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How to Design Gardens

Planting Ground Covers

Planting ground covers is a fulfilling way to utiilize all of your garden space.

Ground-cover plantings should be evenly thick. It helps to set plants in place at regular spacing in the first place. Begin by preparing the ground as for any garden bed. Then use a wire or string grid with regularly spaced openings at three-inch intervals (or other size if appropriate) to help you distribute the plants. For easier, trouble-free planting, consider the following tips:
  • Use landscape fabric instead of plastic to reduce weeds in large plantings. Landscape fabric has pores that allow free air and water movement a big advantage over impenetrable plastic. Lay it down before planting and then cut holes in the fabric. Plant your ground cover in the holes. When covered with mulch, landscape fabric prevents light from reaching the soil, which will stop the sprouting of most weed seeds.    
  • Hold barren soil in place with burlap when planting ground cover on a slope. This will prevent erosion while the ground cover is getting established. You should pin the burlap securely into the soil so that it won't slip off when rain makes the soil heavy and wet. Cut modest openings in the burlap and plant one ground cover in each.                                             
                  A heallthy ground cover should establish a strong root system.
                  A heallthy ground cover should establish a strong root system. 

Once the ground cover establishes a strong root system and is able to secure nearby soil from erosion, you can gradually enlarge the openings and allow it to spread until it fills out the slope.

  • Set ground cover plugs in place using a wire grid stretched over the bed for fast, easy planting. The regularly spaced openings will help you to coordinate spacing without a measuring tape.     
  • Help ground covers spread by layering stems as they grow. Layering encourages stems to root while still connected to the parent plant.
Ground covers such as pachysandra are easily rooted simply by covering barren portions of the stem with soil and keeping them moist.

For harder-to-root ground covers such as wintercreeper, you can remove a small piece of bark from the bottom of the stem and treat the opening with rooting hormone before covering the stem with soil.

A Gift of Ground Cover
Ground covers spread fast. People with established gardens often have ground cover to spare, because it needs thinning or trimming.

See if a neighboring gardener or even a groundskeeper at the park will fill a big plastic trash bag with starts of wild ginger, epimedium, or pachysandra for you. It will save you some serious money, compared to buying flats at the garden center or hiring a landscaper to do the job. 

  • Spread netting or old sheets over ground covers during autumn leaf drop. It can be difficult to rake leaves out of thick ground covers, and allowing the leaves to sit and mat on the ground-cover bed creates unhealthy conditions. But planning ahead to catch leaves as they fall allows you to gather up all the leaves in one easy move and keeps the ground cover uncluttered. 
  • Rejuvenate winter-burned ground-cover plantings by mowing. If a cold winter causes broad-leaf evergreens to grow brown and unsightly, don't give up hope. There is a good chance that the roots are still alive and will send up fresh green growth come springtime. Mowing off the old leaves gives the new leaves plenty of space and keeps the bed tidy.
Using Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses add grace to any garden. With their array of colors, textures, and sizes, ornamental grasses add year-round interest. They even become animated when wind weaves in and out of their leaves. Only your imagination limits their use in your garden. Whether as a specimen or a massed planting, grasses can be used for screening, accent, focal point, or to frame a view. Since grasses are found over the entire earth, you're certain to find a variety to suit your decorative and cultural needs.

Ornamental grasses can be mixed for an effective landscape design.

Ornamental grasses, shrubs, and border plants
can be mixed together effectively.

As with turf grasses, ornamental grasses are categorized as cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses. Many ornamental grasses are perennials, but some are so tender they're treated as annuals. Cool-season grasses actively grow during the cool parts of the year; some even stay green throughout the winter. Before the warm-season grasses begin to show much life after dormancy, cool-season grasses burst into quick, lush growth. They bloom early in the season. When frost comes, the foliage and seed heads turn a bright golden tan and continue to offer a fine display through winter.

Warm-season grasses remain dormant through the winter. When the weather and soil has warmed up sufficiently, they grow rapidly. Warm-season grasses are best left alone except for an annual cutting back at the end of winter. They thrive on hot, long days and, once established, are tolerant of drought conditions. Most require a long growing season to flower in late summer and autumn, when many garden perennials have ceased blooming.

Ornamental grasses are also grouped as to how they grow. Some grasses form dense clumps, others spread by stolons or rhizomes. Clump grasses are easiest to use unless you have unlimited space to allow the grass to roam.

Clump grasses will stay where you plant them, but give them ample space to grow. Determine each variety's space needs and expect a properly tended grass to mature in three years. Grasses that spread will quickly invade the space of other nearby plantings unless they are planted in an area where you can contain their growth.

Ornamental grasses require little maintenance. Most varieties prefer well-drained soil in full sun; some varieties tolerate partial shade. Fertilizer needs are low; over-fertilization results in tall, lush growth that may require staking. Enjoy the grasses throughout the winter season; they add interest when nearly everything else is dormant. In late winter, cut the grasses down to allow for new growth, but be careful not to cut too low since damage to the growing shoots may occur. Two to six inches, depending on the size of the grass, should be sufficient.

Ornamental grasses can line a pathway for an inviting look.

A garden pathway edged with ornamental grasses
is peaceful and inviting.

Designing with grasses is easy. Use small grasses as edging plants; they're often hardier than many commonly used edging plants. Try planting a bank with two or three varieties of grasses; use taller varieties behind shorter ones to create a feeling of depth. Grasses mixed with perennials tie materials together during interim periods when one season's blooms have finished and the next season's blooms have yet to begin.

Ornamental grasses are an excellent choice for an unusual ground cover. They have appeal throughout the year, and there are many varieties to choose from. Ornamental grasses also serve as effective screens from early summer through winter. Choose varieties that will grow to at least eye level. Space the plants so they will form an impenetrable mass at maturity. Mix in evergreens to form a deep screen for all seasons. Any single, large ornamental grass can be used as a specimen plant. Use grass as a focal point in an open garden, or use a giant variety to break up expansive spaces. A single, fine-textured upright specimen breaks the monotony of a flat, coarse-textured planting.

Grasses are also well suited to container growing, as long as they receive the moisture and nutrients necessary for continual growth.
Some ornamental grasses are invasive in some regions. Check your state's weed list before you plant.

Ground covers offer a unique look to your landscape design. Consider using them to show off your creative flair. Learn how to design a mixed garden in the next section.