Probably the most underrated plants in the landscape, ground covers can be used to accent, blend and unify the other elements of the home garden.
Ground cover is excellent for odd-shaped, leftover spaces in the landscape or areas that are hard to reach with the lawn mower. It also is a good choice in tight or narrow strips near the house that are too small to accommodate shrubbery, or when tying together clusters of corner plantings at the base of the house. The ground cover helps hold the design together and allows it to flow around the house.
Before choosing a specific ground cover, be sure that it will grow well in your yard. Some do best in sun; others require shade.
English ivy, liriope, holly-fern and vinca minor grow well in shade to semi-shade. If the landscape has sunny areas, try shore juniper, blue rug juniper, parson's juniper, Algerian ivy, Asiatic jasmine or liriope.
Ground cover also will save you work. Once the ground cover is established, you have less mowing to do.
Another labor-saving practice is to locate mailboxes, trees, lampposts and other outdoor objects inside ground cover beds rather than in grassy areas. This eliminates the need for hand trimming around the base and prevents damage from carelessly operated lawn mowers.
For more natural areas, a ground cover of pine straw or cypress bark works well. A 4-inch layer of mulch will slow the growth of weeds and give a neat appearance to the landscape.
On banks, live ground cover roots help stabilize the soil and prevent erosion. The plant also eliminates the need for mowing steep grades.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The offices that serve Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edu/ga/columbia.