One way to reduce landscape maintenance costs is to plant ground covers, especially in problem areas. Ground covers do not require weekly mowing, although some benefit by occasional trimming. Ground covers are especially good in shady areas where grass does not receive enough light to grow thickly. Ground covers can be planted on sloping areas, poorly drained areas, and areas that are hard to reach with a lawn mower.
Ground covers do require some effort until they become established to avoid weed infestation. Ground cover plants are more expensive when compared to the cost of establishing a new lawn. However, the long term maintenance costs greatly outweigh the initial cost of establishment.
My favorite ground cover for hot, dry areas is Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum). It is great for slopes and full sun areas. Once established, it is tough as nails and resistant to weed invasion. It has silvery gray foliage reaching as high as 4 to 5 inches. Its prolific white flowers make it look like a snow bank in June. Snow-in-Summer does not grow well in wet areas.
Bearberry Kinnikinnich (Artostaphylos uv- ursi) is a native evergreen ground cover which is very drought tolerant once established. It grows less than 6 inches tall and has small, light pink flowers in early spring.
Another tough ground cover which will grow in shade to full sun is Sweet Woodruff (Gallium odoratum). It grows about 3 to 4 inches high and produces a mass of tiny white flowers in the spring. It is tolerant of a wide range of soils and moisture levels.
My favorite for shady or morning sun areas is Lamium (Lamium maculatum). The variegated silver and green leaves are very attractive. Varieties with white, pink, and crimson flowers are available. My favorite variety is ‘Pink Pewter’. Lamium produces flowers from spring through fall.
Carpet Bugle (Ajuga reptans) is an excellent choice for shady areas (it also does reasonably well in sunny areas). The most popular varieties have bronzy leaves, although there are green and tricolor leaf varieties. Small, blue spike flowers are produced in the spring. Typical height is 3 to 5 inches, although there are some new large leaf cultivars which are taller and have larger flowers.
Stonecrop (Sedum) can be grown in sun or shade. There are a variety of leaf types and flower colors available. They are popular for rock gardens and will grow on very poor soil. Golden Carpet (Sedum acre), often referred to as Utah Sedum, is the most shade tolerant. It has golden yellow flowers in June.
Creeping Potentilla (Potentilla verna) is one of our natives which grows in sun to moderate shade. It grows close to the ground and produces yellow flowers.
One of my favorites for sun or partial shade is Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ which grows about 6 inches tall and has blue flowers. Rock Cress (Arabis and Aubrieta), Gold Alyssum (Aurinia), Moss Phlox, Creeping Mahonia, and Vinca are other good ground covers. Local full service nurseries can provide even more choices.
Grasses and perennial weeds such as bind weed, white top, and Canada thistle should be controlled before you plant ground cover. You can greatly reduce weeds while establishing ground covers by applying weed preventers containing trifluralin (Preen and other brands). For organic gardeners, corn gluten will also suppress weed growth.