Ground covers help fill in difficult areas with green in the garden

Have a trouble spot in the garden? Whether you want to plant a flower bed border or replace dying grass under your shady trees, ground cover might be the answer.

Spreading plants that fully cover soil surface, ground covers serve a variety of functions in the garden. From filling bare areas to offering options for grass removal or softening hardscapes, they offer a water-wise and drought-tolerant option. They also help control weed growth and prevent erosion.

Growing up to 4 inches tall, you can choose from evergreen or deciduous varieties, both flowering and nonflowering, in a wide variety of shapes and colors. Dense, lower ground covers are well-suited to areas between flagstones or pavers where they can handle foot (and paw) traffic and soften hardscape.

Creative use of ground cover can act as a transitional design element — an understory to taller perennials, shrubs and trees, providing contrast and horizontal interest. It often serves as the first layer in a planting bed, followed by additional layers of plants in increasing heights.

Before you begin planting, weed and turn the soil, adding more if necessary. You’ll want to keep a close eye on the plants if you begin your project at this time, or you can wait until the weather cools in the fall, when planting creates far less stress on plants.

Plant light needs vary. Be sure you understand terms on plant tags before choosing a ground cover. Find out how much sun or shade you have in the area you want to cover. The general guidelines are:

  • Full sun, six to eight hours
  • Partial sun, four to six hours
  • Partial shade, two to four hours
  • Dappled sun or shade, three to four hours of inconsistent light
  • Full shade, less than three hours

However, unique gardening characteristics challenge us in Central Texas. When a plant tag indicates full sun, or Zone 8, a label might not cover the intensity of our sun in the afternoon’s most extreme temperatures. Make sure you know whether your plant wants early-morning sun or midafternoon sun.

Providing solutions in shade

Trees bring us shade and protection from the blazing summer sun. When they grow to maturity, the full shade under their canopy often makes it difficult for turf to survive. Shade from walls and fences also block the sun. Some turfs tolerate more shade than others, but in the deepest shade they can’t survive, leaving bare soil.

Shade-loving ground covers can replace bare spots with a pretty palette of green. Try these:

  • Confederate or star jasmine (sun or shade)
  • English ivy (can be aggressive)
  • Horse herb
  • Algerian ivy
  • Plum yew
  • Ajuga
  • Texas sedge
  • Cedar sedge (part shade)
  • Texas frog fruit (full sun or part shade)
  • Liriope
  • Mondgrass
  • Lyre leaf sage

Sunny ground covers add interest and depth to beds

Many ground covers are drought tolerant and water wise, adding a tough carpet of color in dry, sunny beds. Try these:

  • Drought tolerant evergreen perennial
  • Purple trailing lantana
  • Verbena
  • Creeping germander
  • Pink skullcap
  • Santolina
  • Wedelia
  • Silver ponyfoot
  • Gregg’s mistflower
  • Lamb’s ear
  • Sedum (sun or part shade)
  • Silver mound artemisia

Determine which of these options is best suited to cover your area. Some ground covers spread quickly and fill large areas easily. Others take their time and seem better suited to small spaces.

Research your plant options and consult with local independent nursery staff for additional recommendations and tips.

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