Some of the benefits of ground covers include moisture retention, weed prevention, and soil erosion control. Ground covers can be as simple as mulch and gravel, although the look is usually too stark for most situations. Plant materials offer the same benefits but add beauty and interest with their variety of heights, colors and blooming seasons. Combining mulch, rock and plant materials can give a homeowner the perfect blend of easy maintenance and pleasing landscape.
Ground covers can replace grass in many situations, reducing maintenance and watering expense in dry climate zones. If your area is shaded, sloping, or difficult to water, consider using mulch products and break up the expanse with plants that will spread. Use low-growers near walkways or the front of a house and plant taller varieties near boundary lines or to screen unwanted views.
Ground covers are also useful under large trees where grass is sparse or where roots protrude from the ground. A thick layer of mulch will beautify the area and is maintenance free. If you want a greener look, use sweet woodruff or vinca vine and accent with hostas or other shade-lovers. Remember to water during dry periods.
If you have a hot sunny area, especially south or west-facing, use tough groundcovers such as sedums, creeping veronica, creeping potentilla, or diascia and contrast creeping varieties with upright perennials such as lavender or taller veronicas. Adding mulch between plants will create a natural landscape, conserve moisture for plants, reduce weeds, and lessen overall maintenance.
Avoid planting larger plants or shrubs too close to each other or to a house, fence or lot line. Pay attention to the mature height and spread stated on plant labels. For example, a large shrub with a spread of 8 feet should be planted no closer than 4 feet from the house or lot line. Consider maintenance issues such as painting, window cleaning, or fence replacement that the shrub would affect and give it enough space to develop its natural shape without harsh pruning.
Consider using upright rocks as an interest feature in your groundcover landscape. Dig them in slightly to make them look natural and to secure them solidly. Step on the rock to be sure it won't slip or tip. Let plant materials flow around the rock to create a natural look. Rocks are also great ways to control soil erosion, so group them and dig them deeply into slopes. They help break up the water flow, especially when combined with plant materials. On slopes, the more plant materials cover the ground, the better, as they not only hold the soil with their roots, they minimize the impact of heavy rains and keep runoff to a minimum.
Mulch such as shredded bark is a natural and useful product for weed prevention and moisture retention in flat areas. Rock products can also be used, but remember that they will absorb and reflect back heat in sunny areas. With any mulch, an underlayment of plastic or landscape fabric will also aid weed control. This underlayment is best used where it will remain undisturbed. Cutting through the underlayment to add plants diminishes its weed control effectiveness.