. Choosing the right ground cover for your garden is like selecting the right carpet for your home. If you make a good choice, you can not only enhance the overall beauty of your home, but also successfully address environmental conditions such as foot traffic, sun and shade exposure, and more.

Ground covers can have a beautiful effect in the garden when used to visually link together ornamental plants and to form tapestries of color.

In selecting ground covers there are far more choices then you might think. Beyond the traditional ground covers that you’ll find in ground cover sections of your local garden center there are others that won’t be found in this section. Be sure to ask a qualified nurseryperson about the other options available.

Here are some considerations and guidelines to help you understand how to use ground covers in your garden’s design:

Size: In general, look for low growing varieties for smaller areas such as between shrubs and along pathways; taller ground covers will look best in large areas and on slopes.

Form: A variety of forms including compact, mounding, leafy, succulent, and trailing can be utilized depending on your design, the planting environment and the plants (if any) that they will accompany.

Color: The variation in foliage and flower color for ground covers is extensive. Consider a flowering ground cover to cover large areas without other plants, or a cover with Interesting foliage if your design goal is to provide a background for focal points or specimen plants.

Shade gardens: Try a mixture of the golden tones of Hakonechloa macra (Japanese Forest Grass) or Acorus ‘Ogon’ combined with velvety green Baby Tears and a bit of Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ with its luminous light green leaves. These covers will work well with azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas.

Perennials: Use perennials as alternatives to traditional ground covers. Lamb’s Ears, lamium, Lantana sellowiana and Erigeron karvinskianus are just a few perennials that can help you tie together a garden design. Bacopas are an excellent choice for cover, too.

Large areas: Carpet roses have become quite popular with gardeners who are looking to add a lot of color. Nasturtiums, trailing vines, and of course ivies are equally effective.

Below trees: Under oak and pine trees, consider Vinca major or Festuca california (the leaves and needles fall through the ground cover!) Below a Japanese maple, a combination of Irish and Scotch moss with Vinca minor (which comes in white, blue or rose) will look great.

Perennials: Use perennials as alternatives to traditional ground covers. Lamb’s Ears, lamium, Lantana sellowiana and Erigeron karvinskianus are just a few perennials that can help you tie together a garden design. Bacopas are an excellent choice for cover, too.

Large areas: Carpet roses have become quite popular with gardeners who are looking to add a lot of color. These carpet roses are disease resistant and come in pink, white, apple-blossom, or red flowers. Trailing vines, and of course ivies are equally effective.

Take the time now to plan out what you will do, and what plants you will use to accomplish your idea. The fall planting season can be short, so as soon as the weather cools off, you will be ready to plant.

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