Tag Archives: wild violets

Great Ground Covers for Sun or Shade

Healthy ground covers add color, keep down weeds, and help to prevent erosion. For areas where turf grass refuses to grow, or a bank that is too steep to mow safely, ground covers are your best alternative.

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Ground covers have an upside and a downside. The upside: most spread quickly, so they are great at filling in those bare spots. The downside: they spread quickly, and can become invasive. Some are more invasive than others. I will mention invasiveness on the ones listed here that are particularly invasive.

Most of my gardening experience has been in Alabama and North Carolina —  both areas where we lived are in USDA Zone 7. The ground covers featured here will grow all over the southeastern U.S. with the exception wild violets which do not do well in the tropical south. They seem to be very happy here in central Florida (Zone 9). I am not sure where else they will grow, but you know your area. I can tell you that, in the southeast, they grow beautifully, and will help to keep down weeds.

Ground covers add interest to the garden, and many have lovely flowers. I enjoy the contrast of the yellow-green, blue-greens, true greens, and even purples of the various ground cover foliage. If you don’t mulch heavily or plant ground covers in those areas where nothing else will grow, Mother Nature’s ground covers will take over. “Nature’s ground cover” is just another name for weeds. Here are some of my favorite ground covers:

Pinto Peanut

I don’t recommend this one, but it is so pretty, I had to mention it. 

The good news:  Pinto Peanut (Arachis pinto) is a great plant to use for adding nitrogen to the soil. It forms a mat that suffocates weeds, and the little yellow flowers are very pretty, resembling the flowers of peas. It is used in our community in some of the common areas and is beautiful. There are no true peanuts, and it is most highly recommended as a pasture plant for grazing and foraging.

The bad news:   this plant is highly invasive. Once the roots become established in the soil, they are very stubborn. It is slow to become established, but difficult to eradicate. The Pinto peanuts that are nearest to my yard are about two miles away, yet I occasionally find tiny seedlings of it in my flower beds. I quickly pull them out.

If you own acreage or pasture land, you may want to use Pinto peanut. If you have a suburban lot, you may want to take a pass on this one. You don’t want your neighbors to hate you.

Creeping Jenny

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Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is prized for its foliage, because it often does not flower at all. This cultivar is called “Goldilocks”. When it does bloom, the small flowers are yellow with dark red spots. Jenny forms a dense mat, and is is NOT drought tolerant. In fact, it thrives in moist soil, and must be watered well during dry spells. It’s worth the effort, though, to have that lime-green color that contrasts so well when set among the darker green and blue-green leaves of other foliage plants, or among brightly colored flowers. My Jenny has never bloomed, but I love it anyway.

Jenny does well in Zones 3 – 9, and can tolerate all but intense light — it will need shelter from the harsh heat of afternoon sun. Unless you live in the warmest climates, it will die back in winter. It is an annual, but with the mild winters of Zones 7 – 9, it will stay around. It may begin to look a bit ragged, but when spring arrives, it will perk right up again. Creeping Jenny spreads quickly, but I’ve never had a problem with it becoming invasive. It is really pretty spilling over a retaining wall or dangling from a container.

Purple Ajuga (a.k.a. Bugleweed)

The plants in the photo above are still quite young, and have not yet turned the purple/green that is so popular. Ajuga reptans will grow in full shade, but does best with morning sun and dappled light, which brings out the purple color in the leaves. It can take some full sun, but you will see fuller coverage and larger, healthier plants if shaded from the harsh afternoon sun. In heavy wet clay soil, or in the humid conditions of the Deep South, crown rot can be a problem. Be sure to allow for good air circulation. 

Ajuga grows as little rosettes (see center of photo) that send out runners which establish more rosettes, and the process continues. When clumps become overcrowded, they can be divided and moved or shared with a friend.

Ajuga is one of my favorites because it blooms, and its dark green and purple leaves add interest to the garden. It prefers moist soil, but requires good drainage. Once established, Ajuga reptans is self-sufficient. In late spring it sends up little stalks about 8 – 10 inches tall that have tiny purple flowers. To encourage spreading, remove spent flower stalks. Here’s a peek at the flowers.

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If it’s where you want it to be, it’s a wildflower. If it’s where you don’t want it to be, it’s a weed.

— Maria

Golden Sedum

Golden Sedum (Sedum rupestre) is a foliage plant that spreads rapidly, and grows to a height of 4 to 6 inches, and requires full sun. When newly planted, golden sedum should be kept moist, but once it becomes established in your garden, it will need less water. It should, however, be watered more often during dry spells. It is hardy to 10 degrees F. Mine died back this winter, but came right back when warm days returned. Another good thing about this one is that it is deer resistant.

This dense ground cover has a beautiful bright green color, but under dry conditions, turns to a more golden/green color, hence the common name, Golden Sedum. I prefer the darker, brighter, green myself, but that’s just me.

Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine

No ‘taters, just foliage. Sweet potato vine can be invasive, so be careful where you plant it.

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This particular cultivar is called “Margarita”. While ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomoea balatas) does not produce potatoes, it does provide beautiful foliage that adds gorgeous color to your landscape. It is happy in Zones 8b to 11, but at the first frost, it’s toast. Along with the chartruese type shown here, there is also a dark purple/black type that is equally beautiful. Both are gorgeous when paired with brightly colored flowers such as impatiens, petunias, or vinca. At our former home, I paired this Margarita potato vine with hot pink vinca in the bed around our mailbox. The contrasting colors were stunning.

