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Guest Blog: Rethinking the American Lawn, Part III . . . Great Groundcovers

This is the third installment of Rethinking the Traditional American Lawn, a four-part series by High Country Gardens Founder and Chief Horticulturist, David Salman. Salman also writes The Xeric Gardener.

Sweet woodruff

Sweet woodruff

News Flash: Groundcovers Grow Where Grass Won’t

Groundcovers like sweet woodruff form a weed-resistant canopy while speedily filling in shady and irregular plots.

February 21, 2011

SANTA FE, N.M. — I have to shake my head every time I see my neighbor attempting to get that bald patch under the tree to sprout a few token clumps of grass, season after season. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed a front yard here in Santa Fe and looked on, in horror, as a gentleman in a sunhat struggles to get his lawnmower up a steep and precarious slope on his property — a costly insurance claim in progress, no doubt. I’m sure I’ve stopped and offered them my unsolicited testimony on galloping groundcovers — the unfailing solution to getting living color in any plot, no matter what its limitations. Turf lovers who use sweet woodruff (Gallium odoratum), either to fill in the sparse places or to replace their grass entirely, are delighted to find that it gives them that unbroken sweep of green they’ve been trying to get from grass for years, in one season.

There’s a reason they’re called “galloping.” Once planted, these groundcovers take off like gangbusters, filling their plot completely by the end of the growing season with a dense, unbroken, weed-resistant canopy. And the only maintenance this lush carpet needs is one mowing a year on a high blade setting to deadhead the plants after they bloom, and even this is only a recommendation, not a requirement, especially for those tricky, dangerous slope plantings. If that’s not enough to convince my neighbor with the bald patch to look into galloping groundcovers, all I can say is, sometimes we’re just creatures of habit.

The speed with which galloping groundcovers fill a plot, their next-to-nothing maintenance needs, their ability to grow anywhere, in any soil, and their low-water use are the biggest reasons for which they make ideal alternatives to traditional grass selections, but sometimes people just get bored looking at a blank green canvas — if you can believe it — and want to throw a little color in there. Planting any variety of Veronica provides a rich carpet of blue flowers once a season.

We have a wide selection of groundcovers for people to choose from here at High Country Gardens, three of them being new varieties for 2011. See page 98 of our spring catalogue to choose the best cover for your lawn, and sign up for our weekly e-zine to receive more timely and focused information about your lawn makeover options, including special offers on our groundcovers.

In the meantime, here are two galloping groundcovers that do great in sun and shade, both of them new varieties this year, and a little information about them.

Gallium odoratum (sweet woodruff) This shade loving, beautifully textured groundcover is an excellent lawn replacement. Sweet woodruff thrives in shady conditions that most lawn grasses don’t like, forming a dense, weed-resistant canopy of leaves. Booming for a few weeks in late spring with sprays of tiny white flowers, the plant is most appreciated for its ornamental foliage. Best in parts of the country with cool to moderate summer temperatures, it will tolerate more heat if irrigated regularly when rain is lacking.

Jumbo snow in summer

Jumbo snow in summer

Cerastium tomentosum (jumbo snow-in-summer) I found this jumbo snow-in-summer growing in a Santa Fe landscape some years ago. Its large stems and leaves caught my attention, being distinct from what I had been growing for years. Its larger size and vigor make it an excellent lawn substitute. It is especially recommended for poor, sandy soil sites where turf struggles.

Check back here next Monday for the fourth and final issue in our Natural Lawn Makeover series, where we’ll discuss the scientific basis for and the benefits of organic lawn care. Till then, happy lawning! Here are links to Parts I and II.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Melissa Dupre

    Last year you did a weekly groundcover article for a few weeks and then you stopped. That was a great feature and I think it would be great if you and/or your new partner would re-institute that practice so that people like me who trust your advice will plant these alternatives with confidence.

  • Blake Driver

    Melissa —
    Blake from High Country Gardens here. Great suggestion on a groundcover series. We will definitely keep it in mind and talk it over with the wonderful people at SafeLawns. In the meantime, please check out the e-zine we sent out last week about groundcovers:

    Though our groundcover sale ended on President’s day, High Country Gardens sells groundcovers by the flat, which means customers can save $38 on the individual pots by buying them in bulk, so it’s always a deal. And as always, check out page 98 of our beautiful digital catalogue to peruse our selection of galloping groundcovers:

    Thanks for reading!

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