Used to stabilize and enrich soil to preserve moisture, but also to fill the empty spaces and enhance a garden’s aesthetics, ground cover plants have a series of interesting uses. They also offer a wide choice of species and varieties, most of which adapt easily to different environments, dry or wet soils, and they generally require no major maintenance, except regarding their proliferation which needs to be regulated.

The varieties and types of plants that are used as ground covers are numerous. The choice depends on the plants’ intended use such as fertilization, maintenance of moisture levels, the fight against weeds, soil stabilization and embellishment of the garden.

Why grow ground cover plants?

Ground cover plants can protect the ground against bad weather. Indeed, a bare surface is easily eroded by wind and water run-off.  Both of them carry away the soil’s top layer, which is the one that is most suitable for plants. In addition, soil that lacks its top layer tends to easily break up and crumble. To stabilize it, the best solution is to grow plants of which the roots will compact the soil and make it denser. Moreover, a vegetable cover is necessary to limit evaporation and prevent drying out.

The presence of ground cover plants can enrich the soil as they produce and release various elements (nitrogen, iron) through chemical reactions and other processes. These elements not only feed micro-organisms present in the ground, but also other nearby plants. They can also be used as natural fertilizer by burying them so that their decomposition creates a humus-rich organic matter and a suitable habitat to host micro-organisms.

Finally, ground cover plants can also be used for decorative purposes. Thus, in order not to leave room for weeds, take up space by planting ground cover plants. To turn a bare space green, ground cover plants are a good alternative to grass. Besides, you can also use ground covers to improve a garden’s visual appearance, in terms of colour, for example, but also in terms of fragrance. In short, ground cover plants can enhance a garden’s aesthetic appearance.

How to choose ground cover plants?

Like all plant species, each type of ground cover plant has its specific needs. Even if the majority of ground cover plants generally adapt to different latitudes, they still need a minimum number of favourable conditions to grow. Thus, it would be best to opt for a plant that can grow easily under local conditions. But if the choice is a more “exotic” plant, prepare a more favourable growing environment, by resorting to an amendment or fertilizer supply. In addition, some species have rapid growth and are particularly prolific: unattended, they may invade the entire garden. A ground cover plant should, in principle, provide added value to the garden. Therefore, avoid plants that will compete directly with the ground cover, and those that prevent it from growing and developing normally.

The choice of a ground cover plants will be based on the desired outcome. Indeed, there are three main categories of ground cover plants, namely the creepers or grasses, which do not reach 8 inches (20 cm) in height, are ideal to form a ground cover, and which can be directly buried in the ground to be turned into green manure. Then, there are the medium-sized ones, of which the height ranges from 8 to 16 inches (20 to 40 cm) and which can be used to conceal a low wall. Finally, the large ground cover plants, ranging from 16 to 24 inches (40 to 60 cm) in height, can be used to stabilize a slope. But beyond their size, ground cover plants can be chosen according to other features, such as their hardiness, their brightness, their leaves or their flowers. In addition, one must also consider the fact that some ground cover plants need more sun than others. Hence, there are species that require more than 6 hours of direct sunlight per day, those in partial shade, others that need 3 to 6 hours of daily sunlight, and finally the shade-loving kinds that need less than 3 hours days of sunshine per day. Regarding ground moisture, some prefer dry land while others appreciate moist, well-drained soil. Yet, those that are fond of very wet but not swampy environments are not to be overlooked.

In regard to planting itself, know that ground cover plants can be put in the ground at anytime although the best thing to do is to wait until the end of the summer. Watering is especially important during the first year, but also during periods of drought. Finally, its maintenance requires continuous weeding, but also control of its propagation and its proliferation, to prevent it from invading the garden, but also to allow for a renewal of the shoots.

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Published in Perennials by Alexander on 31 Aug 2011