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Henry Clay, Horticulturist

Ground cover serves several purposes

    Ground covers can have a tremendous impact on the landscape both functionally and aesthetically.      
    Functionally, they can be a big factor in controlling erosion on banks and stabilizing soil in sloping areas.  Even in beach situations, certain types of ground covers can stabilize shifting or blowing sand areas.  An often overlooked but viable use of ground covers is that they reduce maintenance for the homeowner.  Considering that some areas need mowing about 25 – 30 times a season, substantial savings result with ground cover areas requiring only periodic care.  These low growing plants are also excellent substitutes in areas requiring plant material but too narrow or restrictive for shrubs.
    Ground covers are equally important aesthetically, for it’s here that they satisfy the need for unity and beauty in the landscape.  They are often used for the texture of the foliage creating a textural balance with other plant material.  Some ground covers produce flowers that add a colorful dimension to plantings.  Unifying and tying shrubbery planting together is still another function leading to a unified planting which is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
    The most challenging sites for ground covers are those exposed to full sun, especially if irrigation is lacking.  Junipers are often chosen as ground cover plants for these areas.  Several junipers are recommended including Parsoni, Shore, Sargent, San Jose, Blue Rug and Dwarf Jap Garden.  The height of these junipers differ, ranging from very low up to 24 – 30 inches in height.  The size of an area in addition to the site characteristic often influences choice of junipers.
    Asiatic jasmine, a relatively new ground cover is becoming increasingly more popular as it becomes better known.  It is adaptable to shade and sun.  It is a viny-type  plant with small leaves forming a thick carpet 6-8 inches high.
    From Macon southward, Algerian ivy is commonly used as a ground cover under shaded conditions.  It is often planted under live oaks in the coastal areas where available light and dry conditions limit the use of lawn grasses.  While English ivy will grow in south Georgia, it seems to do somewhat better in the piedmont area of the state.
    Shaded situations offer some unique possibilities for the use of certain ground covers.  Considerations such as texture, flowering capacity, height, and available soil moisture influence the choice of shade tolerant plants.  Some interesting choices in this category of plants include Ajuga, Lirope, Mondograss, Ferns, Heleborous, Dwarf Nandinas, Hosta, Aspidistra, and various types of Ivy.  
    A recent trend in commercial landscape design is the use of daylilies as a ground cover.  In combination with adequate mulching and under irrigation, daylilies are not only colorful but effective for this use.  Progressive landscapes are choosing repeat blooming varieties and providing adequate maintenance (irrigation and fertilization) to obtain added flowering and longer seasonal interest.  Why emphasize ground covers at this season of the year when landscapes are entering a dormant and less appealing period?  Primarily, it is an excellent time to plant them leading to earlier establishment and accelerated spring growth.  However, before deciding on the feasibility of a ground cover or the proper one, it is advisable to do a bit of research into the matter rather than arbitrarily selecting one.
    A very handy reference on ground covers is Ortho’s All About Ground Covers.  Numerous plants are pictured and described as well as illustrations on their use.  Helpful hints are also provided on the various cultural aspects.  The publication is available at many garden outlets.  Book stores should also be able to order this Ortho publication for you.

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