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Do your homework now; plant ground covers later

Published January 26, 2007


The warm weather we've had is making it hard to be patient: There has been little indication of winter weather, which makes it hard to hold off planting spring color.

A few gardeners I've spoken with hold the opinion that we won't have any cold weather this winter, but I feel we still have a couple of months before I feel completely safe.

I wouldn't recommend planting any tender plants or doing much pruning. The warm temperatures will force new growth and a cold snap will surely damage this tender growth.

I am hoping for some cool weather, so I haven't started any spring chores in my yard yet, other than perhaps weeding, since this warm weather has encouraged the weeds to continue to grow. I would encourage you to have patience also, just to be on the safe side.

If you are thinking about adding any ground cover to your landscape, now would be the time to do your research. I will list a few and provide a bit of information.

A ground cover is any low-growing plant used to cover an area in the landscape. Many woody and herbaceous plants fulfill this role.

When I think ground covers, I picture plants that grow no more than about 6 inches high. Others may include liriope, ferns, shrub roses or daylilies, which can grow 18 or more inches and will not withstand foot traffic.

Turfgrass is the most common ground cover used in the landscape. Many people find aesthetic appeal in well-maintained lawns. Also, no other ground cover can withstand as much foot traffic as turf.

Maintaining a lawn in prime condition does require mowing, fertilization, irrigation, and pest and disease control. These requirements consume both time and money.

Although grass is what you see most often, it does not mean there are not other alternatives.

There are several ground covers adaptable to the many different microclimates present in our yards.

Mondo grass, thyme, oregano, ivy, bugleweed, some ferns, a few juniper varieties, oyster plant, periwinkle, society garlic, Irish moss, some sedums, wandering Jew, creeping figs, and pothos are a few examples of excellent, low-maintenance performers.

Proper selection can minimize irrigation, fertilization and mowing after ground covers are established.

Check the conditions of the spot you want to grow them in and decide which will work best for you. Ferns and pothos do well under the cover of our large shade trees, while many of the others will take the Florida sun.

After planting and while the plants are getting established, a regular program of irrigation, fertilization and weed control ensures strong, rapid growth.

Mulch aids water retention in new plantings and helps the spread of ground covers that root along their stems. Once established, many ground covers need only an occasional trimming to keep them tidy and within their designated area.

If you have trees or shrubs in the same area, some of the vine types will climb the other plants. They can easily be trimmed away from the trunks.

Turfgrass is still the best ground-cover choice for outdoor areas that suffer from heavy recreational use.

For situations where turf serves no practical purpose, alternative ground covers perform equally well.

Perhaps you don't need as much lawn as you have now and may want to think about replacing some with an alternative ground cover.

According to literature published by the University of Florida, paved surfaces around the home contribute substantially to summer heat loads.

These surfaces absorb the sun's heat or reflect it back into the immediate environment, increasing the amount of discomfort experienced by people during the day.

Paved areas also store heat during the day, keeping temperatures high around the home even after sunset.

Temperatures over ground covers can be 15 to 25 degrees lower than over asphalt or concrete.

If you have stepping stones in your garden or around your home, this may be a good reason to add some ground cover to the area.

I do have a stepping stone walkway on the west side of my house that could probably use some ground cover in the cracks between the stones. It is baked by the sun and gets very hot there in the summer.

Perhaps I'll try two or three species and see which holds up best. The ground covers also aesthetically soften the looks of the concrete stones.

Remulching becomes easier and quicker the more ground cover you have in your yard.

Part of my front bed is almost wall-to-wall plants (including ground cover) and it takes very little eucalyptus mulch to cover the area now. A few handfuls freshen up the bed nicely.

If you hadn't thought about adding ground cover before, this is a good time of the year to do a little research and see whether there aren't some areas in your yard that can be improved with the addition of a few of these plants.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 08:51:26]

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