Groundcovers: A Living Mulch

Posted September 19, 2019 in Landscape Maintenance

Many gardeners are frustrated with mulch washing away in heavy rains or the tedious task of replenishing it every spring, so we would like to bring forth the suggestion of using groundcovers as living mulch! Groundcovers stay in place and help secure the soil, ultimately preventing erosion around the house and steep slopes. Let’s take a look at how groundcovers can be used in different scenarios to provide a low-maintenance alternative.

We often use groundcovers in our landscape design plans for several reasons. Usually, it’s the color and texture they give in the garden to finish off a spot under a shrub or a low growing ornamental tree or for homeowners who wish to eliminate the square footage of mulch year by year. Groundcovers are hardy and spread in hard to reach areas like steep slopes or in otherwise inhabitable shady spots. Groundcovers are similar to other plants and can tolerate several unfavorable conditions, even traffic! Some will grow where grass won’t so it makes a soft green carpet that is beautifully low-maintenance. Groundcovers used as a living mulch can also be a weed deterrent. Groundcovers typically hug the ground and shade weed seeds to inhibit germination, making them ideal in the garden.

Drought Tolerant Groundcover

‘Angelina’ sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) hugs the ground at 4 inches tall but spreads 2 feet wide, making it an excellent choice around rock gardens or in areas for xeriscaping. It is a colorful plant showing off a bright, stand-out chartreuse green in the summer, but when cooler temperatures hit, it’s small needle-like foliage tints to an orange and red turning into a sheer winter winner!. This delightful softscape can be planted in crevices of a boulder wall or any place with shaded nooks and crannies for that matter! As a sweet-sighted bonus, this groundcover produces yellow, star-shaped flowers to make it even more delightful! For best results, plant in well-draining, fertile soil and full sun.

Lawn Substitution Groundcovers

Select Elfin Thyme (Thymus serpyllum Elfin) as a lawn replacement where grass won’t grow. This beautiful and functional groundcover offers a gorgeous layer of pink-lavender blooms accented with grayish-green foliage. You can also get triple time out of this planting by using it between stepping stones, between crevices or on dry slopes. Elfin Thyme is a drought-tolerant plant, so be careful not to overwater it. While it is a slow grower, it won’t take over the garden but is worth the wait when established. We recommend planting closer together for a faster fill-in.

Another favorite is Purple Mazus (Mazus reptans). Plant this under your early spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils and spring-blooming azaleas to make a beautiful contrasting carpet of living mulch. Its little purple flowers highlight the bright green leaves as it creeps along the ground. Fill in between crevices and stepping stones, as it can also stand up to foot traffic!

Groundcovers with Blue Flowers

Blue flowers seem to be a bit rare in the garden, which is one reason why we like Isotoma fluviatilis’ Blue Star Creeper,’; it is an amazing star-studded show stopper. Its blue star-shaped flower is another excellent lawn substitute and will even survive below zero temperatures and heavy snowfall. This groundcover feels perfectly at home in beds under flower bulbs or between stepping stones and would be a lovely accent to creeping roses in apricot and red, or add it as a border accent color around your patios and decks.

Ajuga x ‘Chocolate Chip’ is so versatile you can use it just about anywhere. It does best in areas of part-shade and also in traffic areas. Because this groundcover doesn’t attract bees, it’s beautiful around a pool or between stepping stones or tucked at the edges of a garden. This variety of Ajuga prefers well-drained soil and spreads fairly quickly, making it a natural groundcover to grow in higher traffic areas. Its purple colored or dark chocolate leaves and purple spiked flowers are an excellent selection as a living mulch under fir trees since it is tolerant of acidic soils, low sunlight conditions and a lack of moisture. Mixing it with Lysimachia Golden Creeping Jenny under ornamentals in the garden bed makes a nice contrast with the dark chocolate leaves and purple flowers against the chartreuse.

Ornamental Grass Groundcovers

Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) is a striking variation for the exterior perimeter of a landscaping bed. Its intense purple-black foliage gives a deep, rich tone and can be used en masse plantings, as edging or in a mixed container garden. This evergreen is exotic yet at the same time contemporary and mixes well with chartreuse colored foliage such as Lysimachia or a variety of moss in a part shade area. You’ll often see Black Mondo Grass in Asian gardens under a focal point specimen as an accent. In the fall, you can count on it to produce purple berries but is purely deer resistant!

The contrast of Black Mondo Grass is Golden Sweet Flag (Acorus Gramineus ‘Aurea’). This grass is a versatile plant for the morning sun to all-day shade in a variety of soils including peaty, clay or sandy to normal. Its golden color brightens shady spots, and its citrus scent keeps deer and rabbit at bay. Golden Sweet Flag is beautiful next to pool areas, in sheltered areas, under ornamental trees or in container gardens for vertical structure.

Native Groundcovers

We often notice Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) in the spring when its blooms are making a show in whites, purples, pinks and blue shades of color. Besides the delightful colors each spring, Creeping Phlox is a low maintenance groundcover that tolerates rabbit, deer, drought, and air pollution. Performing best in fertile, medium moisture and well-drained soil with full to part sun, it naturalizes and spreads not getting more than 12″ tall. For best results, tuck it at the top of a stone retaining wall to creep over; it will not just look gorgeous, but it will also soften the hardness of the boulders. Create a view to be admired from a distance by planting it on a bank midway down or at the bottom (where it gets more moisture.)

Challenges Are Our Forté

If you’ve got some challenging spots in the landscape that need transforming, reach out to MasterPLAN Outdoor Living. We would love to partner together to help visualize your space in full-color 3D modeling, being able to see how a proposed outdoor living space would look and feel all before any shovels hit the dirt! From design, and full project management to installation, we understand that your backyard is more than just a patio or deck, it is a place where you want to feel secure and continue to be a beautiful backdrop of family photos and celebrations. We believe that open-honest communication is key to creating the backyard of your dreams; let’s start the conversation today!

Serving the Poconos, the Lehigh Valley through the Main Line of Philadelphia and western New Jersey, we would love to be the company you count on for creative and innovative outdoor living design and immaculate and skilled installation!



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