One of the more versatile groups of plants that you can grow in your landscape is ground covers: low-growing plants cultivated en masse to cover large areas.
They have many practical uses. For example, ground covers control erosion when planted on slopes or banks. They are substitutes for turfgrass in areas that are too shady. They can become attractive accents for areas that are too narrow for shrubs. They also eliminate costly and time-consuming maintenance such as mowing, edging and trimming.
There are numerous ground covers that do well in our area. You can find a ground cover that will meet the conditions where you need the plant to grow. Also, these ground covers come in many different shapes and sizes. Some of the more common ground covers to use in full sun conditions are daylilies, liriope, mondo grass, St. Johnswort, thrift and junipers. Ground covers that do well in the shade are Algerian ivy, Asiatic jasmine, bugleweed, English ivy, lenten rose, liriope, mondo grass and St. Johnswort. These plants will range in height from 2 inches to 2 feet.
In order to have a successful ground cover planting, you have to begin with proper soil preparation. This begins with a soil sample. If you read this column often, you will find that we recommend soil sampling. You have to know what nutrients are in the soil before you can grow plants successfully. This soil sample needs to be taken two to three weeks prior to planting.
The best time for planting is in the fall and winter. This is true for all shrubs and trees. There are several reasons for this.
The first reason is that the temperature is cooler and the plants are not as stressed. Also, we get most of our rain during this time. However, the main reason is that the root system will develop over the winter. During the winter, the ground in our area seldom gets cold enough to stop root development. In the spring, you should have a root system that has expanded and is stronger than one planted in the spring or summer. You can still plant ground covers in the spring and summer, but it takes more care for them to survive and grow.
As with any plant, the way you prepare the soil is very important. You should add organic matter to sandy soils to hold water, or ground pine bark to clay soils to improve drainage. Two to three inches of these materials tilled into the bed will improve the soil conditions. Also, incorporate lime and fertilizer according to the results on the soil sample. If you didn't soil sample, you need to add two pounds of lime per 100 square feet of bed area. You will need three pounds of 5-10-15 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed area.
After planting, provide proper maintenance of the ground cover to ensure good growth, rapid coverage and an acceptable appearance. You are trying to encourage as much new growth as possible to prevent competition from weeds and grasses. To help with weed control, apply a light mulch layer.
After planting and adding mulch, water thoroughly the bed area applying enough water to penetrate to a depth of 12 inches. Check the soil every week to ensure there is enough moisture in the soil to maintain the plant.
To get these plants to cover the ground as quickly as possible, fertilize them periodically during the first growing season.
If you planted in the fall, apply a nitrogen fertilizer in the spring and again in four to six weeks.
If you use ammonium nitrate, apply 3/4 cup per 100 feet of bed area. If you use sodium nitrate, apply 1.5 cups per 100 feet of bed area.
Be sure that the foliage is dry when you apply fertilizers or you can burn the plants. After fertilizing, water thoroughly to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. This will move the nitrogen into the root zone. A word of caution: Nitrogen fertilizers will increase the water demands on your plants, so don't let them become too dry before watering.
To reap the most of these benefits, you have to select the proper ground cover, following proper planting procedures and maintaining them.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.