Consider a Good Groundcover!
Ground covers are low-growing plants; usually less than 12 inches tall, that spread to form dense mats which bind and hold the soil in place. Many also have a season of effective bloom. Turf grass is the most common ground cover. However, sites that are less suitable for turf grass, such as slopes, steep banks, and shaded areas, can often grow other ground covers successfully.
A well-established ground cover generally requires less maintenance than the typical turf grass lawn. Ground covers are not totally maintenance-free, nor will they always tolerate conditions that will not support a turf.
There are many ways of trying to control weeds. We can remove them by hoeing them out or by burning them with a flame gun! We can try to prevent them growing by putting down mulches. Each of these methods has their advantages and disadvantages and each has situations where they are applicable. This month, we will look at another method of controlling weeds – by growing carefully selected plants that can spread to cover the ground and that will out-compete the weeds.
Primary Advantages of Ground Cover:
1. By covering the ground with a carpet of vegetation, it prevents the germination of weed seeds.
2. When established, it prevents the ingress of perennial weeds.
3. It protects the soil from erosion and water loss. This can be particularly useful on steep slopes.
4. It acts as an insulating cover for the soil, keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
5. It is living mulch that helps to build up humus levels in the soil.
6. Very low maintenance!
Selecting a Ground Cover
When deciding which ground cover to plant, consider the plant’s height, spread, blooming period, seasonal foliage color, texture, drought tolerance, and whether it is deciduous or evergreen. The planting site also will affect your choice because each ground cover has specific requirements. Some of my favorites include Mondograss (Dwarf and Regular), Liriopes (lots of varieties here, but mostly see Big Blue, Variegated and Silver Dragon around here), Vinca (Minor and Major), Asian Jasmine and Purple Wintercreeper.
Preparing the Soil
A soil test will indicate the site’s fertility and pH. Most ground covers prefer a slightly acid to neutral soil (between pH 6.0 and 7.0). If the soil is low in nitrogen, incorporate enough 1:2:0 or 1:2:1 fertilizer to apply 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, or about 30 to 40 pounds of 5-10-5 per 1,000 square feet. Applying highly available phosphorus as a starter fertilizer is beneficial for root initiation and plant establishment.
Many ground covers develop crown rot in heavy clay soils that don’t drain well. Adding coarse organic matter, such as composted or aged manure, peat moss, or compost can improve the drainage of heavy clay soils and increase the water-holding capacity of light sandy soils. Roto-till or spade the soil to a 6-inch depth and thoroughly incorporate the organic matter at a rate of two to three bushels per 100 square feet. A good quality brand of Landscaping Mix helps too!
Soil preparation can cause serious erosion on steep slopes. Working the soil across the slopes in 12- to 24-inch wide bands alternated with undisturbed soil will help reduce erosion. Mulching the slope with a fiber mat will further reduce erosion while conserving moisture and reducing weed competition.
Ground covers should be planted in the spring or fall. However containerized stock can be planted anytime during the growing season if proper planting and maintenance procedures are followed.
The number of plants needed depends on the spacing of the individual plants their rate of growth and how fast you want the space to fill in. You may want to densely plant a small, highly visible area for rapid fill, but a large area may require sparser planting, with several years being allowed for covering the site.
When planting rooted cuttings, don’t allow them to dry out. Plant them at the proper depth and firm the soil around the roots to ensure good soil-root contact. Watering small sections as you plant will prevent the roots from drying out. Ground covers can be planted in either straight or staggered rows. Staggered rows help reduce erosion on slopes by retaining run-off.
Water new plantings thoroughly and regularly until the roots become established. Once established, water as needed for the ground cover you’ve selected–each type has different requirements–but apply at least 1 inch of water at each watering to moisten the entire root zone. Applying less water results in a shallow root system which makes the planting more susceptible to drought injury.
Control weeds to enable the newly planted ground cover to form a dense mat. When properly established, ground covers can successfully compete with weeds. Hand weeding is effective but can be time consuming. Mulching is a practical way to reduce weeds. Nonaggressive annual flowers can also be used to fill in spaces in a new planting. They help shade out weeds but do not inhibit the spreading growth of the ground cover. Be sure to provide enough moisture for both plant types so competition is not an issue.
Pre emergent herbicides can be used to control weeds in large plantings. Dacthal, Treflan, Dimension and Dymid can be used on most ground covers, but always check the label for specific information on the particular plant. If perennial weeds, such as bindweed or annual grasses, are a problem, consider fumigating the site with Vapam after preparing the soil. Wait at least two weeks before planting and cultivate the soil again to be sure the chemical has dissipated.
Mulching serves many purposes in a ground cover planting. Two to four inches of mulch around the plants helps control weeds, maintains a more constant soil temperature, conserves soil moisture and reduces erosion on slopes. However, be aware that mulching Ground Cover areas can also result in significantly slowing the growth rate of your new ground cover. If you just absolutely hate the thought of weeding, then Ground Cover with mulch may be a good fit for you. Until next time…Happy Gardening!!
Jimmie is a Prosper resident and the owner of Absolutely Bushed Landscaping Company, an award winning, family and veteran owned and operated business created in 1980 to provide the highest quality custom Outdoor Renovation available to homeowners in the Dallas Ft. Worth area.