By:
Tim Daly

Groundcovers are plants that grow low to the ground and can quickly spread to form dense plantings. In addition to being attractive, they thrive on sites where other plant material is difficult to get established, like turf grasses.

Groundcovers help bring unity to the landscape by providing masses of attractive foliage and help bring contrast the foliage, form, color, and texture of other plants in the landscape. Once established, they are durable, and drought tolerant with minimal pest issues.

Groundcovers are most frequently used in locations where turfgrasses are challenging to grow such as steep slopes, shady sites, areas with shallow tree roots near the surface of the ground, and places that are either too dry or too wet. They are also suitable for erosion control. The choice of a groundcover depends on the growing conditions of the area to be planted. They are sturdy, durable, an be relatively rapid growers. When planting, incorporate organic matter into the upper 6 to 8 inches and add an all-purpose fertilizer such as a 10-10-10. Make sure the new plantings are well-watered until established.

There is a multitude of groundcovers for many different planting sites. In areas that are hot and exposed to full sun, like slopes, several types of horizontal growing junipers, such as shore juniper, Parsons and blue rug junipers, thrive as long as the soil has adequate drainage. Other choices for sunny sites include creeping phlox, often known as thrift, which has brilliant pink and white flowers in the early spring, creeping rosemary,

In shadier areas, liriope, mondo grass, pachysandra, and Asiatic and Confederate jasmines will cover the ground in places where grass and other plants will not. They will grow and multiply rather rapidly so in a couple of seasons you will grow into a thick mass of vegetation.

Some groundcovers should be avoided. Several types of cotoneaster are afflicted with lace bugs and spiders which turn the foliage yellow and make the plant unattractive. English ivy is highly invasive and can easily take over a landscape and any trees in its path. In older areas of the city, like around Emory University and the Druid Hills area, English ivy has taken over many properties, and the forest at Fernbank Science Center is heavily infested with it. So if you plant it, be forewarned that you will need to prune it to keep it under control continually. Some of the smaller leaf varieties or variegated types of English ivy are not as invasive. Another invasive groundcover is the vincas (not to be confused with the flowering annual sometimes referred to as periwinkles). The two types, large and small vincas, have dark green leaves and light blue to purple flowers. Though attractive, the plants can escape their bounds and invade natural areas.

Groundcovers can be an attractive and functional addition to the landscape if planted and maintained correctly. Their presence will enhance the beauty and value of the landscape. Consider them if you have sections of your landscape where grass is difficult to grow or if you would like some variety.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be contacted at 678-377-4011or tdaly@uga.edu