Horridculture – Bend The Truth

This bender board does nothing that the curb should not do.

The truth of this bender board is that it is not necessary. Seriously, what it is supposed to accomplish there that the curb should not already be doing? That stake wedged between the curb and the bender board to the upper left makes it seem even sillier than it already is. I realize that bender board is designed to bend, but this just draws attention to bad design. Perhaps this is one of those rare situations in which the stake should be on the inside, with the bender board screwed onto it, like might have been the intention for the unattached stake to the lower right. Heck, the curb does almost all of the work of holding the bender board in place anyway.

The dyed chipped wood to the upper right of the bender board seems to rely on the bender board for containment. That would be a realistic application for bender board in a situation that lacks a curb. For this situation, the curb should be adequate. If the soil below the chips is too high, it should have been excavated to a lower level prior to the installation of the chips. As one can see in this picture, such excavation would have been minimal.

Bender board certainly has practical application, such as separating chips like these from turf grass or ground cover. It might contain or provide a neat edge for vigorous ground cover. However, it does nothing that a curb does not already do. In some landscapes it merely adds another component to an innate tripping hazard. It gets dislodged or damaged if vehicles drive over it, or if enough people trip over it.

Unfortunately, for so-called ‘landscape professionals’ it is too easy to install; and such installation is too lucrative. Simplicity is much less lucrative.

Mondo Grass

This simple green (unvariegated) mondo grass has been doing well.

The thick clumps of evergreen grass-like foliage of mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicas, make a nice lumpy ground cover for small spaces. Because it is rather tolerant of shade, and actually prefers partial shade to full sun, it works nicely under Japanese maples or highly branched overgrown rhododendrons. It gets only about half a foot deep. Narrow stems with small pale purplish blue flowers that bloom in summer are not too abundant, and are generally obscured below the foliage, but can actually get taller. ‘Silver Mist’ is variegated with white.

New plants are easily produced by division of large clumps. Overgrown or tired looking clumps can be shorn down at the end of winter, before new growth begins. Slugs and snails can be problematic.

Irish Moss

Irish moss is darker than Scottish.

It is not actually moss. It is of the same family as carnation. Of course, any distinguishing characteristics of its family are difficult to recognize. Iris moss, Sagina subulata, has such exceptionally fine foliar texture and diminutive bloom. Its slim leaves are not much longer than a quarter of an inch. its tiny white flowers are barely wider than an eighth of an inch.

Irish moss is a luxuriantly dense and richly evergreen ground cover for confined spaces. It works well within small atriums and big pots that contain sculptural plants that lack low foliage. It is a popular accessory for Japanese maple and citrus within tubs. Since it gets no more than two inches deep, Irish moss can fill in between pavers and under benches.

However, Irish moss dislikes how pavement enhances harsh exposure. Although it does not require shade, it appreciates a bit of partial shade while the weather is warmest after noon. Also, it craves somewhat frequent watering to compensate for locally arid warmth. Scottish moss is the cultivar ‘Aurea’. It is lighter chartreuse green, but otherwise identical.

Cover Ground With Ground Cover

Trailing rosemary eventually gets somewhat deep.

Within the outdoor rooms of home gardens, shade trees are ceilings, shrubs and hedges are walls, and turf and ground cover plants are floors. That is why the selection of plants for such purposes is as important as the selection of paint and carpet for indoors. Among ground cover plants, durable turf grasses for lawns are the most common and functional.

There are so many more types of ground cover plants besides turf grasses though. A few of the lower, denser and more resilient types of ground cover plants can function as turf if necessary. Many more function as mulch to control erosion, contain dust or conceal mud. Many inhibit proliferation of weeds. Some retain a bit more moisture than they consume.

Appropriate ground cover plants most definitely have many advantages. They also have certain disadvantages. Although most require less maintenance than the weeds that they exclude, they require more maintenance than simple mulch. Also, most require irrigation. They might be trailing perennials, sprawling shrubbery, or unsupported wandering vines.

Trailing gazania, Hottentot fig (freeway ‘ice plant’) and various ice plants are some of the more popular perennial ground cover plants. They and others migrate by trailing stolons or rhizomes. They are among the lower and more compact types of ground cover plants. Some need no more pruning than edging. Many propagate easily by division or cuttings.

Sprawling sorts of juniper, ceanothus, cotoneaster, myoporum and rosemary are shrubby ground cover plants. They get significantly deeper than perennial plants, and some sorts can eventually get too overgrown to be practical. Rosemary, myoporum and cotoneaster are conducive to shearing as they mature. Ceanothus and juniper need significant area.

