Combine aesthetics and function
What better way to enhance the visual impact of a garden than to use low-growing ground covers that bloom regularly if pruned back after flowering?
They come with the bonus of reducing weed growth and thus conserving the available water and plant nutrients in the soil for the “garden plants”.
Weeds, among other elements, need light to thrive. By reducing the amount of light with foliage, growth is minimised; therefore it makes sense to take a positive approach to the task at hand, that being weed reduction. Weeds are, in many cases, spread through seed movement via wind, fruit drop or as a carrier on an insect/animal. Once a weed is established, the best way to ensure it “has gone forever” is to remove the whole root system. Many weeds will show regrowth from broken pieces of root, so the cycle becomes an ongoing process. If a weed is removed when a small size, the root system is not likely to be well established or widespread, so regrowth is unlikely.
Ground covers are low growing with a spreading more so than upright habit; anything up to 30 inches can be designated ground cover. Examples of flowering ground covers that I would suggest for consideration include, but are not limited to:
• Lantanas are an excellent plant for this purpose, with a wide range of flower colour. Its height can vary from carpet types with purple or white flowers to the taller varieties, again with a wide range of flower colour.
• In protected areas, pentas are also colourful with less colour range than lantanas, and slightly faster growth rate.
• Salvias are more of an upright habit with a mix of growth heights. These are certainly candidates for hard pruning once flowering is complete. Their colour ranges from red, blue, purple and white, with others having hues between these colours. I like to use several vines as ground covers as they add a good colour contrast whilst growth meanders and cascades through neighbouring plantings.
• Senecio confusus (Mexican flame vine) has orange-red flowers which appear from April to November.
• Senecio macroglossus (natal ivy) is similar in habit and has yellow flowers.
•The yellow honeysuckle (lonicera japonica) has a more rambling habit, with the yellow/white fragrant flowers cascading through neighbouring plants to greater heights than the former.
• The large, flowered yellow allamanda cathartica hendersonii can grow as a stand-alone rambling plant which can also trespass in and through its neighbours; when in full bloom and established it is a sight to behold!
• Herbaceous plants are also useful when used as “ground covers” as they will grow and fill space in harmony with ground covers and shrubs in general.
• Dietes bicolor (evergreen iris) has sword-like foliage and pale yellow flowers. It can attain a good “round” growth habit, at which time it can be lifted and divided into smaller pieces before replanting.
• Agapanthus africanus (lily of the Nile) has attractive blue, but also white, globular blossoms. It too can be lifted and divided when it attains a large clump.
• Dianella tasmanica variegata (variegated flax) is as a green/white variegation on leave which makes it a good contrast plant. It can grow to 18 inches and will lift and divide as clump ages. (It will sometimes revert to all green foliage, in which case remove when dividing).
To highlight ground covers and herbaceous plants consider using evergreen plants such as cycas revolute sago or cycas circinalis (queen sago).
The latter is generally taller, but both are slow growers and both make bold statements in the landscape, in part because they are evergreen.
Another similar plant is zamia furfuracea (cardboard palm), which has a most unusual leaf configuration and is more of a softer grey/green colour but still makes a good statement.