University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article
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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, sites where more visual interest is desirable, and spaces where a mown lawn really isn’t needed.
           
If you have a large mown area, consider regular mowing for only those areas needed to set off the home or garden beds, or for recreation.  Replace other space with beds of groundcovers, particularly around trees where grass struggles.  For groundcovers, consider these six plants native to northern New England.  They are superior landscape plants, growing well in the region to which they are adapted, and are widely available at many nurseries and many 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 two feet or more across. Its glossy green leaves form a dense mat. In spring it produces dainty white/pink bell-shaped flowers.  Bright red fruits follow in the fall. This plant prefers sandy to gravelly soil, and full to part sun. 
           
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) requires moist, acid soil and grows well in sun or partial shade. This six-inch plant expands rather slowly into a broad groundcover about 12 inches across. 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. This plant can be a bit more challenging in home landscapes.
           
Checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens) is also called creeping wintergreen, a name that refers to the fragrance released when leaves are crushed. Checkerberry forms a four-inch high creeping groundcover to about a foot wide, valued for its shiny, evergreen leaves. It grows best in moist, acidic, sandy 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. Avoid overfertilizing, and plant where plenty of air circulation, to lessen the chance of leaf diseases.  Some cultivars may have disease resistance, but this seems to vary with location.
           
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. It is often found in woodlands growing among moss.  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. Growing about a foot high, a lowbush blueberry plant can reach two feet or more across.  They’re often found growing in dense mats in acidic soils, in full sun.  Cut back every few years, or even mow at a high setting, to make plants more dense.
           
Lowbush blueberry 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 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.
           
Native Americans dried the berries and pounded them into “moosemeat” -- an ingredient they used to make pemmican.  Today you can find a few cultivars with good red fall foliage, such as ‘Brunswick’ or ‘Ruby Carpet’.  ‘Top Hat’ is a popular cultivar with good fall color, a globe-shaped habit making it good for large containers, and large berries. 
 

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