English ivy, Algerian ivy and star jasmine are vining ground cover plants that should stay rather low if properly maintained. However, they can climb into shrubbery and trees, and even buildings. The ivies are famously aggressive, and spread indefinitely by rooting as they migrate. Severe pruning can renovate some overgrown vining ground cover plants. Bougainville gets rather shrubby and deep, even without support.

Licorice Plant

Licorice plant can become vegetative mulch.

This is not the genuine licorice of confectionery. This more popular home garden licorice plant, Helichrysum petiolare, is more of an ornamental plant than a culinary herb. Its mild foliar aroma resembles that of genuine licorice, but is very faint. Without disruption of the foliage, the aroma is imperceptible. Since the foliage can be toxic, the flavor is irrelevant.

Licorice plant is popular for its appealingly silvery foliage. Some cultivars are variegated. ‘Limelight’ is strikingly pale silvery chartreuse. The small, rounded and evergreen leaves are distinctly tomentous (slightly fuzzy). The sprawling stems tend to disperse over older growth, and might get deeper than a foot and a half. Mature plants get wider than six feet.

Licorice plant is susceptible to extremes of temperatures. Within more severe climates, it appreciates a bit of partial shade during excessively warm and arid weather. Foliage can roast from harsh exposure. Where winters are cool, foliage appreciates shelter from frost. Roots are susceptible to rot with excessively frequent watering, or inadequate drainage.

Mulch Retains Moisture And Insulates

Mulch helps to insulate the soil.

Nature is smart. It should be. It has been operating efficiently since the beginning of time. That is certainly longer than anyone has been gardening in defiance of nature. Imported plants that need unnatural watering and soil amendment continue to benefit from nature. Some assets, such as weather, are direct from nature. Some, such as mulch, are copied.

Summers are long, dry and somewhat warm here. Without rain, there is plenty of time for the soil that roots inhabit to become dry. Warmth and aridity increase the consumption of moisture by plant species that are not accustomed to such extensively dry weather. That is precisely why landscapes and home gardens are so reliant on supplemental irrigation.

Because water is expensive, plants that do not require much of it are popular. Automated irrigation systems should operate as efficiently as possible to minimize waste. Since turf grass is very consumptive, lawns should not be overly expansive. Conservation of water is common here. There are several techniques for doing so. Mulch is one of the simplest.

Although adding mulch to a garden is unnatural, it works like the natural detritus within a forest. It retains moisture and insulates the surface of the soil. Without mulch, surface soil can become uncomfortably dry and warm for roots. Mulch also inhibits the proliferation of weeds. Because weeds consume moisture, their absence indirectly conserves moisture.

Mulch generally goes into the garden during early spring, before weed seed germinates, and after the removal of the detritus of winter. It can be practical at any time though, even as the soil becomes dry and dusty through summer. Various forms of mulch are available from garden centers. Home compost works splendidly, but costs nothing more than labor.

Alternatively, several types of groundcover can function as mulch. Some types consume more moisture than they conserve, but exclude weeds. Some types, such as ceanothus, lantana and licorice plant, might not crave any more water than the plants they surround. Their maintenance should involve less effort than removal of weeds which they displace. They are more visually appealing anyway.

Vines Are Aggressive Social Climbers

English ivy can cling to anything.

Regardless of how appealing many of them are in home gardens and landscapes, vines are flagrantly exploitative. They rely on shrubbery, trees or anything they can climb on for support. As they reach the tops of their supports, they extend their foliar canopies above. Vines have no reservations about overwhelming and maybe killing their own supporters. 

Vines climb with clinging roots, twining stems, tendrils, twining leaves, or even thorns or spines. Some vines are annuals or perennials. The most aggressive or destructive sorts are woody plants. Some creep along the ground while young, and then climb when they find support. Some mature to support their own weight as they lose their original support. 

English ivy and Algerian ivy, in their juvenile forms, can be practical ground cover plants. However, when they encounter shrubbery, trees or buildings, they become clinging vines that can overwhelm their supports, and ruin infrastructure. As they mature, clinging vines evolve into shrubbier and obtrusively bulky adult growth that blooms and produces seed. 

Boston ivy, which incidentally is not actually ivy, is more practical as a clinging vine than the other ivies. It does not grow as ground cover anyway. Nor does it develop bulky adult growth. However, it also has limitations. Because it attaches to its supports with clinging tendrils, it is only practical for surfaces that it can not wreck, such as reinforced concrete.

Bougainvillea is a delightful and shrubby vine. It neither clings to surfaces nor grips onto support by twining. It simply generates long and vigorous canes that eventually lie down onto its surroundings. Long thorns help to anchor these canes in place. Canes should be satisfied with trellises, but sometimes mingle with shrubbery or trees, or spill over fences. 

