Lawns need a lot of water to maintain lush growth. Locally indigenous ground cover plants are the ideal replacements for a thirsty lawn. Ground covers require less attention, look more natural and are so easy to grow. What this really means is grouping plants together by their origin and according to their light, water and soil needs.
A city garden is usually built around a house. Around a house, we find many pockets of different climates called microclimate sones. For example, the southern view is cooler due to less sun and therefore more humid and would be suitable for plants with larger water needs like Plectranthus species. In comparison, a northern view adjoining a wall is much warmer and the soil will dry out sooner therefore plants that have more drought-resistant characteristics are preferably planted here.
What is a groundcover?
Ground covers are perennial plants with a flat to low growth habit that cover the soil like a blanket. Most ground covers root easily when their stems touch the ground. Ground covers belong to a large variety of plant families and also includes densely growing bulbous plants. The growth patterns of plants are very diverse depending on their origin. Some with a fine green texture and some with succulent leaves or stems, sometimes grey to pale in colour (indicating drought resistance).
Why are ground covers important?
Ground covers keep the soil cool, protect the soil from dehydration, and combat erosion caused by water flooding. It also inhibits weed growth (weeds are usually pioneer plants that need sun and disturbed soil to germinate). Traditionally, we hoed the soil, removed weeds around the house and discarded leaves regularly. The soil was then left bare and the pattern repeated itself and the weeds again made their mark. In doing so, we impoverish our garden and stop the natural recycling process. By using ground covers in open spots we work hand-in-hand with nature.
Where can ground covers be used?
Ground covers can be used everywhere in gardens, but especially on slopes and in rock gardens. There are various plants that can be planted in full sun and others for shady gardens. Ground covers are especially popular in rock gardens and on slopes where they are used to soften the environment. However, they can also be used as a lawn substitute and are especially useful at holiday homes where giving regular attention is a problem.
Tips on planting ground covers
Improve soil quality
'Soil is life' and the food medium from which plants must live so soil improvement must always be a priority. What goes on below will soon be revealed in plants' growth performance. Adequate compost improves soil water retention, promotes drainage and, in turn, attracts animals that are important for soil health. If the soil is too clayish (with poor drainage), adding sand and compost will improve the texture and thus allow faster drainage. Clay is mineral-rich and nutritious for plants but too much clay binds the water particles so tight that air struggles to penetrate the soil and roots can then drown. By spending a bit more initially to get your soil right can save you a lot down the line.
The establishment period is extremely important and plants need more attention during their first year. Water well until they have established successfully.
A mulch that includes bits of bark, leaves and other organic matter can be applied anywhere on bare soil. It protects the soil and roots from dehydration, encourages earthworms, combats flooding erosion and also provides nutrition and suppress weed growth (weeds are activated by high light intensity).
Choose locally indigenous plants
If the environment is shady, plant groundcovers that are adapted to shade. When lawns begin to decline near trees due to shade, it's time to plant shady species. Environments on a slope in full sun require a drought-resistant species with soil-binding properties.
Planting ground covers
Various ground cover plant types can be planted directly in the soil. The best time in the winter rainfall region is during the fall and for summer rainfall region in spring - as a rule, always at the beginning of the rainy season.
Preferably till the soil first, and incorporate compost and some bone meal. Water well after the cuttings (about 5-10 cm in length) have been planted and keep wet until you can see that the plants have established. After this, they should be self-sufficient.
Most of the plant types listed below grow fairly quickly and are easily accessible. It is also striking to group together different leaf colours and textures, including the grey and green leaf types.
Suitable ground cover plants
To find the perfect ground cover suitable for your garden, browse through the collections below.