Tips for Ground Covers and Vines

Ground covers can spread across barren patches of soil. See pictures of famous gardens.

Ground covers and vines are both functional and beautiful. These plants beautify your garden by providing cover, shade and unique visual texture. The following tips will help you get to know these plants.

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  • Ground covers spread across barren patches of soil, coating them with greenery. Some ground covers offer a tapestry of both colorful flowers and foliage. The varying colors, heights, and textures contrast with the nearby lawn, highlighting the shape of the ground-cover bed.
  • Some ground covers also grow where no grass can thrive. In shady areas under trees, dead nettle and periwinkles are at home. On steep banks, where lawn mowing is difficult, great-looking daylilies or junipers can grow thickly enough to stop erosion. Some also double as vines, growing vertically as easily as horizontally. They can even blend tree trunks, walls, and fences into the scenery with a patina of greenery.
  • Other vines may have flowers, colorful foliage, or fruit that make them spectacular vertical accents to train on a fence, trellis, or lamppost. Some climb freely by twining or with tendrils. Others, like climbing roses, need your assistance to assure their secure ascendance.

In the next section, we'll give you some great ideas for including vines in your garden.Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

Ideas for Using Vines in Your Garden

Vines add vertical detail to your garden layout.

Vines add a stunning vertical focus to your garden. Whether it's with beautiful foliage or colorful flowers and fruit, vines are a must-have in your garden. The following ideas will help you get inspired to incorporate these plants into your garden design.

  • Create summer shade on a porch with a string trellis covered with vines. String trellises, available from garden centers or mail-order garden catalogues, can be hung from a roof or held upright with posts. Set the trellis to the south or west side of the porch to block the most sun.
  • Use a wire trellis and vines to cover a blank, dull wall or a utility pipe. A trellis-covered wall comes to life with greenery. Just make sure the trellis is far enough away from the wall; a trellis snug against a wall is not good for either the building or the vines. If you are screening a utility pipe, be sure to leave access openings for maintenance.
  • Pin perennial vines like climbing hydrangea to the wall to help them get started. Check a complete garden supply catalog or garden center for various hooks and loops that can be set into your wall to start vines out. In the beginning, climbing hydrangea might set off in any direction, so guiding it in the right direction is worthwhile. Once it has started, climbing hydrangea ascends by clinging and is well able to scale solid walls or tree trunks.
  • Use vines to cover a chain-link fence or other backyard eyesores. They can screen off your garage from view (or your neighbor's garage), make a hidden alcove for your garbage cans, or cover a barren-trunked tree or a fenced dog run. Remember to plant vines that twine or have tendrils on open supports like chain-link fencing and vines that climb on solid supports like walls.
  • Use vines to make a dead tree disappear into a mass of blooms. Just as grapevines in the woods can cover trees and turn them into a dripping mass of green vines, an old stump can become a garden pillar.
  • In mild climates, evergreen vines can provide reliable cover year-round. In cold climates, some evergreen vines can be more prone to dieback when temperatures really drop. Look for extra-hardy vines for this job.
  • Plant vines on an open pergola frame to create a cool, shaded retreat. A pergola is an arborlike structure with an overhead trellis that forms a garden roof. It can make a shady place to sit outside in summer and give the garden elegant architecture at the same time. To fill out the roof with foliage and flowers, try planting vines that have abundant growth, so they will be well able to go the distance needed. Some possibilities are wisteria, silver fleece vine, kiwi vine, hops, and grapes.
  • Try an extra-easy way to support annual vines with a trellis made from biodegradable twine. Set two 4-foot-high posts about 4 feet apart, pounding their bases about 10 inches deep into the ground. Run the twine between the posts, knotting it around the posts occasionally to keep the twine from slipping down. You may want to make vertical webbing by working the twine up and down between horizontal strands, which helps some vines climb more efficiently.
  • Plant annual vines such as sweet peas, cardinal climbers, or black-eyed Susan vines beneath the new trellis, and allow them to grow and cover it. When frost arrives or the vines begin to look shabby, simply cut off the twine trellis and throw it, vines and all, in the compost pile.

In the next section, we'll give you some great tips for working with ground coverings.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

Ideas for Using Ground Covers in Your Garden

Ground coverings work well in pockets of soil between tree roots.

Ground covers are a wonderful option in the garden. They can beautify many spots in your garden that may have previously been unsightly or plain. Here are some creative ideas to help you get started with these wonderful plants.

  • Plant ground cover in pockets of soil between tree roots. Soil pockets are easiest to find near the trunk of the tree, where roots have become stout and no longer riddle the earth. Just add some organic matter, as necessary, to get ground cover off to a good start, and then water as needed during dry weather.
  • Pocket plantings are great places to try less common and especially beautiful ground covers like European or American gingers, epimedium, and golden star.
  • 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, like plastic, 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 ground cover in each.
  • 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 need for a measuring tape.
  • Help ground covers spread by layering stems as they grow. Layering, a propagation method, encourages stems to root while still connected to the parent plant.
  • Ground covers such as pachysandra and periwinkle are easily rooted simply by covering barren portions of the stem with soil and keeping them moist. For harder-to-root ground covers like 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.
  • 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 evergreens like ivy 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.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.