Ground cover plants for Southern California: Part 3

In the first and second parts of my article ‘Ground cover plants for Southern California landscapes’, you’ll find some handy profiles for selecting plants that are as beautiful as useful. This is part three and I’m adding more suggestions for some of the best ground cover plants for Southern California.

landscaped succulent blanket

Succulents can form a colorful, textural carpet. But they are not good for foot traffic.

Some succulents can form a low-growing carpet that will work as a colorful ground cover. All succulents retain water so these plants will not be good for foot traffic. Sedums offer a wide selection of cover plants. Some are even resistant to frost. Most have decorative leaves and showy flowers.

There are several sprawling shrubs that can also be used as ground covers. Some of the Cottoneasters, Firethorns (Pyracanthas),  low Acacias like A. ‘Low Boy’and the newly developed Butterfly Bushes that grow with a lower, spreading growth habit are good drought-tolerant choices. Other ideas are using native ground cover plants like dwarf coyote brush, sages like S. Terra Secca or S. Bees Bliss and low-growing Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos).

Mexican primrose

Cheerful pink Mexican Primrose flowers

The pink Mexican Primrose (Onoethera) is another fast spreading plant with showy flowers. It can cover large areas fast. This plant takes full, hot sun or even a little shade. It goes dormant in winter.It also can be very invasive and spread into areas where it is not wanted.

dwarf plumbago or leadwort

The true-blue flowers of the Dwarf Plumbago (or Leadwort)

Another plant that goes dormant in winter is the Dwarf Plumbago (Ceratostigma). Ceratostigma grows to about 10” in height with deep green leaves and shockingly blue flowers that echo the shape of real Plumbago blooms. This plant can be grown by itself in the garden or used as a larger ground cover. It spreads by runners and puts on a wonderful show from early spring ‘til autumn when the leaves turn a glowing autumnal red. Then it virtually vanishes for the winter, returning to do its cycle all over again in the springtime.

As you can see there are plenty of choices to fill garden space in Southern California. Yet there are still many more. But these should give you a good start. Check out which colors and growth habits will best suit your own garden. Then select your favorite plants to fill space in your landscape.

Plant Profiles: Acacia redolens

flowering acacia

Clusters of fuzzy yellow flowers bloom on the Acacia redolens in late winter or early spring.

 

 

Acacias are attractive trees and shrubs that are mostly native to Australia. The low-growing shrub, Acacia redolens, has become an ideal ground-cover plant for open spaces in hot-summer climates. The Acacia redolens is not only an attractive evergreen that covers itself with hundreds of fuzzy little flowers in late winter or early spring, but it is a perfect shrub for covering large areas since it can easily spread twelve feet in diameter while reaching only two to four feet in height.These same attributes make it ideal for hillsides where fewer plants with a larger spread will make maintenance easier.

An early bloomer, branches studded with tiny little yellow puff-like flowers that will turn the whole plant into a mounding carpet of soft color. Other times of the year the leaves will stay green. This plant accepts dry, fast-draining, poor soil and is a fine choice for wildfire resistant landscaping, particularly the A.‘Low Boy’ and A.‘Desert Carpet’ varieties, with their low profile habit of growth. It can take hot desert-like sun and requires remarkably low water. As a result, this Acacia is becoming a popular choice for carpeting hillsides in California and other inland, dry-summer climates.Acacia redolens on hillside

The yellow-flowering Acacia redolens ‘Low Boy’ blends with green to make a decorative patchwork effect on this hillside.

Ground cover plants for Southern California: Part 2

Ground cover plants help fill in space between permanent features, gardens and other areas of the garden. In Southern California the best choices are plants that accept a hot, sunny summer without rain and a mild, but wetter summer. This article is a continuation of the previous Ground cover plants for Southern California article with more suggestions for some good plants to use.

