Groundcovers

A groundcover can be any plant or group of plants that is low-growing and aggressive enough to compete strongly with nearby plants. They can be carpet-like, growing only a few inches high and a few feet wide, or they can be large shrubs that grow only knee-high but spread several feet wide.

What kind of groundcover should i choose?

There are groundcovers that prefer deep shade and others that grow best in full sun, and many that grow in dappled shade.

Grasses grown as lawns are the groundcover most resistant to foot traffic, but even lawns wear thin in soil compacted from frequent heavy use. Lawns are also a very high-water-use groundcover compared with the plants described in the plant list as even the Medium+ groundcovers can be drip irrigated. The aggressive nature of the plants themselves, as well as the strategy of limiting watering to points at soil level where the roots can make good use of it, and mulching deeply to further reduce evaporation has the net result of minimizing weed invasion and reducing maintenance time.

For best results match the spread indicated in the plant list with the size of space you want to cover. The smallest mat-forming plants work well between stepping stones where the paving buffers foot traffic and collects extra moisture for the groundcover. Shade-loving groundcovers are perfect for replacing lawns under mature trees and shrubby groundcovers with the greatest spread are a great way to reduce watering and eliminate mowing in large open areas.

Prairie Zinnia, Zinnia grandiflora

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 4”X 6”
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Yellow

This diminutive wildflower thrives in some of the most inhospitable terrain imaginable. This plant can be a challenge to get  established,  but it will delight you with its bright yellow flowers in late summer. Prairie Zinnia is long lived and spreads slowly by rhizomes. This plant has interesting needle like foliage on trailing stems. It won’t green up until early summer arrives, so be patient. Once it starts to bloom it’s colorful through summer and early autumn.

Wooly Speedwell, Veronica pectinata

Full Sun, Part Shade
Medium Water

Mature Size: 3”X 18”
Blooming Season: Early Spring
Flower Color: Blue

Speedwell is unique because of its dense growing wooly gray green foliage. The 4-inch-tall spikes of deep blue flowers with a white eye appear in early spring usually a few weeks before Veronica liwanensis. A good rebloomer in late summer when given encouragement with a bit of extra water. A very vigorous, long bloomer when planted into good garden soils enriched with compost.

Verbena, Verbena peruviana

Full Sun
Medium Water

Mature Size: 9”X 18”
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Lavender to Red

Verbena is a vigorous spreading ground cover. Extensive trials across the U. S. have proven its value as a heat-loving, profuse- blooming favorite. The large bright lavender-purple flower clusters keep coming all summer. Let it go dry as fall comes to a close to harden off for winter. Makes a colorful foundation for taller growing perennials like Achillea “Moonshine” and Coreopsis “Sunray.”

Prostrate Sumac, Rhus trilobata ‘autumn amber’

Full Sun
Low Water

Mature Size: 2’X 6’+
Blooming Season: Early spring
Flower Color: Yellow

‘Autumn Amber’ is a low-spreading form of Threeleaf Sumac with a similarly clean appearance and equally tough disposition. Covered with tiny honey-scented flowers in spring, crisp green leaves turning rusty gold in autumn and smooth purplish stems in winter, a few plants can replace a front lawn using a fraction of the water and none of the mowing time.

Pawnee Buttes® Sand Cherry, Prunus besseyi

Full Sun
Medium Water

Mature Size: 2’X 6’
Blooming Season: Spring
Flower Color: White

This low spreading form of Sand Cherry is as rugged as it is handsome. Sprays of fragrant white flowers in spring, succulent fruit for wildlife and glossy green leaves that turn deep mahogany red before they drop in autumn give Pawnee Buttes® appeal year-round with only deep monthly watering once plants are well-established.

Giant or Wild Four o’clock, Mirabilis multiflora

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 2’X 5’
Blooming Season: Spring to autumn
Flower Color: Rose pink

As soon as the soil warms up in spring,  the strong new shoots of Giant Four O’clock emerge and, within a few weeks’ time, the first magenta blooms appear. Like clockwork, every afternoon a new flush of flowers open from May until October, making this a colorful companion for evergreens and small trees such as Vitex. After frost, the stems detach from the starchy roots making cleanup quick and easy.

Roundleaf Horehound, Marrubium rotundifolium

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 10”X 24”
Blooming Season: Spring
Flower Color: White

Its soft silver-green foliage and its preference for dry shade earn Roundleaf Horehound a special place in the garden. Not as aggressive as its weedy cousin, Common Horehound, or the much-used Wooly Lamb’s Ears, it is much more attractive in winter and fills an important niche as living mulch under trees and large shrubs and as contrast for spring bulbs and shade-loving ornamental grasses.

Creeping Mahonia, Mahonia repens

 Full Shade
Medium Water

Mature Size: 1’X 2’
Blooming Season: Spring
Flower Color: Yellow

The shade of a tree or large shrub along the north side of a courtyard wall with the runoff from a nearby downspout is the ideal setting for this high elevation evergreen groundcover. Given the right spot, your reward will be year-round yellow flowers among the bright green leaves in spring, deep blue-green leaf color turning red-purple in cold weather. In larger spaces where a bit more height is needed, the closely related Compact Mahonia is another option.

Hardy Purple Iceplant, Delosperma cooperi

Full Sun
Low Water

Mature Size: 6”X 18”
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Purple-Pink

Purple Iceplant is another fine South African introduction, valued for its shimmering fuchsia-purple daisies that keep coming all summer. A vigorous spreader, it forms a dense mat of succulent, linear green leaves in any well-drained soil. Stop watering in mid-fall to harden for winter. This plant has become a staple in xeric gardens. Right at home where planted to spread on top of gravel mulch; it helps to cool down these hot areas.

Hardy Plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Full Sun, Part Shade
Medium Water

Mature Size: 12”X 24”
Blooming Season: Early Fall
Flower Color: Blue

An outstanding, long-lived groundcover that slowly weaves itself into the garden, creating large drifts of fall color. The deep blue flowers, which begin as the weather begins to cool and days grow shorter, are numerous and long lasting. As the plant’s flowering finishes, its leaves begin a month-long change to a vivid mahogany-red color. Plumbago is extremely adaptable, growing equally well in sun or shade, and thriving in a wide range of soil types.

Yerba Mansa, Anemopsis californica

Full Sun, Part Shade
Medium Water

Mature Size: 1’X 3’+
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: White

Widely regarded as a medicinal plant, and often found in the bosque as the wild groundcover under Cottonwoods, the landscape value of Yerba Mansa is finally being recognized. Its white coneflowers stand a foot above a dense carpet of large thick leaves that are deep green during the growing season, turning red and then a rich rusty brown through winter.

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P.O. Box 568
Albuquerque, NM 87103-0568

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505-842-WATR  Option 4

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P.O. Box 568
Albuquerque, NM 87103-0568
505-842-WATR