Name: various genus, species and cultivars.
Plant type: low-growing, spreading, sometimes cascading.
Height: generally less than 30cm.
In both nature and design, plants occur or are positioned in four main layers: upper canopy – trees and palms; mid-level – smaller trees, large shrubs, smaller palms and tree ferns; low level – grassy plants, small shrubs, herbs and perennials; and finally, the ground covers scrambling or prostate sub-shrubs, perennials, herbs and creepers. When it comes to home gardens, the ground covers are all too often forgotten. Ground covers are fantastic to add to the landscape, they provide colour and form in otherwise empty areas, bring a more natural and balanced feel to a garden space, and can be real problem-solvers, working as “living mulch” to keep out weeds and retain moisture, and even helping to control erosion.
Big ground covers like some grevilleas are ideal set-and-forget plants for difficult spots, such as hard-to-access sloping areas that you don’t want to be regularly maintaining.
Ground cover plants all share one common characteristic: they spread. To go beyond this, we can put them into three main groups, defined primarily by their growth habits. It’s worth understanding these distinctions, as they will help you to select the right plant for your garden.
These are best described as the “true” ground covers, as they will root at various points as they grow, with each section having the potential to become a new plant. This tends to make them very hardy, and is also useful for binding soil. Native violet (Viola banksii, often sold as Viola hederacea) is a great example.
These are varieties of larger plants that have a low-growing, horizontal or cascading habit. In some cases they will be grafted plants, and one plant can, with time, cover a large area. They may also develop a somewhat mounded form with age. The native cultivar Grevillea Poorinda Royal Mantle is probably the best example of this group. It will generally reach a height of only 10–20cm with a spread of 5m+.
This is a sort of catch-all group for those plants with a range of other habits, or that will adapt to work like ground covers. It includes the climbers that will happily grow as ground covers in the absence of anything to climb up. The popular climber, star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), is the ideal example. If it has nothing to climb, it will happily scramble across the ground, forming a dense mat.
Ground cover plants are grown for a variety of uses, including:
It’s important that you match your ground cover plants to your needs and your situation. Some are very tolerant of the conditions they will grow in, while others can be quite fickle. Native violet, for example, must have moist shade. It will stop in a neat line when it spreads to sunny areas, and will die back if it becomes dry, generally reshooting when conditions become favourable again.
Do a little research before buying in order to work out the right plants for you, and if in doubt, ask nursery staff about the range available. To make the right decision, you will need the following information:
Again, this will vary with the plants you choose, however here are a few general tips.
In the planting hole itself, soil should be improved to suit the plant. With ground cover plants you also need to consider the surrounding soil.
If the soil is exposed, “fluff” it up a little with a pronged cultivator to make the establishment of new runners easier. If the area is to be mulched, use a finely textured mulch, and don't layer it too thick.
Once these ground cover plants are established, you won’t be able to easily re-mulch the soil or conduct any other maintenance. Before planting, thoroughly remove any weeds, roots and all, and apply a thick (at least 5cm) layer of mulch over the surrounding area.
Most ground cover plants are very easy care, requiring little general maintenance or pruning.
11 ground covers for your garden: discover 11 gorgeous ground cover plants suited to Australian gardens.
Grevillea: whether a ground cover or a shrub, the grevillea is a worthy addition to just about every garden.
Daffodil: add some spring “wow” to your ground cover display by planting daffodils to naturalise. .
Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing.
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