The Q&A Archives: What kind of ground cover

Question: Hello,my name is Lisa and I just love your website. We live in Hemet Calif. where it gets well over 100 in the summer months. We have a dry clay and sand hillside we would like to put some low matinence, but different ground cover. Flowers or dramatic colors. We see the same old thing everywhere. What would you suggest ? Thanks for your time, Lisa Cochran

Answer: The following groundcover is well adapted for use in the High Desert. There are many more water efficient plants carried by local nurseries, so it might be worth a visit to see what else is offered. Here are a few tried and true groundcovers:
Achillea spacies, Yarrow, fern-like foliage used as groundcover or accent plant, fire retardant, spreading, 18 inch high maximum, good for slopes, free blooming white or yellow summer to fall.

Artemisia species, Wormwood Sage, commonly with silver or gray foliage and pungent odor. Many varieties of varied sizes, all sun loving and drought tolerant. Use as a foliage accent color with other green shrubs or groundcovers, flowers generally inconspicuous. Cut back in winter if needed.

Baccharis pilularis, "Centennial," Coyote Brush, full sun to part shade, glossy green leaves, 3 feet high, 5 foot spread. Use as ground cover, on level or sloping ground, prune back once per year to maintain appearance.

Cerastium tomentosum, Snow-in-Summer, low growing groundcover or edging plant, gray foliage, mass of white flowers in late spring and summer, mix as an underplanting with green groundcover, and shrubs, best with light shade, will easily recover from poor winter looks.

Festuca ovina glauca, Blue Fescue, clumping bluegreen grass which forms 3 - 4 inch high mounds. Takes sun but does best in partial shade and with consistent water. Tolerates no foot traffic. Use in rock gardens, on north or east exposures, or as a border to lawns or walks. Cut back after flowering.

Gazania species, Gazania, low growing groundcover with a spectacular display of daisy-like flowers ranging from yellow to dark red in late spring and summer. Both clumping and trailing varieties. Gazania usually dies out in two to three seasons, requiring replanting. Native to South Africa.

Helianthemum nummularium, Sunrose, evergreen, small shrub to 12 inches, grayish green foliage with a variety of spring flowers, cut back to encourage tall blooms, use in rock gardens to drape over planters, fire retardant. Partial shade or east exposures.

Oenothera berlandieri, Mexican Evening Primrose, deciduous low growing, spreading roots, with bright pink flowers, use for annual color, good for slopes, fire retardant. Full sun or partial shade.

Pyracantha species, Pyracantha, a hardy, evergreen shrub with cream white flowers in spring and numerous colorful red berries through the fall and winter. Grows 5 - 12 feet high and wide. Stems are quite thorny. Use as a screen, on a fence, or as a spreading groundcover. Full sun. Can freeze back during High Desert winters, but usually recovers after pruning.

Rosmarinus officinalis, Rosemary, evergreen, aromatic foliage, 2 feet high with 4 feet or more spread, light blue winter and spring flowers, attracts birds and bees. Sun to partial shade. Comes in both low spreading and tall (6 feet or more) varieties.

Santolina chamacyporissus, Lavender Cotton, 1 foot high clumping groundcover with gray foliage, yellow summer flowers. Or try Santolina virens, same as above but with deep green foliage, cut back to keep low. Full sun with welldrained soil.

Thymus species, Thyme, herbaceous groundcovers for full sun or part shade, best as edging plants and in rock gardens. Grows to 12 inches, moderate spreader, purple flowers in summer. Cut back after bloom ends. Note: many herbs do well in the High Desert, but may freeze back during the winter.

Verbena peruviana, Verbena, attractive, low-growing, perennial groundcover with profuse pink to red spring flowers. Takes full sun, good for use in narrow planting beds, rock gardens, or to cover moderate slopes.

Best wishes with your new groundcover plants!

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