I thought a fact of life was that you had to be out in the garden almost every day, in the summer heat, in the humidity, on your hands and knees, weeding around the shrubs and perennials. So I weeded. I mulched. Then I weeded the mulch.
But not now. Now, five years into this project, I spend very little time pulling up unwanted stuff. Why is that?
Groundcovers. Groundcovers are the secret weapon. I planted low spreading plants in every border and bed. Once they spread, I eliminated almost all weeding in the areas they cover.
Here are my favorites for:
- weed suppression,
- ability to spread quickly and nicely (no thugs), and
- sheer good looks:
Himalayan Fleeceflower, Persicaria afinis 'Dimity' (or 'Superba'). It forms a low, tight mat that nothing grows through.
|Rosy pipecleaner spikes bloom from summer through late September. Clean green leaves are red tinged.|
|Scarlet 'Dimity' between soft yellow dwarf amsonia and a border of liriope in fall. Some years it's more maroon or rust red.|
Yellowroot, Xanthorhiza simplicissima. It's a taller, woody shrub that gets to about one foot high and loses its leaves in winter, but only the rare tall weed grows up through the woody stems, and is easily pulled.
|In April, before the leaves appear, yellowroot has hazy purple blooms|
|Celery-like green leaves in summer . . .|
|. . . give way to soft wine tinged foliage in October . . .|
|. . . turning bright gold in November. Some autumns it's more bronzy, some years multi colored like a Persian carpet.|
Fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica 'Gro Low'. Another low woody shrub that loses its leaves in winter. It can get more than a foot tall but is easily pruned lower. It spreads widely and densely and very quickly. My plants just went in this summer.
|Fragrant sumac leaves are glossy green. They bring a shine down to the lower level of the garden.|
|This is how dense a mature patch of rhus aromatica gets. No weeds grow in here. This is on a slope at Arnold Arboretum|
|Rhus aromatica in fall. This is not mine -- my patch was just planted this summer, but I can't wait to see it turn to this next fall. Photo is from Fine Gardening, credit Karen Bussolini|
Geranium, there are many good spreaders --- mine is Geranium wlassovianum. Geraniums smother absolutely everything under them. They are kind of weedy themselves, needing to be cut back and trimmed each season, and they leave bare earth in winter, but they are so pretty.
|Geranium wlassovianum fills a corner in front of bushy upright amsonia tabernaemontana.|
|It turns winey red in fall.|
Kinnikinnik, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. I've written a lot about this groundcover before. It's a favorite of mine. The occasional bittersweet seedling pops up in the woody branches but can be pulled.
|It's evergreen, it's glossy, it has sweet pink bells for flowers. I love this groundcover.|
|A few plants spread easily to make this mat, and will keep going into the bare areas up to the brick wall.|
Thyme, the low mat kind, mine is Thymus serpyllum 'alba'. A few grass strands want to grow in the mat, but the dense competition keeps them stunted and I can pull them out when I get to it.
|Creeping Thyme is dense and spreads easily. The white blooms go on for a month in early summer.|
Groundcover Sedums (mine are 'Angelina', 'Red Carpet', and the mouthful 'Weihenstephaner's Gold' but there are many others). All nice. All easy. All low, and nothing grows through them. If you do nothing else, plant these and you will not weed. I have them everywhere.
Some other groundcovers that are nice but are still problematic for weeds:
- Cranberry Cotoneaster. It's glossy green with red berries and it spreads low and wide, but tenacious bittersweet and slender grass shoots get established in open areas under the arching stems and they are hard to eradicate.
- Epimedium. Lovely, and a mature stand in dry shade under a tree is awesome, with beautiful foliage. I love them, but they take a good four years to establish and spread. That leaves a lot of weeding to do before they get going.
|Epimedium 'Frohnleiten'. There are many varieties.|
- Salix yezoalpina. A groundcover willow. Really. It has very attractive wide glossy leaves and it stays low and spreads out many feet. The leaves turn buttery yellow in fall. It is too new for me, I have no experience yet to know if it will keep weeds down, but it is great looking so far. More to come on this one.
|Groundcover willow, newly planted last summer|
There are so many choices, including the low mounding hakonechloa grasses, and liriope, and other plants that fill in at the feet of more upright perennials and shrubs.
For every plant that I put in the garden, I stuck a groundcover below it and hoped they would get along. To my delight, my weeds fled, very sorry that they tried to grow in my gardens.