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What Is Ground Cover? Intro to Ground Cover Plants

The trunk of a tree rooted at the bottom of a steep grassy hill

We all have them–problem areas in our yards where  the grass just doesn’t grow. Or worse yet, an area where the grass does grow but we wish it wouldn’t because it is so hard to maintain. But the worst area is a grassy spot that is frightening to mow or even walk on, like a steep slope. We are afraid of slipping on the grass and falling while trying to mow the area. In that case,  it may be time to eliminate the grass, and the hazard, by replacing it with a ground cover.

The trunk of a tree rooted at the bottom of a steep grassy hill

Source: PippW/shutterstock

Ground cover plants are any plants that have a more horizontal spreading growth habit rather than vertical. Usually, these plants are perennials and require minimal maintenance. However, there are also a number of shrubs that are low growing and easy maintenance. They are also considered ground covers and include low-growing evergreen shrubs and ground cover roses. Before getting started, decide whether your ground cover needs to be evergreen or not. You should also consider the conditions in the area you want to have ground cover. The light conditions will be an important factor when choosing the ground cover as well as the grow zone.

Find Your Grow Zone Here

There are a number of places where ground covers are desirable. One is the sloping area of the yard that is difficult or even dangerous to mow. If you have a steep slope in your yard, replacing the lawn with a self-maintaining ground cover is a safety precaution as well as an aesthetic solution. Choose a Juniper which is low growing and adds a blue-green color year-round. Creeping wintergreen ground cover is a great choice also. This plant will only be about six inches high, but grows three feet across. The thick mat will prevent the growth of weeds, so maintenance is minimal. It also produces lots of berries that bring in the birds. There is one more thing that makes creeping wintergreen a favorite and that is the mint scent that it gives off. The leaves can actually be used to make wintergreen tea.

a ground cover rose bush flowering

Source: Mgequivalents/Shutterstock

Ground cover roses are an ideal solution to areas where grass doesn’t do well. While a little taller than most ground covers (as tall as three feet, depending on the variety), these roses still meet the qualification for a ground cover. They grow wider than their height and require minimal care. If you want a ground cover that also gives extraordinary color and beauty, a ground cover rose is the perfect choice. This is also a great starter rose for the gardener who has never grown roses, as it requires very minimal care.

If you have a very shady area where it is difficult to grow grass, a ground cover like ajuga is a great choice. This is a very low-growing plant that spreads horizontally forming a thick mat that blocks out any weeds. The plant flowers with blue blooms in the spring, but the leaves are attractive alone. Ajuga, or bugleweed, has glossy purple leaves and can tolerate a variety of soil conditions.

High traffic areas are difficult to keep attractive when you prefer not to use pavers or other non-organic solutions. One solution is a hardy plant like creeping thyme. It can tolerate foot traffic and continue to thrive.

Other plants can also be used as ground covers though not classified as that. Consider a mass planting of daylilies on a slope or a partly shady area. Sedums are a great choice for hot or dry areas.

a patch of jet black mondo grass

Source: PeterTurner Photography/Shutterstock

Don’t forget grasses as a ground cover. When regular turf grass won’t do, try some of the perennial grasses. Mondo Grass with its deep purple color is a great choice. It will tolerate shade and the color makes a beautiful contrast to the greens around it. Choose oak sedge for a more grass-like look. This grass grows about 18 inches high but its soft, slender foliage is arching and will wave softly in the wind.

If you have a problem area in your yard, consider adding ground cover. You may find your problem has changed into an opportunity.

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