Variety certainly is the spice of life, and in the case of landscape design and gardens, this adage holds very true. Imagine a garden with large, striking plants and flowers, bold rockwork and planters in between large expanses of bare soil. Now, imagine this same garden, only this time add an array of textured and colored smaller plants woven between, filling the open areas perfectly and adding to the variety and color of the space. This is exactly what the selection and proper care of ground cover can do for any landscape or garden.
Fall is the best time to install plants, and ground covers are no exception. During the fall, plants of all kinds require less supplemental watering and experience ideal weather for rooting. For ground covers this is especially advantageous, as "the roots begin getting established while the plant itself is starting to go dormant," says Kristen Baker of Valley View Nursery's Medford location. "Using a starter fertilizer (when planting) is a benefit for the plant and root development, as well," Baker explains, emphasizing the importance of getting the plants rooting before their dormant season. This ensures that when the plants come to life in the spring, they will have sufficient roots to quickly begin growing and spreading throughout the space provided.
If you have something completely different in mind for your garden, you might want to consider Zauschneria Californica, or California fuchsia. California fuchsia is a mid-height (6 to 8 inches) flowering ground cover. Its fluted flower is a dramatic scarlet-red and is known to draw hummingbirds.
"People often want something unlike their neighbor or something they cannot get at a local nursery," says Graham Sheldon of Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery. The nursery focuses on plants specifically selected for the region's growing conditions, as well as rare plants from around the world. They also have a diverse selection of Siskiyou natives for those wanting to showcase native flora.
A stunning example of a Siskiyou native that works well as a ground cover is Eriogonum, or wild buckwheat. Eriogonum is a summer bloomer that displays a wide variety of color and prefers gravely soil and full sun. The variety E. umbellatum, or 'Whiskey Peak' blooms brilliant sulfur-yellow and ages to red. Its green foliage has a fuzzy underside and is largely evergreen for those looking for year-round color.
Esther Lee of the Grange Co-op in Medford concurs. "In the Northwest it is especially important to plant in the fall because we rarely experience frozen ground, and roots can develop during the winter. If you look at a specimen planted in the fall and one planted in the spring, within one year you can see the fall planting will be double the size."
When selecting ground covers, it is important to consider plants that have wide ranges of water tolerances and light preferences. Ground covers range from specimens that require almost no water and thrive in full sun to types that prefer shade and need regular to heavy watering. It is important to consider where you are placing your ground covers, and how much water and light they will receive, before selecting the type you desire. Case in point, if you wish to cover a space under a large plant, say under an established Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, you need to consider that the light will not be full sun, and the water it receives will coincide with the amount the maple receives.
Baker highlights a few ground covers as personal favorites for their beauty and ease of care. Creeping thyme, particularly the woolly variant Thymus pseudolanuginosus, is a compact and striking specimen with small, dark green leaves covered in fine hairs. Another variety, T. serpyllum, offers a durable, stepable plant that comes to life with delicate blush pink flowers throughout the growing season and creates a carpet of low-growing, light green leaves.
A special request often made of ground cover is that it be "evergreen." For this, Pachysandra terminalis is an ideal option. Commonly referred to as Japanese pachysandra, it's a hearty, rapidly growing 6 to 8-inch high specimen with medium sized, waxy, green leaves that grow densely and maintain their green year round.
Another common request is for a ground cover that is dense and lush, but requires only minimal water. For this, Baker recommends Lysimachia nummularia, or creeping Jenny, a low-growing plant that spreads rapidly. Its eye-catching, coin-sized, lime green leaves are semi-glossy and complement flowering plants perfectly.
Now is the time to take advantage of the season and assure your spring bloom will be as beautiful as possible. Consider this fall as the perfect time to add some "ground cover" spice to your garden.