To Mulch or not to Mulch, that is the question... or Why not Groundcovers?

Instead of creating great barren swaths of mulch with tiny islands of plants, let's think about this first. In nature, plants grow with companions. Unless you are in a desert, plants are not naturally spread out with large sterile areas between them. Diversity and complexity in a landscape creates not only visual interest, but balance and habitat. Birds and wildlife will find cover. Predatory insects such as Praying Mantises and Assassin Bugs will find safe haven and, along with the birds you are now encouraging, keep herbivorous insects in check (while they feast on them to raise their young!). Amphibians such as toads and salamanders will find your garden and make themselves at home.

A more biologically balanced way to 'mulch' your gardens is to plant low-growing ground cover plants to fill in between your other plants; some groups have taken to calling this "Green Mulch" and it creates a much more natural environment. We have many beautiful herbaceous perennial groundcovers, short native grasses, and graceful sedges that can create a lovely, and living, mulch for your garden. They will also conserve moisture by shading the ground, and discourage weed seeds from sprouting by taking their place. Your garden will look great and the Birds, Butterflies, Salamanders and Turtles will thank you!

You can use many native plants for groundcovers - even Beardtongues (Penstemon), which have ground hugging evergreen basal leaves from which their glorious flowering spikes appear. In this list, however, we have focused mostly on shorter, more traditional groundcover plants that spend all or most of the year filling in the very important shortest layer of plant communities.

common name species light moisture height notes

Herbaceous Perennials:

common name species light moisture height notes
Tall Anemone Anemone virginiana sun to shade average 2-3' ground covering foliage about 1' tall, flower/seed spikes rise above
Plantain-leaved Pussytoes Antennaria plantaginifolia sun to part sun dry to moist 3-6" tall white flowers, butterfly host
Nuttall's Rayless Goldenrod Bigelowia nuttallii sun dry to moist 10-15" tall yellow flowers, will grow in gravel & scree
Starry Cerastium Cerastium arvense sun average to wet 6-10" tall white flowers, matt forming, cold season plant
White Wood Aster Eurybia divaricata part sun to shade dry to average 1-3' tall white flowers
Large-leaved Aster Eurybia macrophylla sun to shade dry to moist 2-4' tall leaves are mostly low to ground, flowering stems arise in fall
Wild Strawberry Fragaria virginiana sun to part sun dry to average 6" tall edible fruit
White Avens Geum canadense part shade average to moist 18-30" tall small white flowers rise above the ground hugging basal foliage
Hairy Alumroot Heuchera villosa sun to shade dry to average 1-2' tall wands of tiny flowers rise up above the foliage
Twoleaf Miterwort Mitella villosa shade moist 10-18" tall white flowers
Golden Ragwort Packera aurea sun to part sun average to moist 1-3' tall evergreen basal foliage hugs ground, taller flowering yellow flowers for about a month in spring
Roundleaf Ragwort Packera obovata part shade average 6-18" tall finer leaves that Golden Ragwort, excellent evergreen groundcover
Appalachain Fameflower Phemeranthus teretifolius sun dry 3-8" tall pink flowers, succulent, rock garden plant
Moss Phlox Phlox subulata sun to part sun dry to average 2-6" tall pink flowers, matt forming
Lyreleaf Sage Salvia lyrata sun to part sun dry to average 1-2' tall ground hugging foliage produces short spikes of lavender flowers, attracts hummingbirds
Wild Stonecrop Sedum ternatum part sun to shade dry to moist 4-8" tall white flowers, matt forming
Northern Blue-eyed Grass Sisyrinchium angustifolium sun to part sun average 1' tall blue flowers on grass-like stems
Skunk Cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus part sun to shade moist to wet 1-3" tall great large ground cover for wet spots
Largeflower Valerian Valeriana pauciflora sun to part sun moist 1 to 2.5' tall pink flowers above low glossy foliage
Sand Violet Viola affinis sun to shade average to wet 6-10" tall pale bue flowers, butterfly host
Labrador Violet Viola labradorica sun to shade dry to average 6" tall purple flowers, purple-tinted foliage
Early Blue Violet Viola palmata sun to part sun dry to moist 6" tall cut-leaf foliage, purple flowers, butterfly host
Common Blue Violet Viola sororia sun to shade average 4-8" tall purple flowers, classic violet
Buck's County Magenta Violet Viola sororia selection sun to shade average 4-8" tall magenta flowers
Confederate Violet Viola sororia priceana sun to shade average 4-8" tall white flowers with purple throats
Striped Cream Violet Viola striata sun to part sun average to moist 8-16" tall white flowers, evergreen
Appalachian Barren Strawberry Waldsteinia fragaroides sun to shade dry to moist 6" tall yellow flowers, evergreen, spreading


Grass-like Perennials:

common name species light moisture height notes
Appalachian Sedge Carex appalachica part sun to shade dry to average 1-2' tall fine textured, spreading
Morning Star Sedge Carex grayi sun to shade averge to moist 2' tall spiky seed heads
Pennsylvania Sedge Carex pensylvanica part sun to shade dry to moist 6-10" tall fine textured, spreading
Curley Styled Wood Sedge Carex rosea part sun to shade dry to moist 12-18" tall fine textured
Narrow-leaved Cattail Sedge Carex squarrosa sun to part sun average to wet 1.5 to 2' tall interesting seed heads
Cattail Sedge Carex typhina sun to shade moist to wet 1-2' tall seed heads look like little 'cattails'
Tufted Hairgrass Deschampsia cespitosa sun to part sun moist 3' fine textured grass topped by delicate flower/seed heads
Blunt Spike Rush Eleocharis obtusa sun to part sun average to wet 1' tall very fine texture
Path Rush Juncus tenuis sun to part sun average to moist 6-12" tall tough, erect plant that grows in bunches


Ferns:

common name species light moisture height notes
Marsh Fern Thelypteris palustris sun to shade average to wet 1.5-3' tall fine textured


Vines & Creepers:

common name species light moisture height notes
Meehan's Mint Meehania cordata sun to part shade average to moist 6-12" purple flowers, a creeping mint
Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia sun to shade dry to moist 1' as a ground cover, it grows about 1' tall (but will climb anything!)

All artwork on the Toadshade Wildflower Farm web site, including drawings and photographs is original © 1996-2020 Randi Eckel. To obtain permission to reproduce this artwork, contact Randi.


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