Creeping Ground Cover Trials and Errors

Ever since sprucing up our evolving outdoor space last summer, we've been trying to find the best ground cover to fill in the cracks between our blue stone patio. Having spent an inordinate amount of money on this seemingly simple space, I thought I would share what I've learned and what I wish I hadn't.

Before getting down to business, I should mention that this is not a post for serious gardeners. It's more a consolation/word of caution to newbies and plantkillers like myself. Despite the morally unacceptable number of plants that have died under my watch, I seem to have a sick and unstoppable optimism that leads me to try again and again...and again.

OK, now back to ground covers. The first step is to read every garden forum on the web that contains advice for your region! I found online local advice to be infinitely more valuable than even the advice given to me by local nurseries, which obviously have an interest in selling heaps of expensive ground covers. Search for conversations in your locale. Ground covers that flourished in your neighbor's yard are likely to flourish in yours too. For example, quite a few people on the mid-atlantic region garden forums cautioned against using elfin thyme, saying that it died within weeks of planting, despite claims of it being one of the hardiest covers. However, everything I read on nursery pages assured me that it would be a great fit. Nope, and with $200+ worth of fried elfin thyme taking up space on my patio, I can tell you that I wished I had heeded the advice of the locals.

The second is to keep it simple. After spotting a beautiful spread in Martha Stewart Living in which an intricate collage of different creeping groundcovers effortlessly intermingled across the page, I decided to repeat the scene in my own backyard. However, I quickly discovered— once again— that my own life is not a staged Martha spread. Different plants take longer to grow than others, and some varieties of creepers like the sedum sieboldii and creeping jenny took off and quickly stifled the growth of its slow growing neighbors. In retrospect, I should have chosen one or two varieties instead of six— seriously, who does that?— and planted them with plenty of room to spread.

Thirdly, be patient. Creeping ground covers do just that. They creep, they don't explode. I grew impatient after a few weeks of looking out the patchy scene pictured above so I began to fill in with more plants. As soon as some began to grow, others would encroach on their ground, and eventually one or both would die.

Now, it's time for all of you savvy and successful ground cover growers to spill the beans. Which varieties have worked for you? How have you spaced them? What's your secret?

(Image: Leah Moss)

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