The Q&A Archives: Herbal Groundcover In The Southwest Sun

Question: We live in the middle of the Southwest with summers that are typically 112-116 degrees. We would like to plant low growing thyme on the east side of our home (morning sun till 2 pm). Will it survive? Is there a particular variety or kind that will work best for us? Grass is out of the question and we're sick of nothing but crushed rock for ground cover. Please help!

Answer: Low groundcovers are one of the toughest things to grow here. Unfortunately, there aren't many to choose from. I haven't heard of anyone having long-term success with thyme as a groundcover -- it doesn't make it through the summer. Dichondra is sometimes used as a groundcover in small areas, but it likes fairly moist conditions with protection from hot sun. You might want to consider something like Mexican evening primrose (Oenothera verlandieri), which only reaches about 6 to 8 inches tall and will spread like crazy. It has lovely pink flowers in spring and deep green foliage. It usually dies back in the summer, but returns when temperatures moderate. There are several Oenothera that work as low ground covers that would keep their foliage longer. Another possibility is to scatter wildflower seed. They can do well in rocky groundcovers. Keep the area moist until seeds germinate, hopefully helped by winter rains. If you let them go to seed, they can come back every year. Ornamental grasses (tall and shrubby, not turf) such as Muhlenbergia will take full sun and are quite drought tolerant once established. Hope this gives you some ideas.

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