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The Good Graces of Ground Cover

Save time and money by planting ground-covers and mulching less

There are several ways to keep weeds out. In Paris, people leave the dirt bare and pull weeds continually. Many people in this country tend to spread mulch in the vacant spaces between plants. 

Another option is to place low, spreading plants referred to as "ground cover" in between the feature plants or shrubs. These rambunctious growers reduce or eliminate the need for mulch and help keep out weeds.

Commonly used greens are myrtle and pachysandra. However, using slightly more exciting specimens can perform the job sufficiently and increase garden interest. The following plants can begin going to work in your garden with just a few bits picked from a friend's as long as roots are still attached. 

Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’ is a cranesbill geranium with bright, fuchsia flowers. It grows lower than other cranesbills and spreads well. The fan-like leaves and glowing flowers add texture and enthusiasm. Plant in sun or part shade. I dead head this plant with long garden shears in June or early July by just clipping along and cleaning up the debris. I don't worry about being careful since it will fill in nicely and bloom again in a couple weeks.

Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' or "Creeping Jenny" winds between plants and adds a golden glow to the bottom of your garden. It keeps out most weeds, but not all, and requires no care. Plant this in the shade or under large plants and bushes in the sun. It spreads well the second year and can run over little plants, so keep an eye out for bullying. Putting a stop to it is easy; just rip out the parts encroaching on the little guys and give them to a friend. Creeping Jenny is a tough cookie.

Lambs Ears come in large and small varieties and add a soft, fuzzy texture along with a muted grey color. The small-leaved types grow lower, but bloom. The large-leaved specimens, Stachys byzantina 'Helen Von Stein', work better with big plant partners and rarely bloom. The bloom of a Lambs Ear is not to everyone's taste. If you get some blooms and don't like them, just chop them off.

These plants are not ideal for small spaces. Use them in larger gardens since they like to multiply.

My eldest brother and his wife cut out all the mulch buying and applying in their front foundation garden by adding low-growing Sedum under the shrubs. These drought-tolerant creepers come in red, green and yellow types. These plants work well next to a stone or paved walkway since they actually like the stone dust and rocks added to the soil from the path installation. Now my brother and his wife have fewer garden chores and more time to picnic.

Lorren Pogson May 09, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Excellent advice! I love creeping Jenny-it brightens up any space and is SO low maintenance it is great! Living mulch eliminates so much work, extra fertilizers, use of chemicals, saves money in the long run. Thank you for promoting some awesome alternatives to the norm. LP
Alice Blair May 09, 2012 at 11:08 PM
You are welcome Lorren! Thanks for adding those great additional benefits.
tulay luciano May 09, 2012 at 11:35 PM
tulay luciano Creeping jenny - can be invasive. In Connecticut, it is labeled as "invasive" but not banned. I have in a small part in my garden. No matter, how diligently I pull it, it comes back. I would recommend consulting to UConn's Invasive Plant Group's website. You may find much better alternatives to this "bully". You may email them too. Please do not give it to a friend! Or sell it at a garden club sale!

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