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12 Great Ground Covers for Sun & Shade (PLUS: Edible Ground Covers!)

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12 Great Ground Covers for Sun & Shade (PLUS: Edible Ground Covers!)

Any experienced gardener will tell you that ground cover plants can be worth their weight in gold for fending off weeds and helping to create a lush outdoor space that’s filled with gorgeous greenery. But which ones should you go for?

Here, we run through some excellent contenders for each space in your garden, and offer tips on preparing the ground well so your plants will flourish.

Ground Covers for Sun

There are lots of ground covers to choose from that will thrive in full sun, from evergreens to annuals, and plenty in between. Here are a few of our favourites:

1. Cotoneaster cashmiriensis

This dense perennial evergreen shrub grows pretty, bright red berries (see this post's featured image above).

2. Erica carnea (Heather)

A low growing shrub, this plant flowers between winter and early spring, so is a great option if you’d like to add some interest during the colder months.

Erica herbacea (Heather) Ground Cover

"Erica herbacea1" by Kurt Stüber [1] - part of Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Roses

There are plenty of ground cover roses to choose from – some types lay very low and close to the ground, and others reach up to two or three feet into the air before spreading. These types of roses also look beautiful when trailed over a garden wall

4. Sweetpea ‘snoopea’

With gorgeous, beautifully-scented flowers that appear from in the summer months, the snoopea – a dwarf variety of the sweetpea – is a fantastic addition to any garden – and it’s easy to take care of, too, so a great choice for beginners.

Ground Covers for Shade

Don’t assume you can’t grow ground covers in that area of your garden that never sees the sun – there are plenty of ground cover plants that will thrive in the shade.

They’ll likely take longer to grow, so you’ll need to keep weeding regularly while they become established, but they will get there in their own time and reward you by keeping weeds at bay brilliantly. Here are some of our favourites:

5. Ivy

Before you recoil in horror, hear us out. With a little control ivy can be an excellent ground cover plant, and it’s not as sinister as you might imagine. Though it grows enthusiastically it is non-invasive, and provides a dense carpet once established, keeping weeds away.

Ivy Ground Cover

"Weitere Eindrücke aus der Ulmer Altstadt (03) (11242815593)" by Gerhard Giebener - Weitere Eindrücke aus der Ulmer Altstadt (03).

It also reduces the effects of frost, which helps birds to find food, and is an excellent habitat for wildlife. However, be careful if planting close to trees – it could become too heavy for old or damaged trees to bear.

6. Box-leaved honeysuckle

This shrub can grow up to 1.2 metres tall, and can be cut into your desired shape – great for use as a green fence.

7. Lily of the Valley

This pretty plant will fill your garden with scent, but if you’re not careful it could just fill your garden, full stop. Place it in an area where it will be easy to control, where it is blocked in by a driveway or paving slabs, for instance.

8. Hosta

If you’ve got a spot in your garden where you struggle to grow anything at all, chances are you haven’t tried planting a hosta there yet. This versatile plant is pretty easy to maintain – just ensure it’s well watered.

Hosta fluctuans ground cover

"Hosta fluctuans ÖBG 09-07-16 01" by El Grafo - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Edible Ground Covers

Why restrict foodstuffs to the vegetable patch? The following plants will both offer protection from weeds, and earn their place in your kitchen.

9. Marjoram

You may know it as oregano – in fact, marjoram is a type of oregano. This creeping plant can be a great alternative to a lawn, and you can mow it to keep it in check just the same. Bees love the lilac flowers.

10. Thyme

This versatile plant is happy in most placements, even rock gardens and cracks in the paving. If you’re based by the coast, it’s a great plant to go for – it can handle dry, windy conditions very well.

Thyme Ground Cover

By Donovan Govan. [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

11. Mint

Another beautifully scented plant, mint can be used in a multitude of recipes, in both food and drinks. Certain types grow aggressively, though, so be careful to find the variety that is best for your garden.

12. Nasturtium

The blooms that boast vivid hues of orange, yellow or red are probably enough to tempt you into sowing this plant, but aside from its beauty and excellent ground cover benefits, it tastes great too.

The stems have a spicy, peppery taste, and the leaves and flowers can also be eaten, though their taste is milder. This article offers some ideas on ways to use nasturtiums in cooking – however, make sure you don’t eat the seeds.

How to Plant Ground Covers

In order for your ground cover plants to be successful, it’s important to prepare the area well before planting.

Remove any weeds, especially ground elder, dandelions and couch grass, first – it will be very difficult to do this once your ground cover plants have become established.

Weed removal methods

  • Black polythene - if you plan to plant next season, lay down some black polythene over the soil to kill any weeds that are there, which will make removing them much easier. It may not look attractive, but it will take lots of the hard work out of the job.
  • By hand - If you will only be planting a small area with ground cover, then the weeding job will be much easier, and you may prefer to simply do it by hand. Make sure that you remove all of the plant including the root to diminish its chances of returning.
  • Weed killer - Large areas can be more time consuming to weed, so to save your muscles it may be best to use a weed killer to help things along.

After weeding, it’s also a good idea to enrich the soil with some compost or well-rotted manure.

However, until the ground cover plants are established, it’s possible that weeds may return, no matter how thoroughly you remove them beforehand. Remove any weeds as soon as you see them, and keep ground cover plants healthy by watering them well during dry spells.

Once the plants are established, they should keep weeds at bay for you, so the hard work will be worth it in the long run!

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