Simply put, a ground cover is anything that covers the ground. Ground covers are used to prevent weed growth, aid in weed removal, enrich the soil, prevent erosion, improve appearance, control temperature and moisture, and provide a clean, smooth walking surface.
Not all ground covers involve organic materials. While generally considered unattractive, plastic and woven cloth are used as ground covers, as are other man-made materials. Stones, gravel and sand may also function as ground covers.
One of the more common non-living organic ground covers, especially in planting beds, is ground bark. Straw, grass clippings, and compost are also used as ground covers. Some of the non-living organic ground covers may actually remove nutrients from the soil during the early stages of decomposition.
The most common living ground cover seen in urban areas is turf grass. Grass is excellent as a ground cover, but it requires a significant investment in installation, maintenance, and water.
Other living plants can be used as ground covers or a lawn substitute. The characteristics of the “ideal” ground cover might include:
- A good spreader, but not invasive.
- Resists weed invasion.
- Has attractive foliage.
- Requiring little maintenance.
Many native plants function well as ground covers. Native plants are adapted to our soils and climates, are often strikingly attractive, and require little or no maintenance once established.
Further information on ground covers may be found at the following links:
Ferns, Ground Covers & Herbaceous Perennials. WSU Extension Library.
Does mulch improve plant survival and growth in restoration sites? WSU Extension Library. A study of the benefits of organic mulching.
Great Plant Picks For Your Garden. Greatplantpicks.org. Lists the great plant picks for the Pacific Northwest.
The Plant Lists. The Saving Water Partnership. A list of ornamental plants appropriate for the temperate Pacific Northwest.