Rosemary flowers

Close up of rosemary flowers

Rosemary has several creeping varieties that offer an evergreen flooring studded with pale or bright blue flowers. Trail some over walls, spill them out of pots or let them ramble across hillsides or flat ground. They won’t be fazed by either hot sun or temperatures that slip a bit under freezing. The old standby, creeping rosemary (Rosmarinus prostratus) is a sure thing to fill in almost any place in full sun. R. ‘Collingswood’ is a variety that will give you brighter colored flowers. For one of the most intensely colorful prostrate varieties R. ‘Irene’ can’t be beat. Rosemary plants are easy, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant,  ground covers for most any area, doing well even on difficult soils, however, they do draw bees, so you might want to think twice before using too much rosemary close to bathing areas. Another benefit of planting rosemary is that even the most decorative variety will serve well for cooking. And if you have wandering pets on your land, they just might return to you smelling wonderfully herbal after meandering around your property!

Vervain

Purple flowers of the Verbena rigida

Verbena comes in not only a choice of colors, but a selection of varieties. There is the annual verbena that allows you to choose almost any color you want, but only for the short life span of any annual. Or there are perennial versions of reasonably drought-tolerant verbena usually seen in lavender colors. Verbena tenuisecta is a tougher variety, also in the lavender purple color range.  Verbena rigida, with its slightly taller and more course appearance is tougher still. This latter variety is very drought-tolerant and will do well in full sun, sometimes becoming mildly invasive with a little extra water. It runs with underground roots and pushes its rough-leaved shoots between other plants to show off its bright purple flowers over a long season. Verbenas are ideal for water conscious landscapes.

You can always find the ubiquitous Gazania daisy in affordable flats as a ground cover for large areas.

Gazania flowers

Gazania flowers almost look painted

The interior kalidescopic designs are fascinating and they do come in a wide assortment of colors.  Other ground covers may be less colorful, like using creeping red fescue to give a long shiny green-grass effect, particularly effective on hills. Flat areas can be seeded with mixed low-growing wildflowers to create meadows. Low growing succulents like some small sedums as well as the low mounding blue grass of the Festuca ovata glauca are drought tolerant and work wonderfully in Southwestern, Cactus or natural-styled gardens. Some of the prostrate junipers will give you evergreen coverage that will require hardly any upkeep. 

Consider some of the low-growing thymes or the yellow-flowering Dymondia to fill in between stepping stones or flagstones in the Southern California garden. You can plant drifts of different plants to cover large areas. And feel free to mix different sized plants to get a rolling feel to a design. You might want to use several different plants with various colored foliage, or different height plants that all bloom with similar colors. Some, like many Achilleas (yarrows) and salvias tend to grow a little taller, and some, like ice plants and thymes are ground-huggers.

There are many more living ground cover plants available that can enhance the Southern Californial landscape. The style of your garden, your personal taste, your micro-climate, budget and the availability of material will all influence your choice.

Check for some more suggestions in Ground cover plants for Southern California: Part 3.

 

Ground cover plants for Southern California landscapes

Ground cover plants are useful in Southern California since there are many properties with expanses of open land or large or small hillsides that need to be protected to avoid erosion. Low water use is becoming more critical, and using lawn as a filler has become expensive, labor intensive and a poor ecological choice. Drought-tolerant low-growing plants can make excellent lawn replacements. So here are some plants that are easy to grow and maintain, available, and good choices to help create beautiful garden styles in our climate.

Select the right plants for the right location. Moisture lovers will have a hard time living on hillsides as water tends to wash down the hill rather than penetrating. Good ground covers for hills should have tenacious roots and handle our summer drought conditions. Here are some suggestions for easy ground cover plants for Southern California landscapes.

pink iceplant

This larger form of ice plant is ideal for hillsides, but where steep, can become a heavy carpet that pulls away from the soil. In some areas it can also be invasive.

