By Tom Yoder
One of the more frequent requests from my readers is about ground covers.
It usually goes something like this: I have this spot (usually under a tree) that I can’t seem to grow grass. What do you recommend? This area might also be a tough area that seems to grow weeds, but is hard to grow anything that would please the eye. Ground covers are important because they provide stabilization of the soil and shade the roots of the tree to improve its performance.
Areas under and around trees can be troublesome and there is a good reason for that. The roots of the tree rob the soil of moisture and nutrients necessary to grow anything. Not only the moisture/nutrient problem, but the shade under a full-grown tree doesn’t allow enough sunshine to grow most of the flowers and plants we would like to have there.
This is where a ground cover can play an important role in solving a problematic area. While they all won’t perform with perfection, there are numerous ones that will thrive in difficult conditions. Some will do well in either shade or sun, so a little research may be necessary.
Most homeowners are familiar with traditional green ground covers such as myrtle, pachysandra, English ivy, Boston ivy, euonymus, Virginia creeper, ferns, wild ginger and wild strawberries, but there are other flowering varieties that will do well under these adverse or less-than-perfect growing areas.
Sweet woodruff is a flowering ground cover I usually recommend because, once established, it is not only tough, but has beautiful white flowers and spreads rapidly. Creeping thyme (numerous varieties) are yet another, ajuga (bugleweed), are varieties that I utilized in my shaded tree line or under tree canopies.
I was always looking for groundcovers to help me alleviate the time-consuming job of weeding, even in sunny locations. Plenty of mulch and various ground covers helped me achieve this.
A recent call from a friend who lives east of Goshen alerted me to a patch of a pretty and prolific ground cover under one of her trees. The bed was in full bloom and she thought I’d be interested in seeing it. Always excited about anything unusual, I grabbed my camera and made a short trip to her home.
My excitement was not in vain. There stood a beautiful and perfect bed of lamium under a large tree. It was in full bloom and not only was there the more common varieties of pink and purple blossoms one would normally see, but a third of the bed was the white Nancy album lamium, commonly called white dead nettle.
This gardener is no stranger to all forms of gardening and horticulture because she was a regular at the garden center I managed and a frequent participant at the 4-H competitions showing off her expertise. She practices raising some of the more unusual things in her vegetable garden, one of which is deer-tongue lettuce, both the green and the red varieties, that is absolutely gorgeous. I believe it is an heirloom variety and rather hard to find, so she saves shoots that re-seed from the previous year so that she always has a crop of them.