It spreads quickly to cover large areas. Because of this, it has become a common summer plant in commercial landscaping, as well as the home landscape. It likes full sun — at least 6 hours per day. Because the growing season is so long, giving it ample time to spread, here in central Florida, the local master gardeners recommend against planting this ground cover, because it is so very invasive.

Mondo Grass

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This is mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicas). It is in the lirope (monkey grass) family, but grows to only about 6 inches tall. It is a shade-loving plant, and spreads quickly and stays dark green year-round. It may become a bit discolored in times of extreme drought or long periods of extreme cold. It should be watered well until established. After becoming established, it can be left on its own to flourish, except of course, in extremely dry conditions.

Mondo grass and its cousin, dwarf mondo (Ophiopogon japonicas nanus), which reaches heights of only 3 to 4 inches, are great ground covers for shady areas where little else will grow. Both are especially good to plant underneath large trees that block the sunlight so much that turf grass cannot survive.

Wild Violets

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Another favorite of mine is the wild violet (Viola papilionacea). While technically not a ground cover, wild violets can serve the same purpose. These little guys will flourish wherever there is a woodland setting, and will spread by seed to cover large areas. They don’t insist on a woodland setting, though, and will even move into the edges of your lawn if you don’t watch them. Just a little encouragement and they may spread too much, but they are beautiful when they bloom. They have purple, white, or lavender flowers on 3-4 inch stems in springtime. The flowers tend to open in mid-day. If you have hard freezes in winter, they will die back for the duration, but will cheerfully return when spring arrives. Because wild violets spread by seed, and can pop up all anywhere, some people consider them to be weeds, but I think they are beautiful.

Do you need ground covers in your landscape?

Do you have one of those spots where grass simply refuses to grow? Do you make use of ground covers? They can serve a wonderful purpose in your garden and yard. With the exception of wild violets, all the ground covers I have discussed spread primarily by runners. Still, they can sometimes move into your grass, too. So keep an eye on them. Of course, if you hate mowing lawns …

Thank you for visiting this page. I hope you enjoyed it and will plant some new ground covers.

Tiny Flowers

Some of the tiniest flowers are some of the most beautiful. Because they are so small, they usually grow in clusters, but not always. Some tiny flowers often mimic other flowers in appearance. Take this one, for example. Is it an orchid?

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No, it’s just one of a large cluster of the orchid-like blooms of variegated ginger (Alpinia zerumbet variegata). These flowers and their buds hang like clusters of grapes. This is a hugely popular plant, and my post about how to prune and care for it is my most popular blog post. To see it, click right here.  Please note: No part of this plant is edible.

 

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This one Lily of the Nile, or Aggie because of its botanical name Agapanthus africanus. It is one of my late-spring/early summer favorites. These tiny blossoms grow in large globes called “umbels” with up to 100 tiny flowers in each umbel. For my post on growing Aggies, click right here.

 

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These are the delicate, tiny white flower of Shamrocks (Oxalis regnellii) – another of my favorites. They typically bloom in spring here in the Southeastern United States. Mine, however, are confused by our fluctuating temperatures. They have been blooming off and on since November.

Another one of my favorites is the wild violet (Viola papilionacea):

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These tiny woodland flowers are the harbinger of spring in most places, but here in central Florida, they bloom intermittently all year. They produce blossoms ranging from white to deep blue-violet. Wild violets need shade from the harsh afternoon sun, but can take morning sun. They are native to rich woodland soil, so they don’t care for the sandy soil found here. I grow them in rich black soil that I had brought in to amend my planting beds. They re-seed themselves easily, and will spread rapidly if you let them. If you have a place where moss grows, wild violets will be very happy there. I don’t mind them popping up all over my flower beds underneath larger plants, but when they get into the turf grass (and they will) they have to go.

No Clusters Here:

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This is one of the tiny flowers that does not bloom in clusters. It is the flower of Purple Queen (Tradescantia pallida purpurea) one of many variations of Wandering Jew, a plant that grows in a trailing pattern. It makes a good ground cover, but suffers in winter, even here in Zone 9a. This plant would be beautiful drifting over a retaining wall, or cascading from a hanging pot.

Another Wandering Jew (with small clusters):

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Variegated Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebina), is the version most people are more familiar with. It, too, makes beautiful hanging baskets, and is a good summer ground cover. A hard freeze will kill it, though.

No Longer a Mystery Plant:

The name of this plant with beautiful blue and white tiny flowers was a mystery to me, but two of my readers have told me the name of it (see the comments below).  It is called Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis). The flowers last only one day, but each day there are many more. Many flowers that are called blue are actually a shade of purple or blue-violet. This one is a true blue.

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It was in the yard of a home we bought near Birmingham, Alabama, several years ago. I accidentally brought it with me from Alabama in the pot with another plant where it had evidently dropped some seed. It re-seeds itself easily — too easily. It quickly took over two of my flower beds and a hydrangea. I had to pull it up and put it in the trash. Not the compost. The trash can. It took two summers of pulling up its new seedlings before I was completely rid of it. I’ve learned that it is often considered a weed. That’s definitely understandable. It would be great, however, for a wildflower meadow or an area where erosion is a problem, so I’m convinced that all plants have a purpose. We just have to learn what it is.

Tiny Flowers vs. Large Flowers

Large flowers are gorgeous and showy, but large amounts of tiny flowers can be just as pretty. You simply need more of them to make a nice showing. Many wild flowers are tiny, and would be beautiful in the home garden. The drawback, though, is that they re-seed themselves and reproduce like crazy, so they can become invasive if not kept in check. See you in the garden.