Best Management Practices - Ground Covers

Allen D. Owings, Bush, Edward W., Trawick, Robert C.  |  3/22/2005 1:03:32 AM

The term ground cover is applied to low-growing plants, other than turf grass, used to cover areas of the landscape. Perennial, evergreen plants with a sprawling, or spreading, habit are most often used. The plants used for ground covers generally are 1 foot or less in height, but taller plants are used in certain landscape situations.

In addition to the beauty they provide, ground covers have practical uses. They provide barriers to foot traffic and can guide traffic movement through a site. Some ground covers help to control erosion. Because they don’t have to be mowed, ground covers reduce landscape maintenance and are especially useful in problem areas such as on steep slopes, under low-branched trees and shrubs, where the roots of large trees protrude and in confined areas where mowing is difficult. They are the best solution to areas under trees that have become too shady for grass to grow.

Carefully consider the characteristics you would like the ground cover to have (height, texture, color and so forth) when making your selection. You also need to think about the growing conditions where it will be planted – such as sunny or shady, dry or moist. Then look at the size of the area to be planted. Only the most reliable, fast-spreading and reasonably priced ground covers should be considered for large areas.

Monkey or mondo grass, creeping lily turf (liriope) and Japanese ardisia are good choices for shade to part shade. Asiatic jasmine is excellent for sun to part shade. Whatever type of ground cover you choose, proper preparation of the planting area will help ensure good establishment and faster growth.

Ground covers provide the following functions in the home landscape:

  • Erosion control on slopes.
  • Vegetative growth where grass is difficult to grow.
  • Reduced temperature and glare.
  • Less lawn maintenance.
  • Filling in of narrow or oddly shaped areas in the landscape where mowing is difficult.

Selection will depend on the location where it will be used. Consider the amount of sunlight present, irrigation availability, height and growth habit desired and desired growth rate.

BMP Checklist:

  • Select a ground cover to match your site and growing conditions
  • Select a ground cover that fits your needs
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