The Tropical Gardener…Chuck Nicholls, Master Gardener
Groundcovers in the landscape are often overlooked. Many homeowners first concentrate on primary or specimen plants to enhance the architecture of their residence and end up using tons of mulch to cover bare areas of the garden. A worse case scenario is when no mulch is used over the barren ground. Selected ground cover plantings should be considered in your garden.
I have noticed that many new homes are being built using various forms of marble and granite veneers above the foundations of their homes. Contractors come along and concentrate their plantings by covering up these areas by using many foundation plantings that in essence covers up a prominent feature of a home. Ground covers however are very pleasing as plants that are not more than 15” in height. Used alone or in combination with specimen planting can enhance the curb appeal of your home. I have often used some ground covers (those that are trailing) in my container plantings as secondary plants as they offer another dimension and are complementary to the primary plants.
A wide variety of ground covers are available. Below are ground covers that are among my favorites for South Florida gardens.
Blue Daze (Evolvulus glomeratus)
This is a particular favorite of mine. It is a mounding plant that works well when planted relatively close to one another in either beds or borders. The small green grey foliage compliments the small beautiful blue flowers on plants that are less than 12 inches tall. The plants are salt tolerant and thrive in sandy soils. Mine are grown in full sun.
Creeping Fig (Ficus repens/Ficus pumila)
As the name implies this is a trailing plant and is often used to cover stucco or concrete walls. The foliage is small and heart- like in appearance and makes for interesting patterns. As a groundcover it clings to the surface of the soil with its many aerial roots. Clever gardeners often use this plant when inserted into animal forms filled with sphagnum moss and other media. The creeping fig grows best in the shade when used as a groundcover, however, I have seen it grown in full sun on walls.
Perennial Peanut Plant (Arachis glabrata)
While closely allied to the plant that produces peanuts this plant is known as an ornamental peanut and does not produce peanuts. It makes a great groundcover growing only 6 inches in height. The tiny yellow flowers resembling sweet peas enhance the plant. It is salt tolerant and makes a great plant for sandy soils here in South Florida.
Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)
This is a vigorous growing ground cover and is available in green and purple-red varieties. It loves full sun and grows no more than 6 inches. It is also a favorite among gardeners to use as trailing plants in containers.
Jasmine Minima (Asiatic Jasmine)
This groundcover grows only 2-3 inches in height. It is a woody plant that has multiple stems that produce a dense groundcover. Unlike other Jasmines it does not produce significant flowers. The plant is salt tolerant.
Wart Fern (Microsorum scolopendria)
The wart ferns give a unique color and texture to the garden usually growing less than 12 inches in height. The plant produces little brown bumps on the back of the leaves which accounts for the name. The older varieties are a deep green in color, however, newer varieties are a beautiful light grey green. They grow best in the shade.
Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)
Mexican heather is not considered a true ground cover as the plants can reach 12 inches in height but planted in masses they present a beautiful colorful look in your garden. The plants have lacey foliage and are usually lavender in color but new outstanding pink and red varieties are becoming available. They like well- drained soil and thrive well in South Florida.
I have only discussed a few of my favorite ground covers. There are several varieties of the Liriope (super blue is one of my favorites). For large areas I would recommend Dwarf Mondo Grass. Most local nurseries and garden centers have a large selection of plants to choose from.
You can learn more about ground covers and other plants by attending The Equality Park Garden Club which meets at the Pride Center every third Wednesday of the month at 7:30 PM. The Pride Center is located at 2040 North Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors.
Chuck Nicholls is Past President and co-founder of The Equality Park Garden Club and founder of the The Annual Tropical Plant Fair held in Wilton Manors.