Groundcovers are a tricky plant group to get right – they seem to either spread too quickly or too slowly – and so few of them are evergreen. No wonder we see the same three almost everywhere – ones that perennial expert Lisa Winters calls the Big Three – English ivy, Pachysandra, and Vinca. Yep, those are the ones!
So Lisa’s talk during our recent Perennial Affair event was titled “If not ivy, then what?” because there really ARE others that do well and would be such a nice change. Here are Lisa’s suggestions for sunny spots.
Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi) grows to just 3 or 4 inches tall and has gorgeous flowers in the purple, yellow or bronze, Because it’s a succulent, it’s super-drought-tolerant, and great in hot containers. It also blooms repeatedly throughout the season – even after frost, which is how it got its common name. Butterflies love it, and depending on how cold our winter is, it may even be evergreen.
Sedum rupestre is a very short creeping type of sedum – only 4 or 5 inches tall – that’s evergreen and tolerates poor soil and dry conditions (again, because it’s succulent). ‘Angelina’, a lovely lime green, spreads quite quickly while ‘Blue Spruce’ is much slower to fill in. Both look great spilling over a wall. These are growing in my tiny front yard as an alternative to the lawn that was once there.
Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonica) is one groundcover that tolerates sun OR shade – nice! It comes in a variety of heights, too – from as short as 2-3″ to 6-8″ for the black variety or up to a foot tall for the plain green type. Mondo grass is frequently grown in permeable driveways like the you above left at the American Horticultural Society leading up to their demonstration “Green Garage”. It can even be grown in the holes of permeable pavers and driven over by cars. Mondo grasses spread very slowly, and any winter damage can be cut back in the spring.
Daylily (Hemerocallis) – not pictured but there’s a photo of some in this earlier post – may seem too tall to be considered groundcovers, but consider using shorter varieties like ‘Stella D’Oro.’ Daylilies are quite tolerant of heat, drought and salt, so they’re happy at the beach or along roadsides. If you have deer, you’re warned that they love daylily flowers (though they spare the leaves).
Lisa snuck in one woody plant in her recommendations – the evergreen Juniperus procumbens ‘Greenmound‘. It grows to about a foot tall, spreads to about 6 feet across, and tolerates both drought AND deer. Like Mondo grass, it also tolerates shade.