Groundcovers: The Glue That Holds The Garden Together

Groundcovers, low, ground hugging plants, have always been the most important plant in my landscape designs. Aesthetically, groundcovers play a huge role in the garden. They are essentially the glue that holds the garden together. Groundcovers help tie groups of plants together by connecting spaces that are typically occupied by seas of mulch. Beyond aesthetics, groundcovers also play another huge role in the garden and this is what people really get excited about. Groundcovers help lower garden maintenance. Yes, a plant can reduce, not add garden maintenance. Open ground means weeds. As we all know, weeds are opportunistic plants. All you have to do is walk through any parking lot to see weeds growing in any crack or crevice that exists. Groundcovers are also somewhat opportunistic plants due to their growth habit. Groundcovers cover real estate in one of two ways. They spread through rhizomes or new growth eventually ‘roots in’ to the soil. As groundcovers mature, they will cover large areas which in turn will help control future weed growth. Obviously, using groundcovers in your landscape will reduce the amount of mulch the garden will need year after year too. Mulch and the labor that installs it is getting ridiculously expensive so anything you can do to reduce the need or it will help reduce maintenance over the years. So what are the best groundcovers to reduce maintenance? That will depend on the other plants the groundcover needs to coexist with and the site conditions. In general, the taller the groundcover the more they will inhibit weed growth. For a plant, or weed, to germinate, it needs sun. The more aggressive and taller the plant, the more shade the plant will cast onto the ground, making it difficult for any plant to set seed. That said, you’ll need to choose your plants wisely. Some groundcovers are so aggresive that they don’t play well with some others. For instance, Vinca is a great plant to reduce garden maintenance but you can’t mix it will herbaceous plants. Some of our go to plants for sun are below.

Phlox subulata
Carex ‘Ice Dance’ for sun, other varieties for shade.

Some of our favorite groundcovers for shade below:

Packera is a good large scale groundcover. It might be too aggressive for smaller gardens unless those plants are large. A native.
Phlox subulata and Phlox divaricata are good Phlox for shade
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Richard Schipul

For the last 30 years, I have owned the landscape company Designing Eden LLC based in New Milford, CT. We offer landscape designs, landscape installations and garden maintenance services in Fairfield and Litchfield County Connecticut. I am currently the only Nationally Certified Landscape Designer in Litchfield County and sit on the board of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and Mad Gardeners.


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