By Pamela A. Keene | Photography by Laura Ogg and Bowen Haley
Ground covers may be a great landscape problem solver.
Ground cover plants take their work laying down. Whether they’re providing finishing touches on a landscape design or minimizing erosion, these low-growing wonders are versatile hard workers that can add interest to a home landscape.
“Many of our clients like to use ground covers to help remedy a bare spot in their gardens or to control erosion,” says Scott Haley, a former eighth-grade teacher who with his wife, Beth, owns Southern Roots Nursery and Garden Center in Hernando, Mississippi. “We like to install ground covers to add bloom power in flower beds or to address hard-to-grow places in the lawn. No matter what the reason, ground covers can add another dimension to your home landscape.”
The couple opened Southern Roots in 2014.
“In addition to teaching, Scott had started a lawn care business, and I was home-schooling our three young children,” says Beth. “As we became more involved in the garden business, it naturally followed that we would open a retail nursery and garden center.”
Over the past seven years, the Haleys have grown Southern Roots Nursery and Garden Center to offer a wide range of plants like native trees and shrubs, annuals, and perennials. The couple has also built a successful landscape design and installation business.
“It’s important that we ask lots of questions when we have a new design client to find out their objectives, their preferences, and particular challenges,” says Scott. “Part of that process is determining whether they want something low-maintenance or like to spend time in the landscape by doing ongoing work themselves. Some people would rather just enjoy their spaces; others relish immersing themselves in gardening. These considerations definitely factor into plant selection.”
Certain ground-cover plants can be invasive and may need to be kept at bay, such as English Ivy, Asiatic jasmine, or vinca minor.
“While these may be easier to establish in a shorter time, they often require frequent cutting back to avoid taking over,” he says. “A low-maintenance ground cover such as creeping sedum or ajuga may be a better choice.”
Consider whether the area is sunny, partially shaded or full shade and whether the soil is naturally dry or more evenly moist or wet.
“Creeping Jenny, with its coin-shaped leaves, can do well in a variety of applications,” says Beth. “Planted in the sun, the foliage turns bright lime green, but in shady places it is a darker green. It’s one of the most popular ground covers we carry. Because of its trailing habit, we often use it in containers. It’s a perfect spiller to complement the thriller and the filler.”
Areas with high foot traffic may do well with a combination of stepping stones or pavers and a ground cover planted between.
“Evergreen mondo grass that does well in sun or shade is durable and low-growing,” she says. “It slowly spreads to fill in areas and can handle a wide range of growing conditions. It’s especially pretty when planted along pathways or around brick patios.”
Creeping thyme, a low-growing relative of the popular herb, not only blooms in pink, white or purple, it also provides an enticing aroma when walked on.
“Creeping thyme is better in lower-traffic areas, but it can handle some foot traffic,” says Beth. “When stepped on, the plants’ mint-like scent adds another dimension to your landscape.”
The perennial creeping phlox, also known as thrift, creates a colorful carpet of blossoms in the late spring. With five-petal blooms available from white to shades of pink, blue, and purple, its foliage dies back in the winter and slowly spreads into a larger area the next year.
Scott says he sometimes recommends other species of plants to perform the role of groundcovers, filling an area with a mass of foliage.
“Self-propagating plants like daylilies, lamb’s ear, or hostas can add textural or color interest in defined areas,” he says. “Although not considered conventional ground covers, they can grow into their space and help keep weeds down.
He suggests installing physical barriers to confine Bermuda grass in the lawn area and/or to manage other ground covers that may be aggressive
“Bermuda is our most popular lawn grass in much of the South, but it can become invasive if not kept in check,” he says. “Its long tendrils can be persistent, spreading into flower beds and other areas at will.”
Metal or plastic pieces can be partially buried in the ground to block the growth, but consider creating a barrier with natural materials, such as fieldstone or other rock to define the space.
“Ground covers can add layers and texture to your landscape and increase the visual appeal of your property,” says Beth. “Although it’s not always a priority for home gardeners, installing ground covers can be a nice addition, as well as a way to address erosion, weed control, and trouble areas. Natural plant materials can do hard work and make it look effortless.”