Although the beleaguered ice plant has lost its magic due to being overused, it can still be a good choice for some hillsides.Many types of iceplant will not tolerate the winter frosts of inland or higher elevation properties, but the usual purple-pink variety (Delosperma) is probably the most cold resistant. If you live closer to the coast you’ll have a much wider choice of colors and varieties. One way to create more excitement with ice plant is by planting it in patches along with another ground cover so it creates either a design, or natural looking flows rather than the big flat blanket style used so often. (Large blankets also can get top-heavy and slide down the hill.)

Another good plant for hillsides is the Myoporum parvifolium. It will give you a rich green low-growing cover, snowy with small white flowers in the spring. This one handles areas that get light frosts and hot summer sun.

mass of vinca minor

Vinca can form a close mat with lively purple flowers or it can cascade down a wall in long strings.

Vinca minor also offers a very low profile and blooms with more showy purple flowers. Although it prefers a little shade in the hottest sun areas, it usually thrives in full sun in most of Southern California. In the hottest locations it prefers a tad more water, too. It is slower growing but better behaved than its cousin, Vinca major.

For coastal areas or inland shade try the Cerastium or Snow in Summer plant. It spreads its soft blue-hued leaves over the ground to and clothes itself in white flowers in spring. The effect is a gentle, cooling carpet that is welcome in our dry, hot climate.

Lantana is another popular plant to use for ground cover. There are various colors of these spreading plants that offer single or multiple colors in the flower clusters. They are good for hills and flat areas and are attractive planted singly with other border flowers. Lantanas do not like frost, but are happy in sun or partial shade.

lantana flowers

Multi-colored flower clusters of a lantana plant

Two very tough ground cover plants for poor soil areas and hot sun are the Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’ and the Salvia ‘Terra Secca. Both are bred from native chaparral sages so they will require very little watering or care once established. S. ‘Bee’s Bliss’ has soft grey foliage and spires of blue flowers whereas the S. ‘Terra Secca’ has less showy white spikes of bloom but pebbly, rich green leaves that don’t fade even in the heat of summer. Both are quite frost tolerant.

For more suggestions for good ground cover plants for Southern California gardens, check part 2 of this same article. Or feel free to offer some suggestions of your own as a comment in this blog.

Ground cover plants for Los Angeles gardens

Sun Drops are another ground cover plant great for Los Angeles gardens

Sun Drops are another ground cover plant great for Los Angeles gardens

Living ground cover is a catch-all phrase for a lot of low growing plants grown together to literally cover the ground. In most landscapes there are areas that need general soil coverage. You might want to replace a water-hungry lawn with another green alternative, maybe even one that can take a little foot-traffic. There are also areas that look best with low-growing plantings. And sometimes there is only room for low plants to grow. Whether you are looking to cover a large expanse of ground or just to fill in an odd spot, there is bound to be a ground cover plant that will work just right for your Los Angeles landscape needs.

Lawn is actually a ground cover since it (surprise!) covers ground. Even gravel, bark and pavers are technically ground covers and these non-living varieties are wise choices to fill in areas for beauty, usefulness and cleanliness on larger properties. But here is some information about the living ground covers that grow happily to fill in between regular garden denizens, the non-living, and open areas.

Ground covers need to be chosen for the right location. Moisture lovers will have a hard time living on hillsides as water tends to slip down the hill rather than penetrating. Good ground covers for hills should have tenacious roots and handle some drought. Although the beleaguered ice plant has lost its magic due to being overused, it is still a good choice for hillsides. By the way, if you’ve ever tried to walk on it – especially on a hill, you will know why it’s called ice plant! There are many varieties in many colors, though the usual purple-pink variety (Delosperma) is probably the toughest for more demanding locations. One way to create more excitement with ice plant is by planting it in patches along with another ground cover so it creates either a design, or natural looking flows rather than the big flat blanket style used so often. Another good plant for hillsides in Los Angeles city and county is the Myoporum parvifolium. It will give you a rich green low-growing cover tickled with small white flowers in the spring. This one handles areas that get light frosts and hot summer sun.  Vinca minor also offers a very low profile and blooms with more showy purple flowers. Although it prefers a little shade, it is occasionally seen doing perfectly well right out there in our hot sun. In the hottest locations it prefers a tad more water.

