Welcome to another year of gardening hints in The Triangle. I have noticed during the early parts of January that the media was announcing that 2015 was the hottest year on record and 2016 is likely to top that. So this year I will ensure that I give some great ideas that will help you on your way to success with the conditions we will be exposed to. The first cab off the rank this year will be to talk about groundcover plants and the benefits they can offer to us in the garden.
Ground cover plants come in many forms and categories from conifers through Australian natives to perennials and non-Australian plants. Many are absolute ground huggers but others can reach 50-70cm high and be as wide as 3-4m. There are categories that will tolerate first line coastal to varieties that can handle severe frosts and low water. Others are shade tolerant and many are edible, like herbs. To elaborate on these we will start with first line coastal. Many of the plants that suit this particular situation are Australian natives and it should be well worth mentioning that a stroll along coastal gardens and natural areas will soon give you an indication as to what species are handling this difficult growing area. Species such as Carpobrotus (an Australian native succulent) are very good for dune stabilisation along with Bankisa and Westringea that have groundcover varieties. Myoporum and Hakea both have groundcover varieties. A good non-Australian plant is the Shore juniper (Juniperus conferta) that will mat well and stabilise sandy soils.
Moving away from direct coastal we then move into more protected locations with heavier soils and not so much wind. In open sunny positions in these locations the list is endless. Australian natives include Grevillea, Leptospermum, Callistemon and Banksia with many others that are softer perennial types including Scaevola and Brachyscome. Non-Australian plants include groundcover Camellia (Marge Miller and Snow), Carpet roses, Cotoneaster dammeri, Convolvulus and the list goes on.
Shaded gardens are always a bit of a problem but here also there are many plants that can be used in combinations with perennials including Camellias, Chinese star Jasmine (often used as a climber) and the very beautiful Gumpo Azaleas. Here also space does not allow me to mention the many others that are available.
Herbs are the most likely category of groundcover that do not get much of a mention but there are many of great benefit. These can be used to cover paths within the herb and vegetable garden or used to cover a retained area within the garden. Several varieties of Thyme are suitable for walking on and prostrate Rosemary also falls into this category.
The ground preparation for groundcover plants is the same as for all other plants with the inclusion of some compost mixed with the existing soil to give the plants are good start. It is a common mistaken belief that ground cover plants will provide weed suppression. There might be some weed suppression but generally weeds will still grow through the groundcovers and will be very hard to remove after the plants have established.
Ideally, the best method is to lay down several layers of moist newspaper and cover with a moisture retentive mulch prior to planting and then pull paper and mulch aside sufficiently to make the planting hole. Plant the plants and then water in and pull paper and mulch back around the plant. Over the period the newspaper takes to decompose, the weeds would have most likely died. Some careful hand weeding and spot spraying after that, will ensure the garden stays weed free. It is important to remember that during the course of their life, plants will have failures and successes. If you have tried a particular plant in your garden, don’t give up if that particular variety has not done as well as you expect. Many factors can be at play here including soil types, moisture regimes and sun or shade. Sometimes it will take a couple of tries to get a success and things will not look back after that. Every garden has different requirements so it is important to seek qualified advice before making your choice. Your local nursery person will have many years of experience to help you make the right choice to complete this very rewarding project in your patch.