Ground cover - ajuga with purple blooms

Ajuga ground cover in bloom.

Ground cover plants take their work laying down. Whether they’re providing finishing touches on a landscape design, covering bare spots too shady for lawn grasses or minimizing erosion, these low-growing wonders are hard workers that are versatile and can add interest to a home landscape.

Ground covers can add layers and texture to your landscape and increase the visual appeal of your property. Make your choices based on the environment: is it sunny or shaded, dry or more wet, and will it be in a high-traffic area or out of the main portion of your yard?

Selections are varied and can be used in sun or shade settings. Creeping phlox loves sunny spots; sturdy dwarf mondo grass can cover a shady area with a lush dark-green carpet. Some ground covers flower; others are foliage only, but no matter what you choose, you’ll be rewarded with a fresh take on those gaping holes in your landscape.

Outsmarting shade’s bare spots

Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda and zoysia, need at least six hours of full sun to thrive. Popular with homebuilders, Bermuda is typically installed as sod, no matter what the light conditions. Zoysia can be more expensive, but some of the newer varieties can handle a bit of shade during the day.

Using the cool-season fescue creates a showy, lush lawn in the spring, but unless it’s watered regularly and consistently mowed to the correct height of between 2 to 3 inches – and a half-inch longer in drier weather – it will get patchy and fade to brown in the heat of summer.

Good choices for shade-loving ground covers include purple-flowered ajuga/also called bugleweed, mondo grass, monkey grass, periwinkle-blossomed vinca minor, Asiatic jasmine and maidenhair ferns.

Part-shade and sunny choices

In part shade to full sun, creeping Jenny’s coin-shaped leaves and bright lime-green can be an accent that’s suitable for foot traffic. Its trailing growth habit means it spreads more quickly.

Creeping phlox creates a colorful splash in early spring with its white, purple, blue or pink blossoms. However, once it blooms, it’s not particularly attractive, so it’s better to plant it along a bank or a wall.

Stonecrop and creeping sedums range in colors from bright green to deep rust. They will reliably spread and are fairly durable.

For a troubling clay slope, low-growing junipers that spread will do the trick over time. While not as fast-growing as other ground covers, these junipers are deer-resistant, but may need periodic weeding. If so, be sure and wear boots, because they provide good cover for reptiles; gloves are mandatory because junipers are naturally prickly.

Areas with high foot traffic may do well with a combination of stepping stones or pavers and a ground cover planted between.

For added interest, use ground covers in between pavers or stepping stones, or at the edge of sidewalks and driveways.

Groundcovers can be a home gardener’s best friend with many benefits. Check out options at area nurseries and box retailers. With the right choices, you can cure your landscape’s bare spots and erosion and make it look effortless.

Photo: by Pamela A. Keene