80912thumbIf shade trees are the ceilings, and hedges and shrubbery are the walls, then turf and other groundcover plants are the floors of some of our outdoor living spaces. Except for turf grasses, most groundcovers are not as useful as hardscapes like pavement and decking, but they perform other functions in areas that do not get such use. Groundcovers inhibit weeds, erosion, dust and mud.

Turf grasses used for lawn are of course the most popular groundcovers, and are a separate topic from other groundcover plants that grow over unused or lightly used ground. Because they need not tolerate traffic, these other groundcover plants need not be as resilient, or as flat as turf grasses are. They can be perennials, vines or low sprawling shrubbery. Most, but not all are evergreen.

Groundcover plants work something like mulch, although most want to be watered. They inhibit weed growth by occupying the space that weeds want. Many hold soil together with their roots. They may seem like they would compete with other plants, but groundcover plants insulate the soil, which makes it more comfortable for other plants. Many retain more moisture than they utilize.

Gazanias and iceplants are two of the most popular perennial groundcovers. They tend to replace their own growth regularly as old stems decompose below new growth that spreads over the top. They therefore do not get very deep. Some gazanias eventually develop bald spots. When they get trimmed around the edges, the scraps can be plugged back into bald spots as cuttings.

Cultivars of myoporum, cotoneaster, ceanothus, rosemary, juniper and other low and sprawling shrubbery that make good groundcover must not be confused with cultivars that grow as upright shrubbery or even trees. There is a big difference between creeping myoporum that stays less than a foot deep, and shrubby myoporum that can get almost thirty feet tall! Also, vines used as groundcover, like ivy and honeysuckle, should be maintained as such, and not allowed to climb trees, shrubbery and other landscape features, like vines naturally want to do.

15 thoughts on “Groundcover Is Carpeting For Landscapes

  1. Excellent article! I learned a lot about what ground cover, trees and shrubs to plant when we first moved here. I wish I had gone a completely native route. Today, we look for plants that are native Oklahoma, and find that there is a lot less trouble (dying or becoming invasive) if we do our homework!

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    1. Thank you! In California, I do find that natives are not as easy as those who promote them want us to believe. Proponents of natives tend to promote what they like, regardless of how adaptable it is to home gardens. Also, they may promote something that is from a completely different climate such as that of the Sierra Nevada, the Mojave Desert, the North Coast . . . or really ANYWHERE, merely because they like it and it happens to be within the borders of California. (Most of the many counties here are more diverse in regard to climate and soils than the entire state of Oklahoma.) Yet, the California fan palm is weirdly unpopular just because those who make the trends are not keen on it. In Oklahoma, I found horticulturists (as well as the entire culture) to be much more practical. They promote plants that actually work in landscapes and home gardens. I took a few back with me, and I intend to get more. I really like the native yuccas, although the one that I found growing wild did not survive the transition. I still do not know which species it was, but I would guess that it was Yucca arkansana. It grew wild east of Oklahoma city. I think I found mine in a debris pile left by someone had cleared it from his roadside ditch near Pink.

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      1. Pink is not that far out there. It was just to the southeast of Pecan Valley Junction where we were at. Highway 9 went through there. I remember Highway 9 because Highway 9 is the main road through the San Lorenzo Valley here, and it ends in Los Gatos. (Actually, Highway 35 crosses Highway 9 and goes on up to San Francisco.) Yucca arkansana is the most common yucca in that region. Yucca glauca is also common, but more recognizable. It was frustrating to not be able to key out something so seemingly simple while there.

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    1. The ivies are on our ‘do not plant’ list! It is despised even in urban landscapes because of what it does in the surrounding redwood forests. I must contend with it at work, where it had been planted in the 1970s. Huge areas of the forest outside of the landscape were overrun with English ivy long before that. We only do what we can to prevent it from spreading. Fortunately, once removed from the landscaped areas, it does not regenerate too aggressively to be controlled. What I mean is that once removed, it is easy to eliminate the little bits of it that try to regenerate afterward, until it is completely eradicated. We would rather deal with dust and mud than ivy. It is sad to see so much of it in the forests.


      1. I agree, it really is. The happy gardeners from the 70’s have a lot to answer for! When I visited Asheville last year I was shocked to see english ivy and bamboo running rampant everywhere. People there seem to be quite proud of their ivy and bamboo.

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    1. The ‘real’ iceplants are remarkable colorful when in bloom! I grew the old fashioned ‘freeway’ iceplant when I lived in town, and have used it to stabilize a slope here. It spreads like crazy, but does not become an invasive weed that spreads into the forest.


    1. Yes, it gets floppy spots if just partly shaded. Yet, if too exposed during warm and dry weather, it can get discolored! It probably does better there where the weather does not get dry and warm at the same time. I think it looks great on the west coast of Washington, but I do not know. I was too impressed with the floral color to notice if there were floppy spots too.

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