Groundcovers are plants that grow together, forming a dense mat over a surface. All groundcovers are by nature perennial. That is to say, they persist for a number of years, as opposed to annual plants, which complete an entire life cycle in the course of a single year. In warm areas such as U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 8 -- cities such as Austin, Texas and Gainesville, Florida -- groundcover plants grow throughout the year.
University of Florida horticultural educator Marina D’Abreau recommends beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis), powderpuff mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), dwarf Asiatic jasmine (Trachelosperum asiaticum minimum) and Lantana species as zone 8 groundcovers.
Beach sunflower is suited only for Zone 8b; it is a native Floridian plant that bears showy canary yellow flowers with black centers. Powderpuff mimosa sports lavender thistle-like flowers. Lantana species bear colored flowers and attract butterflies to the garden.
Other perennial groundcovers suited to growth in Zone 8 include the purple-flowering periwinkle (Vinca minor) and purple heart (Setcreasea purpurea) and species of the sedum, or stonecrop, genus, including Russian stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum) and blue stonecrop (Sedum cauticola). Sedum is a succulent plant; it retains water for survival in arid environments.
Beach flower, powderpuff mimosa, periwinkle, purple heart and species of the Sedum and Lantana genera flourish in well-drained soil. Dwarf Asiatic jasmine tolerates soils with moderate moisture retention.
Sedum is a hardy genus. Species grow in soil and rock, hence the name stonecrop. Most species of sedum prefer fertile soil and full sun exposure, though hardier species take to shaded areas and less fertile soil.
Powderpuff mimosa and dwarf Asiatic jasmine tolerate partial shade. The latter prefers it; the former grows best in sun exposure.
Beach sunflower and Lantana species tolerate shade for part of the day though require sun to grow. Beach sunflower tolerates salty conditions.
All listed species tolerate drought and require minimal irrigation though require watering in arid regions or dry seasons.
Planting and Care
According Clemson University horticulturalists Marjan Kluepfel and Bob Polomski, warm-region perennial groundcover planting can be done throughout the year, but autumn planting is ideal. Planting in the fall prevents heat damage to young plants. Seasonal rainfall minimizes watering requirements and help plants take root.
Kluepfel and Polomski further recommend preventing weed invasion with a 2-inch mulch layer. Diligent weeding from gardeners deters weed invasion of groundcover mats.
A complete fertilizer with a ratio of 12-4-8 or 16-4-8 encourages groundcover growth and promotes healthy plants. Calculate fertilization as (area of garden)/1000/0.12. For instance, for a 200 foot garden, 200/1000 = 0.2; 0.2 x 0.12 = 1.6. Thus, use 1.6 pounds of fertilizer.
Groundcover species naturally sprawl. Some species, especially those not pruned and properly maintained, become invasive.
Periwinkle invades adjacent areas if left unchecked. It invades open ground, lawns and shady forests, forming a dense, impenetrable mat, preventing the growth of native species.
Non-native largeleaf lantana (Lantana camara) is invasive in central and south Florida,. The species invades forests, roadsides, pastures and citrus groves, if left unchecked. Largeleaf lantana invasion causes serious economic problems in agricultural sectors in Florida.
- Photo Credit sedum image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com
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