Ground covers for Alabama landscapes

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Southern shield fern as a ground cover for moist, shady areas provides an interesting foliage texture. (Alabama Cooperative Extension System)

Ground covers are used to provide edgings to pathways, control erosion and add interest to landscape design.

In agriculture, ground cover is the name given to plants that are low growing and are used to cover a large area, giving a carpeted effect. Using several ground covers can add variety to the landscape and prevent soil erosion. Many ground covers also grow well in shady areas where turfgrass will not grow.

Landscape uses

Ground covers used as edging for pathways help regulate foot traffic in the garden. They also visually tie unrelated shrubs and flowerbeds together in the landscape. They can be used between steppingstones to provide color and for accent areas under trees where turf does not grow very well. For steep hillsides or banks where mowing is difficult, ground covers may be a solution. A homeowner trying to create an interesting landscape design will find the use of ground covers rewarding.

Planting ground cover

Plan to install ground cover plantings 6 weeks before the first fall frost. To prepare the soil, simply till up the entire area you expect to cover and work in 3 inches of soil conditioner, compost or peat moss. Apply fertilizers according to soil test recommendations and work them in well. After planting, water the area thoroughly, and apply 2 inches of mulch. Once established, ground covers usually maintain themselves with minimal care.

Plants no longer recommended as ground covers

There are a few ground cover plants that were recommended in previous years but are now viewed as poor choices. These plants easily invade nearby wooded or naturalized areas and take over ground that should be populated with native plant species. A complete listing of all invasive plants in your county or state can be found at www.invasive.org. Some of these species not recommended for Alabama landscapes include:

  • English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Vinca (Vinca major)
  • Lantana (Lantana camera)
  • Wintercreeper euonymus (Euonymus fortunei)

Recommended plants

Many perennials or shrubs serve as ground covers. Choose those that are adapted to your soil type and fit with the area’s sunlight and water availability. The following is a partial list of plants that work well as ground covers in Alabama landscapes.

 

Table 1. Ground Covers for Alabama Landscapes

Name Type Height Sun/Shade
Bugleweed
Ajuga reptans
Creeping perennial; bears blue or purple flowers 4 to 8 inches Part sun to shade
Daylily
Hemerocallis sp.
Perennial, dies back in winter 24 to 36 inches Full sun
Dwarf Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon japonicus
Grass like, evergreen perennial Up to 10 inches Part sun to shade
Golden Stonecrop
Sedum acre
Perennial evergreen, prefers well-drained soils Up to 4 inches Full sun
Shore Juniper
Juniperus conferta ‘Pacific Blue’
Evergreen Up to 24 inches Full sun
Blue Rug Juniper
Juniperus horizontalis
Evergreen Up to 12 inches Full sun
Monkey Grass
Liriope muscari
Grass like, evergreen perennial, variegated variety available Up to 18 inches Full sun to full shade
St John’s wort
Hypericum calycinum
Semievergreen; turns red in fall; yellow flowers in summer; well drained soils only 12 to 18 inches tall Sun to part shade
Strawberry Begonia
Saxifraga stolonifera
Perennial; for well drained soils with acidic pH; white spring flowers Up to 12 inches Part shade to shade
Candytuft
Iberis sempervirens
Perennial; white spring flowers Up to 12 inches tall Full sun to part shade
Groundcover Roses
Rosa x ‘Drift’ or ‘Carpet’ Series
Horizontal-growing shrub Up to 24 inches tall Full sun
Creeping phlox
Phlox subulata
Semi-evergreen perennial; showy spring flowers Up to 8 inches Full sun
Spotted Deadnettle
Lamium maculatum
Perennial; trailing vine; purple flowers in spring Up to 12 inches Part shade to shade
Southern Shield Fern
Thelypteris kunthii
Perennial fern with arching fronds; best in moist, acidic soil. Up to 36 inches Part shade to full shade
Partridge Berry
Mitchella repens
Evergreen perennial groundcover, native, with red berries in fall/winter Up to 5 inches Full shade