Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2004
Regional Report

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Lamium 'White Nancy' is a beautiful ground cover under shrubs and trees.

Ground Covers are Amazing Plants!

I'm fast becoming a great fan of ground covers. Over the years, whenever I've created new beds around my shrubs and trees, I've filled the beds with mulch. Now I'm replacing the bark mulch with ground covers in many areas. Ground covers are generally tidy in appearance, and some also have blossoms -- a bonus. Aside from adding beauty to the yard, ground covers are fairly carefree plants that keep weeds down, keep the soil cool, and stop soil erosion.

Several years ago I purchased two 'White Nancy' lamium plants to cascade in planters on the patio. After the season was over, I planted them in one of my beds. They came through the season beautifully and are now spreading gracefully to fill the bed. I've started doing this every year instead of using annual vines, and it's providing me with lovely ground covers at the same time.

Favorite Ground Covers
Sedums. There are countless varieties of sedum, and the most appealing feature of most types is their ability to thrive in almost any type of condition. They grow well in dry soil and will spread over even the most inhospitable ground. They have various flower colors, leaf shapes, and forms.

Geraniums. These vary from about 6 inches high to almost 2 feet. All geraniums flower profusely in spring, and if you shear the larger ones back after blooming, they will flower sporadically through the summer. Many varieties also have striking fall color.

Lamium. This attractive, silvery leaved, 3- to 4-inch-high ground cover thrives in shade but will also grow in sun when provided with moist soil. The species has purple flowers, and there are several cultivars available with white flowers.

Astilbe. This shade-loving ground cover has feathery plumes of white, pink, or red, and tidy, dissected foliage. It will grow in full sun as long as it gets plenty of water. These plants spread somewhat slowly and are absolutely beautiful when filling a bed.

Moneywort. Although many sources recommend growing moneywort in shade, I've had great luck growing it in full sun as long as it gets enough moisture in dry times. The creeping stems have round, nickel-sized, bright green leaves, and the plants are covered with irridescent yellow flowers in June. The plants spread rapidly, so you must place them carefully so they don't invade unwanted territory.

Fragrant sumac. This woody ground cover has glossy, blue-green leaves that turn red to yellow in fall, and the female plants are covered with attractive red fruits. The branches arch somewhat, and they put down roots where they touch the soil. This is a perfect plant to use on a slope, but it also looks handsome in a flat landscape. The cultivar 'Gro-Low' grows only 2 to 4 feet high and spreads to about 12 feet.

Sweetfern. This woody ground cover grows well in any type of soil, and its only requirement is full sun. It has glossy, green leaves that resemble a small willow, and grows 2 to 4 feet high. Sweet fern spreads to about 8 feet by underground stems, and has small clusters of brown fruits that birds love.

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