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Arabis (rock cress) in the author's garden. Submitted photo

Home & Garden: Flowering groundcovers provide great gardening variety

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Since this past winter was so mild, it will be interesting to see how it has affected our perennial plants. I lost many of the spring blooming ground cover plants. I believe it was because of the lack of snow cover. Snow is the perfect mulch, both insulating plants and preventing the top layer of soil from drying out. The plants I lost were shallow rooted and most were quite old (new ones I planted last year seemed to weather well). I am still hoping that they may come from the roots, as they were some of my favorite plants.

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Many of these low growing plants are evergreen so that they are attractive even when not blooming and their foliage covers bare soil. The first to bloom is Arabis (rock cress), which is a creeper covered with tiny white or rose pink flowers. It had started to become rampant in my garden, but I now have only a patch or two. Candytuft (Iberis) covers itself with small white flowers. This mound or mat forming sub shrub is tidier than Arabis, but it should be sheared back by ½ to keep it neat. Creeping phlox (moss pinks) blooms later in shades of pink, blue or white. It has evergreen needle like foliage and is quite lovely in bloom. Periwinkle or vinca minor is a trailing plant that roots at the nodes as they spread. It grows well in the shade and has pretty sky-blue five petaled flowers.

I will surely miss the blue forget-me-nots (Myosotis) that usually provide clouds of tiny flowers among the tulips. However, they are prolific self-seeders so if there is snow cover next winter, I should get flowers from the seedlings that grow up this summer.

Two ground covers were not affected by the lack of snow. In the shade garden Sweet Woodruff (Galium) is going strong and soon I will have a carpet of tiny white star like flowers above shiny palmate leaves. It looks pretty with my Virginia Bluebells and Bleeding hearts, but otherwise it is a little too aggressive for me. In sunnier areas, low growing sedums were completely unaffected. I have to pull it out by the handfuls, but I appreciate its yellow or pink blooms later in the summer.

About half of Lamium, a shade loving ground cover, came back. It has silver leaves that seem to glow in the dark and pink or white flowers in late spring. 'Beacon Silver' and 'White Nancy' are two easy to find varieties. I am surprised that my Canadian Ginger has spotty regrowth this spring, as it is hardy to zone two. It is such a good plant for deep shade and I think that it will eventually fill in with its dull green heart-shaped leaves and hidden purple flowers.

My carpet forming dianthus (pinks) did not fare well this winter. They are not long-lived plants so I don't mind getting new ones. Even when not in bloom their mat forming foliage is an attractive ground cover. Hardy geraniums, both ground cover and clump forming seemed to come through the winter well.

Last year I added to a small rock garden that will eventually be filled with ground cover plants. I am trying some new to me plants such as Soapwort (Saponaria), creeping Veronica and Alyssum saxatile (Basket of Gold, which is covered with bright yellow flowers as I write this). Wooly thyme has already passed away in this garden, but I will try it again. Some old and some new Ajugas are starting to show growth and will have spikes of purple flowers along with their colorful variegated leaves.

In the older part of this garden Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium) and Moneywort or Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) are doing well and will bloom in late spring. Cerastium has ground hugging grey leaves with a profusion of white flowers. Creeping Jenny has dime sized golden leaves dotted with yellow flowers. Both of these plants would be invasive in most gardens, but are held in check under an amur maple tree.

As you can see from this list I do not allow much ground to show in my gardens, but ground cover plants can also be used in containers or here and there in rock gardens.

If any of you try the straw bale garden this year I would like to hear from you and perhaps get a picture of the results.

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