By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener
Now that you’ve read with delight all about the plants that are a Christmas Tradition, I’m turning my attention to a favourite group of plants that I enjoy for my garden. Ground covers.
Also known as living mulch, ground covers can go a long way to enhancing your garden. Not only can they stand alone as beautiful additions to your garden, they can also enhance other existing plants by pairing them with a complementary shrub or perennial. Like mulch, ground covers perform much the same purposes: they insulate the soil from the hot sun, help to keep moisture at the roots of plants, choke out weeds by preventing germination of weed seeds due to the shade they produce, help protect the soil from erosion through their network of roots and they’re easy to care for. Ground covers also don’t need to be a certain size, although most are less than 30cm tall; think of a collection of large hostas under a treed area, or on a shaded slope that’s difficult to reach with a lawn mower. Although they spread, they shouldn’t be invasive.
Many different types of plants can function as ground covers. From perennials (I’ve already mentioned hostas) to herbs, to shrubs and to mosses – almost any type of low growing plant can function as ground cover. Some are best adapted to shade, as are woodland plants like wild ginger which finds a welcome home under deciduous trees. Others grow best in sun, like creeping phlox which works well with clematis to keep the soil cool at the roots of the vine.
Creeping thymes can not only be walked on, they release their wonderful aroma as you stroll through the patch. They’re wonderful not only for a rockery, but also in between pavers or stepping stones. Since they can be walked on, they also work well as a path through a large flower bed to allow gardening work to be done.
Ground covers can be found for almost any soil type and growing conditions. Many, like sedums, adapt to poor soil, are drought tolerant and will grow quickly once established to fill in that troublesome area where grass doesn’t want to grow. The article below lists several evergreen ground covers with helpful information about each. Most will grow in our area:
This photo shows two of my favourite ground covers: cranesbill geranium in the foreground, and creeping phlox in the background. Both are keeping the ground cool for the clematis on the arbor.