University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article

TRY THESE NATIVE GROUNDCOVERS

 Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
 
Groundcovers are valuable plants in any landscape. Bluegrass lawns are popular groundcovers in full-sun sites where foot traffic is heavy, but other groundcovers are appropriate for many places. These include slopes where erosion control is important, shaded areas where many grasses do not perform well, and sites where more visual interest is desirable.

These six shrubby groundcovers are native to northern New England. They are superior landscape plants, hardy, and are widely available at nurseries and garden centers.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is one of the most beautiful and durable groundcovers available. It is just a few inches tall, but with time expands to as much as 15 feet across. Its glossy green leaves form a dense mat. In spring it produces dainty white/pink bell-shaped flowers. In fall and winter it is decorated with bright red fruits and reddish leaves.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) requires moist, acid soil and does well in sun or partial shade. This six-inch plant expands rather slowly into a broad groundcover. Its shiny dark green leaves turn wine-red in fall. The white bracts around the tiny flowers are very showy in spring, and the clusters of scarlet fruits in August persist into winter and are eaten by many birds.

Checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens) is also called Creeping wintergreen, a name that refers to the fragrance released when leaves are crushed. Checkerberry forms a six-inch creeping groundcover, valued for its shiny, evergreen leaves. It does best in moist, acid, organic soil.
 
Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) is perhaps the most popular groundcover juniper in the United States. Plants reach one to two feet in height and spread four to eight feet across, although many selected cultivars (cultivated varieties) vary significantly from that size. Creeping junipers do best in full sun and tolerate heat and drought well once established. At least two cultivars originated in Maine: 'Bar Harbor' was found in rock crevices on Mt. Desert Island. 'Blue Rug' was introduced to the industry in 1914 after it was discovered on Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a very hardy, two-inch groundcover that is sometimes called Twinberry. Its dark green leaves often have whitish veins. The pinkish flowers are very fragrant in early summer, and the red fruits add color to the planting in fall and winter. This plant requires moist, acid soil and shade. Partridgeberry is not an aggressive groundcover for large areas, but it is a delightful shade garden plant for the avid gardener.

Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) is prized for its tasty fruits of August, but it has many other attributes that make it useful as a groundcover. It tolerates dry, sandy soils although moisture is important for good fruit size. It is truly a plant for all seasons. In spring, its new foliage is often bronze. In early summer it produces white or pink flowers.

By midsummer, the dense lowbush blueberry foliage is beautiful, and in late summer the blue fruits provide food for people, birds, and many other animals. In late fall the foliage forms a mosaic of red, wine, purple, and orange. In winter, the reddish stem color contrasts with the snow.  Related to this plant is the mountain cranberry or lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).
 

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