Cover it up with groundcover

Photo by Ce Cowart SchlicherAjuga as a groundcover in the Walker County Demonstration Gardens. 

Not every spot in our yards can be covered in turfgrass. You may have deep shade, or lots of tree roots, or a hot and dry spot or a very steep slope. You may have a spot that you can’t get to with irrigation or isn’t safe to drag a hose to it for water. In such cases as these, groundcovers can be very useful.

First, let’s note that any groundcover can get out of hand if it finds the perfect spot. The English ivy in my yard has kidnapped a section of my backyard, and I’m finding it very difficult to remove it. So keep an eye on your groundcover. They often take a mile when given an inch.

Some of the tamer groundcovers that I have seen work are Ajuga or bugle weed. There’s a nice, tidy patch of it up under the deep shade of the Cypress trees at the Walker County Demonstration Gardens. It receives little or no irrigation and does well under the trees. There are other shrubs and groundcovers as well in this section, and it hasn’t tried to take over. It naturalizes easily, spreading by stolons, or horizontal stems that creep along the ground, you'll want to think about where you plant it. This member of the mint family spreads fast and can become invasive. Avoid planting too close to flower beds, lawns, or other areas where you'd have to keep removing it.

Ajuga is tough and can work as a soil erosion plant. Ajuga reptans is a perennial that is typically hardy in zones 3 to 9. Try companion plants like coral bells, ferns, daffodils, violas, hardy geraniums and other woodland plants. It has a pretty blue flower, and is generally not eaten by rabbits and deer.

Another common plant used in shade in this area as a groundcover is Liriope. The four species of Liriope (commonly called lilyturf or monkey grass), all Asian natives, are evergreen perennials that spread to form deep carpets of grasslike leaves. Liriope muscari is the common one we see. It works from full shade to full sun (provided it isn’t scalded by a hot, West face for a prolonged period). It is another one that flowers a blue spike. It also can be aggressive. Be sure and cut it rather short in the early spring. It can stand periods of drought, but prefers medium water requirements.

Dutchman’s pipevine is a choice of mine. It does well in the spring and fall, but the extreme heat of summer and frosty winters, it tends to die back. It has a special place in my heart because it is the host plant (i.e. a caterpillar buffet) of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. It regularly gets decimated by 50 or more caterpillars in late spring in the Butterfly House at the Demonstration Gardens. But it springs back in September to provide another patch for these future butterflies. It has a flower (often hidden) that looks like a pipe. It does require watering during drought.

For the sun, Lamb’s ear (which a lot of people think is the herb sage, but it isn’t) does really well in our county. It is drought tolerant since it is native to the Middle East. It is a very hardy and strong-growing perennial, with thick white or silver-white, wooly foliage. It is valued as a dense, low growing, spreading bedding plant or groundcover in the landscape. It can reach up to one foot tall, and it doesn’t like to be crowded, so plant each plant at least one foot apart. It has to have a well-drained soil and will not tolerate being waterlogged, so a low, swampy place will not work for it. It also produces a nice blue flower spike. So to keep it in check, deadhead the flowers to keep the seed from spreading.

A new favorite of mine is the native, Texas Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). This funny little plant can be used as an excellent groundcover, and is evergreen in warm years. It is also evergreen in areas protected from frost. It spreads vigorously. Frogfruit generally is a good nectar plant for butterflies. It is a host plant for the Phaon Crescent, White Peacock, and Common Buckeye butterflies.

It is an attractive plant rambling over boulders or the edges of hanging baskets. It also can tolerate drought and flooding. It blooms a very tiny white flower on the tip of a brown corncob-looking spikes. Take care and Do Not Mow when it is flowering as it may take years to recover. Like the Dutchman’s pipevine, it may go dormant in the winter. So have patience, it will be back. Deer will eat the green leaves, but it is tough and bounces back once it finds a home.

There are many other groundcovers such as: heartleaf or trailing Ice plant, Aztec grass, Asian jasmine, Bicolor sage (a salvia), Greg dalea (a native), and wall Germander. For more information on groundcovers, contact the Walker County Master Gardeners at 936-435-2426. Master Gardeners are typically “in” on Thursday mornings at the Walker County AgriLife office.

The Walker County Extension Office is also on Facebook. WalkerCoTxAgrilife has been established to provide updates and information to Walker County residents and landowners on a timely basis. The Walker County Master Gardeners are also on Facebook! Check out both of these Facebook pages and hit "like" to join.

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