Ground covers can serve a variety of roles in the garden landscape

By Mary Fran McClure
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener
March 31, 2022

Image of Veronica prostrata ‘Trehane’ defines a lawn border with Zinnia ‘Profusion’
Veronica prostrata ‘Trehane’ defines a lawn border with Zinnia ‘Profusion’ offering mid-summer flower power.
Provided photo/Mary Fran McClure

Mary Fran McClure
Mary Fran McClure – WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – photo by Don Seabrook, Wenatchee World

Ground covers are important to prevent erosion, lessen weeds and beautify our landscapes. These small, hug-the-ground plants form perfect low edgings for flower borders. Many are valuable for quickly filling in an area and providing color with a minimum of maintenance while providing fine texture to aesthetically balance all those larger-leafed shrubs and trees.

Ground covers can even replace all or part of a water-guzzler lawn, provided you don’t need that critical area for kids’ playing or other activities. There are steppable ground covers, meaning they will take some walking on, just not the level of abuse a lawn can tolerate.

Some mat-forming ground covers quickly cover an area, such as fine-textured elfin thyme or grayish wooly thyme. These are refined relatives of our culinary thyme and show off their masses of tiny pink or purplish flowers in late spring or early summer. Be aware that any plant that grows quickly enough to take over an area also means the gardener needs to be aware of continuing maintenance trimming as it continues to over-extend itself.

Others take their time at filling in an area, such as one of my favorites, pink flowered Armeria ‘Maritima’, with tiny stalks of pink flower balls standing tall above the green mats of narrow upright leaves.

Ever-popular sedums come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Sedums are drought tolerant and very low maintenance while a valuable source of interesting colors and shapes. Both impressive foliage and flower colors are wide-ranging — everything from yellow/gold to blush pink and burgundy reds. The frosting on the cake is their long-flowering time, as well as their impressive foliage color of bronzy or coppery coloring in winter.

Sedums are a cinch to propagate from stem cuttings or even single leaves.

These succulents do crush easily so aren’t meant for foot traffic. I’ve seen them poking out of wall crevices, providing interest to an otherwise plain wall. Their low water needs make them great candidates for holding a bank, where water-holding capacity is a challenge.

Another of my favorites is evergreen Veronica prostrata ‘Trehane,’ impressive with lime green leaves and then lacy blue flowers in spring held well up above those leaves.

All these may be planted as small plugs, spaced a few inches apart so they’ll fill in given growing conditions. How close they’re spaced depends on whether you want immediate satisfaction at more cost, or patience and lower cost.

They’re even good in containers or planted between steppingstones.

Yes, these petite little ground covers are worth a second look.

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