In the desire to grow less lawn and more plants, ground covers are often touted as a solution. Once established they can also help keep weeds away and provide a beautiful visual alternative to grass, bare soil or bark mulch. Ground covers grow in sun or shade depending on the type. Use the amount of light in your area as your first filter in looking at ground cover options. Ground covers especially work well in shady areas, under trees or in front of shrub borders. Some ground covers, such as vinca and lily of the valley, have attractive
flowers. Other ground covers, such as ajuga and lamium, have colorful foliage. Some ground covers, such as thyme and mint, have scented leaves. And some ground covers, such as cotoneaster, even offer colorful berries.
In the foodscape, ground covers can be edible as well. In fact some of my favorite foodscape plants are ground covers that fill in a space and produce delicious food. Alpine strawberries are clumping, small plants that spread slowly over time. They produce small, sweet, white, yellow or red berries, depending on the variety, all summer long and tolerate some shade. They’re good for areas where you don’t want an aggressive ground cover such as in front of a flower garden or shrub border. If you have an area where you want a vigorous grower, such as on a bank or slope, try mint. It also can tolerate some shade. Not only does it have attractive and scented leaves, the flowers are beautiful and attract butterflies and bees.
You can match ground covers with other plants of similar needs. Low bush blueberries like an acidic soil and grow well near rhododendrons and azaleas that have a similar requirement. Edible ground covers can even be planted in walkways, between stepping stones. Creeping thyme offers a scent and the possibility of harvesting leaves and stems as you walk along a path. Some edible ground covers, such as trailing rosemary, look great cascading over a wall in a rock garden.
You an also grow edible groundcovers under open canopied trees or trees that have been limbed up so to allow at least one-half day of light to hit the ground. Mints, thyme and even strawberries can grow in these locations.
Excerpted from the book, Foodscaping (CSP, 2015)