Ground Covers and Lawn Alternatives for Beginners
With the rising cost of energy, fertilizers, and lawn chemicals, it is likely that low maintenance (with low energy use), and more environmentally friendly alternatives such as groundcovers will grow in popularity.
Vinca Major and Vinca Minor
Sweet Potato Vine
Vinca Minor and Vinca Major
Vinca Major and Vinca Minor are both perennial evergreen vines. Unfortunately, they share the name "vinca" with the annual flower (Catharanthus roseus). Both groundcovers are virtually care free though invasive when they become established in a couple of years. They do not climb like ivy, but arch from the rooted growing centers or creep close to the ground. Vinca has a scattering of blue flowers in the spring, but is mostly grown for its carefree foilage, some varieties of which are varigated, green and cream-colored.
Vincas are widely available in garden centers or through mail order. They are very easy to propagate and spread since root stubs develop every few inches along the stems and growth is rapid once it gets started. Vinca is hardy to zone four though it becomes dormant in cold weather.
Both vincas grow in sun or shade and are not particular about soil. They need watering only during long droughts. "Major" has larger stems and leaves and is the most invasive. Its runners invade bermuda grass at ground level, rooting itself here and there and putting up new plants.
Vinca minor has smaller leaves and stems, darker leaves and grows more compact and is somewhat less invasive.
As a vine, vinca is sometimes grown in pots or hanging pots or even floral arrangements, but its main use is in areas where grass will not grow due to shade.
Vinca is considered to be a major pest weed in Australia where it is naturalized.
Moneywort is a groundcover that stays next to the ground, rooting itself every few inches. Moneywort doesn't climb or even grow upwards, and it is slower growing and much less invasive than ivy or vinca. The variety golden moneywort is easier to keep inbounds than the original species. All moneyworts have shallow roots and are easy to pull out of unwanted areas. Moneywort grows in shade or partial shade and prefers fair amount of watering.
The leaves of moneywort are round and yellow green or medium green depending on the variety. It has yellow flowers in eary summer. Moneywort, originated in Europe but has become naturalized in wooded areas of Quebec and eastern Canada.
Ivy is a familiar vine that climbs and grows in an aggressive manner. Its use is to ramble over walls and along steep slopes. The vines have modified roots that contain a glue like substance that allow it to grow up anything, trees, house walls, or any structure. The vine can eventually smother a tree or damage a wall and should be kept under strict control.
The vine comes in variegated forms and is semi-evergreen. Ivy will grow in sun or shade in any soil.
Virginia Creeper is a agressive growing vine that looks similiar to poison ivy but has five leaflets instead of three. Like English ivy it grows rapidly up structures or trees once established. Virginia Creeper will invade lawns such as bermuda grass especially where there is partial shade. The vine is seldom cultivated because it gets out of control so easily. It can be used on a steep slope particularily if is shaded since the creeper prefers partial to full shade.
Honeysuckle is a familiar vine that grows along the fence rows of America. The original plant is agressive and nor recommended for cultivation, but the cultivated varieties tend to stay in their place. Honeysuckle has white or pale yellow flowers that have a sweet smell and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The cultivated varieties come with red blooms and various other colors. The blooms can last much of the summer.
Honeysuckle is not particular about soil and will grow in sun or partial shade. It needs little care other than watering during dry spells. Honeysuckle will grow best along fences where it can twine through openings. The vine seldom grows up trees, but can grow next to outbuildings particularily if its stems can find any opening to grow into and provide supportfor additional upward growth.
Other Plants Used as Ground Covers
.... More to come....