Carolina jessamine, lilac vine and mandevilla climb with twining stems, but are relatively docile. Star jasmine, which performs well both as a ground cover plant and as a climbing vine, can crush flimsy lattice with its twining vines. Wisteria might crush substantial trellis beams. Passion flower climbs with wiry tendrils, but can be overwhelmingly voluminous. 

Gazania

Gazania is colorful until cool autumn weather.

The most familiar of the gazanias are the ‘trailing’ types commonly appreciated as ground cover. They are rather shallow, but dense enough to prevent most weeds from getting through. Their yellow or orange composite (daisy like) flowers bloom initially in spring, and then continue to bloom sporadically as long as the weather stays warm into autumn. Some trailing gazanias have interesting silvery foliage.

‘Clumping’ gazanias do not spread efficiently or thoroughly enough to be practical as ground cover over large areas, but bloom a bit more profusely with bigger flowers in shades of yellowish white, light yellow, bright yellow, orange, brownish orange and brownish red. The foliage gets a bit deeper to form irregular but dense low mounds. Clumping gazanias can be lined up as an informal border around blooming annuals or perennials, or incorporated individually into mixed urns or vertical gardens.

Gazanias are not too discriminating about soil quality or frequency of irrigation. They only need good sun exposure. Trailing gazanias are rather easy to propagate by cuttings made from scraps from pruning around the edges. Clumping gazanias do not get pruned as much, but are easy to propagate by division from dense clumps.

THE LOWDOWN ON GROUND COVER

Most euonymus are upright shrubbery. This one though, stays low enough to be useful as a shallow shrubby ground cover.

Of all the functions that the many and various plants in the garden serve, ground covers have the lowliest job description. Well, maybe it is just the lowest job; covering the ground. It is an important job though. Ground covers fill in the space between other desirable plants to obscure otherwise bare soil. They also control weeds. Some ground covers help to limit erosion. Others help to insulate the soil for plants with sensitive roots.

There certainly are all sorts of ground cover. Lawns are the most familiar. Many other ground covers are perennials like gazanias, African daisies and iceplants. Some, like ivies, honeysuckles and star jasmine, are vines. Others are low growing shrubs like certain coprosmas, cotoneasters and junipers. Some lay about as flat as carpeting. Some get a few feet deep.

Many perennial ground covers as well as some of the vines and low growing shrubbery provide colorful flowers. Japanese honeysuckle and star jasmine are not as colorful, but provide delightful fragrance. Some of the cotoneasters have colorful berries in winter. Although not seen, many ground covers are appreciated more for their network or roots that help to stabilize soil that might otherwise erode. One feature that most ground cover plants have in common though, is their foliage that is dense enough to keep weeds out, as well as to obscure the soil below.

Like all other plants in the landscape, ground cover plants need maintenance. Lawns probably need more maintenance than any other ground cover, since they need to be mowed, weeded, fertilized and watered quite regularly. Vine ground covers need to be pruned so that they do not get into trees and shrubbery. Some ground covers look best if mowed annually (typically at the end of winter) or even more frequently. Some of the deeper ground cover shrubs should be pruned down to stay low. Almost all ground covers need to be edged for confinement.

Ground cover plants must be selected for their appropriateness to particular applications. For example, most low growing shrubbery needs space, so is best for larger areas. Smaller iceplants that may not be aggressive enough for big areas are great for tight spots, or for mixing with other perennials. Tough Algerian ivy that is so useful for freeway embankments may be too aggressive for home gardens. As with all plants in the garden, careful selection helps to get the best ground cover plants for each particular situation where ground covers are needed.

Lantana

Lantana sports two colors per bloom.

All flowers that need help with getting pollinated do what they can to attract pollinators. The tiny flowers of lantana, Lantana camara, actually put forth a bit of extra effort to improve the efficiency of their pollinators, by becoming less attractive once pollinated. Within each tightly set flower cluster, pollinated flowers fade to an alternate color to inform pollinators that their services are no longer needed. This prioritizes flowers than still await pollination. Consequently, each small cluster exhibits flowers of two different colors. The choices are red, orange, yellow, pink, purplish pink or white.

The small and aromatic leaves are arranged in alternating pairs on thin stems that do not get much higher or wider than three feet. Established plants can survive with very minimal watering, but bloom better with somewhat regular watering. The summer bloom is very attractive to butterflies.

Trailing lantana, Lantana montevidensis, has limber stems that sprawl a few feet over the ground without getting a foot deep. It cascades nicely over retaining walls or from large planters. Flowers are shades of lavender, or sometimes white.