On the coast , or inland — If you do have some dappled shade –, there are some very colorful choices available for hillside or flat. Cerastium (Snow in Summer) has bluish green soft little leaves and riotously happy white flowers that create a light, cool gentle-looking carpet. Ceratostigma (Dwarf Plumbago) grows to about 10” in height with deep green leaves and shockingly blue flowers that echo the shape of real plumbago blooms (pictured above). This plant can be grown by itself in the garden or used as a larger ground cover. It spreads by runners and puts on a wonderful show from early spring ‘til autumn when the leaves turn a glowing autumnal red. Then it virtually vanishes for the winter, returning to do its cycle all over again in the springtime.

The old standby, creeping rosemary (rosmarinus o. prostrates) is a sure thing to fill in almost anyplace in full sun. R. ‘Collingswood’ is a variety that will give you brighter colored flowers. For one of the most intensely colorful prostrate varieties R. ‘Irene’ can’t be beat. Rosemaries are easy, low-maintenance ground covers for most any area, doing well even on difficult soils, however, they do draw bees, so you might want to think twice before using too much rosemary close to bathing areas. Another benefit of planting rosemary is that even the most decorative variety will serve well for cooking. And if you have wandering pets on your land, they just might return to you smelling wonderfully herbal after meandering around your property!

Verbena comes in not only a choice of colors, but a selection of varieties. There is the annual verbena that allows you to choose almost any color you want, but only for the short life span of any annual. Or there are perennial versions of reasonably drought-tolerant verbena usually seen in lavender colors. Verbena tenuisecta is a tougher variety, also in the lavender purple color range.  Verbena rigida, with its slightly taller and more course appearance is tougher still. This latter variety is very drought-tolerant and will do well in full sun, sometimes becoming mildly invasive with a little extra water. It runs with underground roots and pushes its rough-leaved shoots between other plants to show off its bright purple flowers over a long season. Verbenas are ideal for water conscious landscapes in the Los Angeles area.

You can always find the ubiquitous gazania daisy in affordable flats as a ground cover for large areas. The interior kalidescopic designs are fascinating and they do come in a wide assortment of colors.  Other ground covers may be less colorful, like using creeping red fescue to give a long shiny green-grass effect, particularly effective on hills. Flat areas can be seeded with mixed low-growing wildflowers to create meadows. Low growing succulents like some small sedums as well as the low mounding blue grass of the Festuca ovata glauca are drought tolerant and work wonderfully in Southwestern, Cactus or natural styled gardens. Some of the prostrate junipers will give you evergreen coverage that will require hardly any upkeep.

Ground covers can also be planted in pots and boxes. Using these creepers and trailers creates green and color to spill over the sides. This same concept can also be used to soften the top edge of a retaining wall.  The Calibrachoa (Million Bells) is a miniature perennial petunia that offers bright reds, purples and deep yellows. Bacopa dangles soft leafy green stems studded with little white or purple flowers. Ivy geraniums fill in bigger areas with reds, pinks and whites. They can ramble over hills and rough areas as well as dangling down from window boxes or overflowing pots. The Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron) is a delicate little daisy that will also work well for pots or protected areas.

Consider some of the low-growing thymes or the yellow-flowering dymondia to fill in between stepping stones or flagstones. You can plant drifts of different plants to cover large areas. And feel free to mix different sized plants to get a rolling feel to a design. You might want to use several different plants with various colored foliage, or different height plants that all bloom with similar colors. Some, like many achilleas (yarrows) and salvias tend to grow a little taller, and some, like ice plants and thymes are ground-huggers.

There are many more living ground cover plants available that can enhance a Los Angeles landscape. The style of your garden, your personal taste, your micro-climate, budget and the availability of material will all influence your choice.