Lawn reduction is a big part of creating an earth-friendly, sustainable landscape. As lawn area decreases, you end up mowing less, using less water, and greatly reducing the use of fertilizers and chemicals – if you even bothered with them in the first place. Groundcovers can help you get to a lawn-free yard even faster.
Besides being a great lawn substitute with the aforementioned benefits, a solid cover of plants provides an insulating cover for the soil. It works like a living mulch that keeps the soil cooler in the summer, and allows the soil to retain moisture longer.
Unlike a lawn, the use of native groundcovers can result in increased biodiversity in your yard. You will attract even more beneficial creatures if you employ a variety of plants, and include a few simple water features. Shallow watering dishes at ground level and bird baths will attract and serve birds and pollinators of all sorts. In moist settings, dense ground covers are known to attract snails and slugs – and we are here to tell you that this is a good thing! Newts and toads, and some birds such as thrushes, love to eat slugs and snails.
When gardening in collaboration with nature, the importance of selecting plants that are suited to the soil type and conditions at your site cannot be over emphasized. The benefits of moisture retention, weed prevention, and reduced maintenance are the natural result of well-sited, happy plants – the right plants in the right location.
A massed planting is often what comes to mind when thinking about groundcover. This traditional approach features large swaths of low-growing plants, and is best suited to colony-forming, rhizomatous species (plants with horizontal roots that send up shoots). Groundcovers can also be mixed for a more naturalized look. This first photo shows a natural, all native, woodland floor that includes a diversity of plants in little more than one square foot of space – with Wild Ginger, Solomons Plume, Wood Sedge and Rue Anemone:
Planted on it’s own, Wild Ginger is great colonizer – excellent for weed suppression and erosion control on slopes (see Wild Ginger to suppress Garlic Mustard) – but it also plays well with others, and combines beautifully with Maidenhair or other ferns:
This low woodland shows Golden Groundsel – often referred to simply as “Packera” – growing naturally with Sensitive Fern. Both plants prefer moist soils and partial shade, and they look quite good together:
Prairie Smoke is a slower colonizer, but the fluffy spring seed heads are so worth it! Great for sunny rock gardens and dry to medium soils (but not clay). It will do best if planted with other low growers like Harebell and Junegrass, as it doesn’t compete well when shaded by large, talls plants:
Wild Geranium is not rhizomatous, but this clump forming woodland perennial does spread readily when it’s in a happy location. Light shade is best. The springtime flowers rise above the attractive palmate leaves. Plant it around the base of trees, it doesn’t mind! Combine it with Solomon’s Seal, ferns, trillium:
Canada Anemone often gets a bad rap for being an aggressive spreader, but it just needs a thought-out planting strategy. If planted in partial shade, it will spread toward the sunny areas. Make sure that adjacent area are densely planted, as it will take advantage of openings, but won’t invade a dense cover. Or plant it between structures and surrounded by hardscape. Canada Anemone blooms for an extended period in spring and can be combined with sedges to cover large areas:
Wild Strawberry is a great naturalizing groundcover. Let this low-growing plant creep around everything else and you will won’t need mulch. Using mulch around newly planted transplants is almost always recommended, but in a mature planting, groundcover works like a living mulch to create an earth-friendly landscape.
Bearberry is a dry site specialist. Got dry sandy soil? Pine trees? This may be your groundcover. It will grow in rocks and on beaches.
A FEW POPULAR NATIVE GROUND COVERS, BY HEIGHT
|LOW GROWING 6″– 1′||MEDIUM 1′ – 2′||TALL 2‘ – 3’|
|For Sun:||For Sun:||For Sun:|
|Wild Strawberry||Stiff Coreopsis||Sweet Fern|
|Prairie Smoke||Canada Anemone||For Shade:|
|Western Spiderwort||Obedient Plant||Goat’s Beard|
|For Shade:||Mistflower||Cinnamon Fern|
|Wild Stonecrop||Sensitive Fern||Interrupted Fern|
|Wild Ginger||Palm Sedge|
|Maidenhair Fern||Fox Sedge|
|Oak Fern||For Shade:|
|Pennsylvania Sedge||Starry Solomon’s Plume|
|Ivory Sedge||Solomon’s Plume|
|Eastern Star Sedge||Big Leaf Aster|
|Bloodroot||Zig Zag Goldenrod|