Ground Cover Plants
Magic carpet plants
Ground cover is one of the most versatile ways of planting, and provides beautiful, low-maintenance solutions to landscape problems. There are many plants to choose from which make excellent ground cover.
Ground-cover plants can enhance the beauty of your garden, protect yourfrom erosion, brighten a dark corner and save labour-intensive maintenance.
Nothing beats ground-cover plants for achieving a ‘natural’ landscaping effect with a great variety of colour and texture.
Many kinds of plants are suitable for ground cover: low-growing perennials, shrubs, grasses, sprawling trailers and. Some plants creep, extending shoots across the soil and sending down roots to anchor them as they go. Other plants form dense mats or scramble using long stems.
Ground cover is a good way of providing plants for awkward garden locations, concealing steep slopes and covering areas that are difficult to maintain. For example, the dense shade under trees is a difficult area to grow plants in and yet ground cover such as ivy, periwinkle, creeping jenny, wood anemone and cranesbill geranium flourishes happily in these conditions. Dwarf rosemary, lavender and thyme grow well in very dry, alkaline soil which many other plants find inhospitable.
Heathers, juniper and cotoneaster are all drought resistant and like full sun. Carpeting ground cover can also be used between cracks in paths, around stepping stones, in and over walls and fences, to provide a barrier to pedestrians and for concealing unsightly areas in the garden.
Some plants are more vigorous than others, so plant as many of the same species together as you can. Different plants competing for the same resources of space, light and nutrients may lead to the most vigorous plants swamping others. To avoid this, select species of similar growth habit and requirements for growing together.
Preparation and planting
Because ground-cover plants grow closely together, competing for space and nutrients, it is important to provide good soil conditions. Spring or autumn are the best times to plant. Fork over the planting area, removing weeds and debris. Work well-rotted compost into the top layer of soil and tread firm.
Before planting, space plants out on the site to ensure you have enough and that the positioning is correct. Small plants such as violets can be spaced about 10cm apart, rapid spreaders like ivy about 30cm, cotoneasters and junipers about 90cm and very vigorous ground covers like Virginia creeper and trailingabout 1.5m apart.
You can achieve quick cover by planting closely in staggered rows, but overcrowding does not always give the best results.
THE PLANT DOCTOR
Some ground-cover plants, such as rose of Sharon (calycinum), are prone to disease. Others are vulnerable to attack by insects such as aphids, beetles, moths and whitefly. Spraying with cold water may be a deterrent, but plants may build up their own resistance if an attack is allowed to run its course.
Heavy infestations of aphids are on yearly cycles and plants that have been badly hit one year may be immune the next. Many ground-cover plants, like the new forms of ground-cover roses, are bred to be disease resistant.
There will be gaps before the plants grow together and completely blanket the ground. Wherever possible, cover these gaps with a mulch to keep out weeds. The mulch can be rotted leaves, grass cuttings or other organic garden matter. Tree bark or straw are also suitable as mulching materials and, for dry rock gardens, gravel stone chippings make an attractive and effective mulch.
STEP BY STEP
Preparation and maintenance
If you prepare, select and maintain your ground cover properly from the beginning, you will have to do little to maintain it once it is established. It is worth carrying out the following procedure to ensure healthy and abundant ground cover.
1. If you have a large area to cover, it is helpful to start by sketching a plan of your ground cover. This will help you to decide how many plants you need to buy of each kind, without any waste.
2. Following your plan, mark out the area in the garden you want to plant then dig the site over thoroughly. Remove weeds and debris as you go.
3. Space the plants out into place and make a final check to ensure you are satisfied with their position.
4. Plant, firming the soil in well with your heel as you go. Give the new plants an initial watering.
5. Young plants need regular watering to establish good root systems. Check the soil regularly to make sure it does not dry out.
6. If weeds become a problem it is better to pull them up by hand than to use a hoe, which stimulates more weed germination. Weedkillers are not recommended.
7. Giving plants a 5cm-deep mulch around them and over any gaps helps to keep weeds down until the ground cover is itself growing so thickly that it will deter weeds.
8. Pruning or trimming encourages plants to form dense, bushy ground cover more quickly. This treatment works particularly well for woody plants such as heathers and cotoneaster.Before growth starts in spring, use shears, secateurs or electric hedge trimmers to cut back old growth