Picking out the weeds in your backyard can be exhausting. But one way to cut down on the weeds is to plant some beautiful ground covers that will take up all the space in your garden and not leave any room for the pesky weeds. You can grow some beautiful ground cover plants that will make your backyard more aesthetically appealing, or you can plant some edible ground covers like oregano or strawberries. Read more to find out how you can do away with the classic grass lawn and have a stunning backyard with gorgeous ground cover plants.
What Are Ground Cover Plants?
Ground cover plants are low-lying plants that tend to spread or creep across the ground. They are usually ornamental or edible and don’t need too much maintenance. Low-maintenance perennials, creeping shrubs, and ornamental grasses are generally used as ground covers. Ground covers are different from cover crops, which are usually living mulch used in vegetable gardens to add nutrients to the soil.
Benefits of Ground Cover Plants
Ground cover plants are typically used for landscaping and aesthetic purposes as an alternative to a grass lawn. Here are the benefits of ground covers:
- Ground covers can be used where grass doesn’t grow due to lack of sunlight. In shady backyards, you can use spreading plants.
- Ground covers provide shelter to beneficial pollinators and insects.
- Ground covers are usually low-maintenance. They don’t have to be watered, fed, or mowed, making them cost-effective. The need for minimal maintenance makes them ideal for slopes since mowing and weeding on a steep slope is difficult. Perennial creeping plants like Blue Rug Junipers and daylilies are suitable for slopes.
- Ground cover plants are used for intercropping. They are planted in the empty rows and patches in a vegetable garden. Such a pattern helps utilize every inch of the land and obtain yields from multiple crops. Non-aggressive plants or plants that attract pollinators or repel pests are often used as ground covers in such patches.
- An eclectic range of ground covers has fibrous roots that help prevent soil erosion. Such types are best suited for slopes.
- They also help diffuse heavy snowfall and rainfall before it hits the soil.
- Evergreen varieties of ground covers serve as mulch, limiting weed seed germination and providing shade to the soil.
Types of Ground Cover Plants
Ground cover plants can be of different kinds, and you can choose one that best suits your needs:
- Perennial Plants – These plants are ideal for a low-maintenance backyard. They continue to spread and provide weed cover and moisture retention. Some popular perennials are plantain lilies, Dragon’s blood, Mazus, Lamium, Moss Rose, Big Root Germanium, and Bugleweed.
- Evergreen Plants – These ground covers are green all year round and don’t require much maintenance. If you live in a place with snowy weather, these plants will help you maintain a stunning winter garden. Some evergreen plants include Bugleweed, Bearberry, Golden Creeping Jenny, and Big Root Germaniums.
- Annual Ground Cover Plants – If you are indecisive or experimental and don’t want to commit to a single ground cover for too long, you can opt for annual plants that bloom only at some point during their lifespan. Moss Rose is an excellent choice for an annual ground cover plant.
- Herbs – Ground covers like oregano, thyme, and mix are ideal for those who like to cook with fresh herbs. These plants are colorful, fragrant, edible, and some even possess medicinal qualities.
Best Ground Cover Plants
There are numerous ground cover plants, each with its benefits. You can choose mulch ground cover plants if you are looking to limit weeds or opt for colorful ground cover if you want a vibrant backyard. Here are some low-maintenance and well-known ground cover plants you can consider:
1. Lowbush Blueberries
Also known as Vaccinium angustifolium, these classic wild blueberries are ideal for partly sunny areas. They are usually found in the openings in the woods or on rocky crags. These plants grow 8-10 inches in height and are common in Zone 3 in the United States. They thrive in moist, acidic soils. These blueberries have a 2-year fruiting cycle. Their flavor is intense and is perfect for jams, sauces, and pies. These plants spread over time through underground runners.
2. Alpine Strawberries
Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are different from garden strawberries (Fragaria ananassa) because they don’t self-propagate through runners. This makes them best-suited for intercropping, i.e., planting in the empty rows or patches between vegetables. The plants are low-growing with small, fragrant, and sweet fruits, unlike the big, juicy garden strawberry. You can use them in desserts or with cereal. The plant grows upto 6 inches in height and needs sunlight and well-drained fertile soil.
Varieties of sorrels, like the True French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) and Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), are excellent choices for evergreen ground cover. True French Sorrel is an uncommon variety with low-growing, perennial leaves of a distinctive shield shape. These plants grow upto 12 inches in height but may be shorter if they grow in the shade. They remain green all year round and can be divided and replanted easily, making them suitable as ground cover for shade.
Wood Sorrel is another perennial weed that is edible and has heart-shaped leaves. The plant yields petite flowers that are yellow and have small green pods that can be eaten fresh or used as a seasoning for sauces and salads. It is also used to make wood sorrel tea. Their acidic flavor makes them taste lemony, and when mixed with hot water and honey, the wood sorrel tea is delicious and refreshing.
Oregano is a highly beneficial ground cover to have in your backyard. It is especially ideal if you don’t have a pathway and may tend to walk on the ground cover because oregano can withstand light trampling, and stepping on oregano will release its fragrance. The aromatic oils of oregano are also known for their insect-repellent qualities. The regular oregano (Origanum vulgare) is an open plant that grows upto 2 feet tall. If you are looking for a fast growing ground cover, you can get creeping oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Humile’), which quickly spreads and forms a dense mat that is upto 3 inches tall. During summers, oregano blooms small clusters of delicate flowers that are edible and can be used in salads and soups as a pretty and fragrant garnish. Oregano is drought-tolerant and can survive in shade or sunny weather. Well-draining soils are ideal for planting oregano.
If you are looking for good ground cover flowers, nasturtiums are an obvious choice. Also referred to as Tropaeoleum magus, these flowers are self-seeding annuals that grow on thin, long vines, draping the garden bed elegantly. They also have lush green leaves that look like lily pads. When the flowers bloom, they attract pollinators and are an ideal choice for intercropping with cucumbers, berries, and other crops that require wind for pollination. However, nasturtiums attract aphids as well, which can be instrumental in keeping the aphids off more valuable plants, provided that you remove the infected plants as soon as there is an infestation.
Otherwise known as Mentha spicata, spearmint is a fast-growing perennial that grows upto 3 feet tall. Its fragrance and tender leaves have a strong mint flavor, commonly used for brewing herbal tea. This plant can grow well in shady and damp areas and propagates and spreads quickly. It thrives in moist and acidic soils and is best suited for Zones 3-9 in the United States.
All ground covers have their pros and cons, and you have to choose one that best suits your needs. Depending on whether you wish to use them for their aesthetic appeal, cooking, or intercropping, you can decide which ground cover will add the most value to your backyard. While planting ground cover plants may seem expensive instead of having a grass lawn, their low-maintenance characteristics make them a cost-effective option. Apart from their beautiful appearance, they also yield more benefits for practical use, like attracting pollinators and preventing soil erosion.