University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring, Summer News Article
 By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Ground covers are the answer to many a gardener's prayer. These low-growing plants that spread rapidly to form a solid carpet of vegetation require a minimum of maintenance and are an ideal way to fill in areas otherwise difficult to maintain. In addition, they add color and interest of their own to the landscape.

Ground covers work well around shrub plantings and trees where weeds are difficult to keep under control. They're also good for steep banks and uneven terrain and in small areas between the foundation or plantings and walks where the lawn mower cannot be maneuvered easily.

They are particularly suited to shady locations where grass does not grow well. Some of the best ground covers for the shade--in all but the coldest parts of Vermont--are periwinkle or myrtle (Vinca minor), Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), and wintercreeper (Euonymus varieties).

Others that can be used in all parts of the state are lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), low bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium laevifolium), and bishop's weed or goutweed (aegopodium podagrarium). Keep in mind that some of these can be quite invasive--the roots will spread and produce new plants--so do not plant them near desirable plants or plan on doing lots of maintenance and weeding. You also need to watch where you dump weeded plants as they will likely survive and may colonize fields, woods, and waterways.

One of the best in the shade-tolerant group for southern Vermont locations is English ivy (Hedera helix). However, not even the hardiest strains of this plant are reliably winter hardy anywhere in Vermont except in extremely protected situations. Ferns of all types are usually hardy in most parts of the state and are often overlooked as ground covers for shade.

In sunny locations several of the low-growing junipers make excellent ground covers. These are quite different from Vermont's weedy, native junipers. An added advantage is that they tolerate salt better than many other plants and, thus, are among the better ground covers for planting near sidewalks and roads.

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