Documents: Container & Small Space Gardening:

Growing Great Groundcovers
by Niki Jabbour
by Niki Jabbour


Niki Jabbour is an Ornamental Horticulturist and a writer from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Fertilized by sea breezes, her gardens are comprised of a colourful mixture of perennials, annuals, herbs and flowering shrubs, with a few patches of clover and chickweed thrown in for good measure.

A member of the Garden Writers Association Niki is also the weekly gardening columnist for the Halifax Daily News and the Chester Clipper.

September 14, 2008

Groundcovers are problem-solving plants. They can quickly blanket a difficult area where grass won’t grow with lush green growth, making them perfect for shady spots, slopes or plantings under mature trees. Ground covers also suppress weeds, keep a landscape looking tidy and, best of all eliminate the need to mow.

Keep in mind that ground covers aren’t just for those hard-to-plant areas; they can also create a stunning visual effect by softening pathways, old walls, stumps, structures and ornamental elements of the garden. Use them to link different parts of the garden together or to help achieve a sense of flow in the landscape.

Most ground covers are quite low maintenance, easy to establish, relatively inexpensive and become long-lived garden plants. When deciding on a ground cover, consider your site carefully prior to planting. Is it shady or sunny, moist or dry? Selecting plants that suit your area and requirements will help ensure a healthy and quick-growing carpet of green.

Ground covers can be sprawling vines or low-growing perennials and shrubs. Look for plants with multi-season interest, such as spring or summer flowers, winter berries or autumn colour.

Many gardeners opt to plant native species for their proven hardiness, desirability to wildlife and birds and ability to thrive in our often acidic soils. There are many striking native plants that make excellent and quick-growing groundcovers such as Bunchberry, Bearberry, Foamflower, Wintergreen and Wild Ginger.

A native dogwood, Bunchberry is a compact groundcover with very showy spring flowers and attractive whorled foliage. The flowers are replaced by bunches of bright red berries in late summer, which are eaten by birds and gardeners alike. This extremely hardy plant prefers a moist acidic soil in a shady spot, such as in a woodland garden.

Bearberry is another native groundcover, yet unlike some of the others is an evergreen shrub and prefers a dry sandy site. The creeping plants can spread up to ten feet across the ground and are covered in small green leaves that persist all season long. In summer they are a bright green, while in winter the foliage turns a bronze colour. Bearberry also produces pretty bell-shaped blooms in a creamy white or soft pink. Plant this groundcover on dry slopes or in sandy soil.

A true multi-season ground cover is our native Foamflower. This low-growing plant stays under ten-inches tall, yet packs a punch with its eye-catching creamy white blooms that seem to float in a foamy mass above the maple leaf shaped foliage. Not only attractive in spring and summer, come autumn, the leaves turn a lovely shade of bronze. Plant Foamflower in a woodland setting or in a lightly shaded garden.

Popular non-native groundcovers include Sweet woodruff, Vinca vine, Pachysandra, Lily-of-the-Valley, Ivy, Mother-of-Thyme, Wood anemone and Perennial geraniums.

Sweet woodruff is an exuberant plant that grows about eight-inches tall with whorled leaves and pretty star-shaped flowers in spring. It does well in a woodland setting, even spreading quickly in a dry shaded spot.

Mother-of-Thyme is a very low-growing plant, reaching a height of just two-inches. It spreads quickly though and prefers a sunny spot in the garden with well-drained soil. The fragrant foliage and tiny soft pink flowers make this a popular groundcover for gardeners with dry slopes, rock gardens or who wish for a spot of colour in a flagstone pathway.

Lily-of-the-Valley is an old fashioned perennial favourite that bears spires of gorgeous bell shaped flowers each spring. The creamy white blooms are extremely fragrant and excellent for cut bouquets. The foliage grows about eight-inches tall and spreads very rapidly in a shaded spot, such as under mature trees.

There is also a pink flowered variety introduced in recent years, which makes an attractive planting partner for the traditional white lily-of-the-valley.

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