Master Gardener: Ground covers
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Ground covers — low growing plants that spread easily — are a great addition to Routt County gardens. When properly selected and planted, they provide visual interest in hard-to-grow areas, inhibit weeds and reduce water needs by shading the underlying soil. Like all plants, they have specific needs in terms of sun, water and soil, and thrive when grown in appropriate areas.
In my yard, at 7,000 feet on a small lot in an established neighborhood, ground covers fill shady areas where little else grows. My experience with a variety of these plants has been mixed since I am working to mimic nature — think of a yard that is poorly irrigated and unstructured — and shade is taking over sunny areas as the trees continue to grow.
Ground covers I found too aggressive include the following:
- Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans): Planted without a barrier by a former homeowner, this little plant appears to be outcompeting the grass in spite of my efforts to stop it.
- Creeping potentilla (Potentilla neumanniana): This plant spread quickly and comingled with other plants in a weed-like fashion.
- Snow on the mountain (Aegopodium podagraria): A shade-loving plant, it was not properly contained in my yard and wilted unattractively when it spread into sunnier areas.
These plants tolerate both sun and shade and are thriving in various places in my yard:
- Creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens): A native growing along popular trails, this plant’s holly-shaped leaves turn various shades of red. Early bright yellow flowers are followed by blue berries. It is growing beside and under shrubs.
- Common periwinkle (Vinca minor): Shiny green leaves appear as the snow melts, followed by small purple flowers. Occasional watering prevents wilting where it is growing in sunnier areas.
- Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens): This early-blooming plant grows unchecked in a neglected area, producing early white blooms and summer-long green and somewhat woody foliage.
- Dragons Blood sedum (Sedum spurium “Dragon’s Blood”): With green succulent leaves and a late-blooming flower, this plant has spread beautifully between rocks and into bare spots.
- Pussytoes (Antennaria dioica): This native plant is mat forming and produces tiny pink flowers in spring. The foliage is a distinctive silver-blue color.
Colorado State University Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the CSU Extension office at 970-879-0825 and ask to leave a message for the Master Gardeners. Thursday morning office hours and scheduled site visits are currently suspended.
For more suggestions and details about these low maintenance plants, see Colorado State University Extension’s Fact Sheet 7.413: “Ground Covers and Rock Garden Plants for Mountain Communities” at https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/garden/07413.pdf.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.
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