When it comes to groundcovers, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Shady, shallow-root areas under tree crowns, where nothing else wants to grow. Steep hillsides and banks, where erosion washes away anything trying to grow, along with the soil and nutrients. No-longer-wanted expanses of lawn, where mowing, thatching, fertilizing and watering don’t make for the best Saturdays. And “between” areas that aren’t big enough or don’t make sense for trees or shrubs or flower beds.
Japanese pachysandra, periwinkle and English ivy have been among the most popular groundcovers used in Northeast Georgia gardens for decades. But, as the poet A.D. Posey observed and generations of parents have said to their teenagers, “Life is not a popularity contest.”
They’re attractive, they get the job done, and everybody seems to have them, but they’re not native to the region, and they can actually do harm here. English ivy and periwinkle are on Georgia’s invasive plant list and Japanese pachysandra is aggressive in some areas, so should be grown with awareness—and boundaries—if at all. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives.
Native plants, like the lobed tickseed (Coreopsis auriculata) are much better choices if you’re going to be adding new groundcover to your landscape. Among many benefits in the garden, native plants support a healthier, more biodiverse ecosystem, attracting butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Just because they’re indiginous to the region doesn’t make them foolproof in the garden, but native plants survive and thrive extraordinarily well when planted in their proper environment.
I don’t grow plants in my garden that need to be watered, except to help them get established, and I have deer, so a plant has to be tough for me to grow it in my yard. In spring, my garden is covered with the yellow flowers of the lobed tickseed, which bloom constantly all summer long. This perennial, deciduous groundcover is sun loving, drought tolerant and deer resistant. It’s tough as nails and spreads well, but only if you let it.
Another native plant, Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), is often grown as a vine, but it also makes a wonderful informal, mounding groundcover, especially nice on slopes or banks. It’s a tough and adaptable evergreen, thriving in sun or shade, dry or moist conditions. And it’s deer tolerant. A real winner.
I was immediately taken with this beautiful groundcover I discovered outside a friend’s house. The Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) was flourishing right under and among the roots of an established tree, where few other growing things would have been welcomed. The wispy, native grass tolerates shade and dry conditions well.
Low-growing moss phlox, or thrift (Phlox subulata), is another excellent native groundcover choice in Northeast Georgia. A perennial, it thrives and spreads eagerly in full sun, blanketing the banks and hillsides with tiny flowers in shades of purple, pink and white. It’s drought tolerant and deer resistant.
Got shade? Consider the perennial, flowering foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) for a unique native groundcover. It’s a past Georgia Native Plant Society Plant of the Year, heralded for its unique, year-round foliage and long-blooming, delicate spring blooms.
These are just a few examples of native groundcovers to consider for your Northeast Georgia landscape. Why not do some exploring and see what other options for non-invasive, native groundcovers you discover. I’m incorporating native plants into more of my designs and garden landscapes than ever before. I look forward to sharing resources and results, so please keep an eye on my future posts.