Fighting weeds with goundcovers

  • Sedum Spurium. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Japanese Primroses. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Chrysogonum virginianum, better known as green-and-gold. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Pat Leuchtman Staff image/Andy Castillo

Published: 7/1/2019 2:58:27 PM

We all know that groundcovers cover the ground. If you are like me, you spend a bit of time cursing the weedy plants sneaking over our ground. I have two responses to the problem. Sometimes I weed casually, then put down paper or cardboard topped with bark mulch. Other times, I cover the ground with low growing plants that do a good job of holding weeds at bay.

Actually, there are many blooming groundcovers. I have long used foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). The flowers are airy racemes on wiry stems and will bloom for about six weeks in the spring. 

I also use barren strawberry (Waldsteinia) which is definitely not a strawberry plant. However, its shiny dark green foliage is strawberry-like as are the little yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. I’m told they can be up to eight inches high, but the dense mats of foliage in my garden never get that tall. You can use this around walkways because it can tolerate light foot traffic.

All sorts of plants can be called groundcovers. I use lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) around some of my roses. Lady’s mantle is a lusty groundcover with soft frilly light green leaves that can be 6 inches across. It can reach a height of about 12 inches with flower stalks holding chartreuse blossoms that last most of the summer. It spreads and grows thickly enough to keep out most weeds. And it is very pretty.

Tiarella, Waldsteinia and Alchemilla thrive in full sun or partial shade and spread energetically in rich soil.

Primroses (Primulla) produce their pretty flowers in the spring, but their dense foliage does not allow weeds to take hold. Primroses prefer at least some shade and a moist area. This means they are absolutely perfect for my wet garden.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) covers dry ground happily. It is very attractive in rock gardens. The silver-gray flowers on foot tall stems are thought to look like cat’s feet, but the velvety foliage is dense and flat. It is not only pretty and good for dry sunny areas, it is poisonous to deer and rabbits. And they know it and avoid it.

Epimediums (sometimes called bishop’s hat) are wonderful groundcovers. They have green and reddish foliage on wiry stems and reach a height of 8 to 12 inches. The appeal is their dense growth and the miniature flowers that come in an array of colors and forms in the spring. They welcome sun and shade and prefer a moist site with rich soil. Given good soil, they will spread nicely. They should be cut back in the fall. We are fortunate to have a wonderful epimedium nursery in Phillipston (bit.ly/2KIqeXL), which offers hundreds of beautiful varieties.

Chrysogonum virginianum, much better known as green-and-gold, is new to me. The name is self-descriptive. There are low green leaves with golden flowers in the spring. They prefer some shade and moisture. Not a problem in Greenfield these last months. I became acquainted with this lovely little plant when it was included in the meadow garden plantings at the John Zon Community Center. It is beautiful right now.

I never thought of Coral bells (Heucheras) as groundcovers because of their height. The foliage is often about 10 inches high, but the flower stalks can be 2 feet high. Each clump will gain in width, but they do not spread by runners. Groupings of several plants do serve well as groundcovers.

Violets are always found in lists of groundcovers. Many call them weeds, but there are certainly areas in many gardens where it is easy to give up the fight and let the violets have their way, with strict limits, of course. Violets grow densely and keep out other weeds. In addition violets are the only food to nourish frittilary butterfly larvae.

The list of blooming groundcovers is long and includes familiar lamb’s ears, ajuga, , mazus, creeping baby’s breath, hostas, fringed bleeding heart, wintergreen and partridgeberry. 

Obviously, groundcovers come in many forms including shrubs and vines, which I will not touch on today. However, I’d like to mention the family of sedums, or stonecrops. I have some edging areas where I have grown sedums. Unfortunately, I have lost their names, if I ever knew them

Many of us are familiar with low growing hen-and-chicks and the taller, more substantial Autumn Joy that blooms in the fall. Those are common sedums but there are countless unique sedums available in nurseries.  Of course, we often have neighbors who are willing to share their ever increasing  sedums. Or we can  buy them at plant sales.

In my own garden I have several sedum varieties, including two low creeping sedums.

Sedum reflexum has bright golden needle-like leaves and outshines any other sedum in its brilliance. It grows vigorously and the color is an eye-stopper.

 Sedum spurium is comprised of creeping succulent florets. My nameless variety is green with too much of red, but the Dragon’s Blood variety turns rich shades of red in the summer and is popular because of its dramatic presence.

Do you curse the weeds? You might want to add some groundcovers to your plantings.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: commonweeder.com.


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