Last updated on April 28th, 2012
Ground covers are indispensible in the garden; they give even a newly planted place a decidedly old, romantic appearance, and you can use them to beautify difficult spots where grass won’t grow. My favorite kinds are not rare or unusual, but tried-and-true: the upright, multi-leaved Pachysandra terminalis, the creeping, spring-blooming, blue or white Vinca minor, and the trailing or climbing Parthenocissus tricuspidata, commonly known as “Boston ivy.” These three, given plenty of care immediately after planting, never fail to form a thick, weed-proof (or nearly weed-proof) cloak of green in a single season.
Pachysandra. This 8-to12-inch plant will thrive under the most untoward conditions and in the poorest soil; it just fills out faster in good soil. It prefers dappled shade, but I’ve had success growing it in full sun. I pull up big sections from a neighbor’s old planting, cut roots back for easy handling, and just stick clumps or even clusters of unrooted pieces in newly loosened soil. Eight inches apart for single plants is about right, and such plantings begin to fill out by the end of summer. Next, a thick, 2-to 3-inch mulch is definitely needed, in order to keep down weeds until the bed is fully established. I use shredded leaves because I have them; shredded, composted wood chips or salt hay substitute are just as good. Unfailing attention to watering is absolutely essential for new plantings. If pachysandra dries out before it is established, it will wilt, not root, and you’ll have to replant with fresh pieces. Pachysandra grows between the boxwood and yew hedges in my rose garden; proof that it will tolerate long hours of sun, if provided ample moisture. I fertilize my pachysandra beds just as I do the boxwoods and yews: with Miracid.
Vinca minor (“Periwinkle,” “Myrtle”). The central terrace in my Serpentine Garden is “myrtlized,” as are two semi-circular lily beds on the north side of the potting shed. I love the blue flowers that appear from late-April through late-May. Vinca minor spreads even faster than pachysandra, and although lilies, tulips, and other bulbs can freely penetrate its dense green mat, few weeds can. My beagle, Lily, enjoys this verdant ground cover too; I’ve more than once found her napping in it. Vinca is slightly more tolerant of sun than pachysandra.
If you already have vinca on your property, you can transplant clumps about 15 inches apart. If you must buy plants, set the little sections fairly close, at about 8-inch intervals. For a good start in an area of heavy roots and poor soil, dig adequate holes for each and fill in with good soil or compost. A 3-to-4-inch mulch will keep down weeds until growth becomes rampant. Plants competing with tree roots in shade need a great deal of food (I use Miracid) and water.
Boston Ivy, my third favorite, actually likes full sun. It wants to climb, but lacking support, it will trail and spread. I have mine planted at the base of a stone wall, with the intention of having it climb and then spread over the first terrace in the Serpentine Garden. For the fastest coverage, set rooted cuttings about 15 inches apart, and keep them moist during summer. Mercifully, Boston ivy is not fussy about soil.
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Home Page (daily gardening tips)
How To Find Free Mulch
Are Roses Really Worth The Effort?
Evergreens for Privacy Screens
Pachysandra: Exploding The “Shade-Only” Myth
Groundcovers in the House