An attractive alternative to turf, and a solution for areas where nothing else grows well.
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, you just can't get grass to grow in some areas. Maybe it's time to give groundcovers a try.
Once established, low-growing perennial plants such as periwinkle, ivy, stonecrop, thyme, pachysandra and cotoneaster can provide a lush, natural-looking alternative to turf, and eventually require very little maintenance. They're great in shady areas, around trees and on hillsides where lawns can be virtually impossible to maintain, although most are not tolerant to heavy traffic.
Ground covers are usually more costly to install than grass, so it's worth making the extra effort to choose the best types for you area and create a good growing environment for them.
Your garden center can give you advice on these. Usually ground covers look best when planted in larger, informal groups. Some types can be planted near each other without fighting for territory, while others can't. In many cases, lawns and groundcovers can complement each other nicely... especially when the planting areas for each are well chosen with regard to overall shapes, varying soil conditions, light levels, etc. Putting a detailed garden plan down on paper will help the planning process a great deal... helping to avoid problems and improve the use of your plantscaping budget, too.
If the groundcovers are going into an area where some traffic is likely to occur, give some consideration to laying down a pathway of interlocking bricks, flagstones or other material. The path can be informal, following the natural contours of your landscape, or in a symmetrical, straight-line design with borders to complement a formal garden style. If you're uncertain about which style is best for your lot, ask your garden centre if a landscape specialist could stop by your home and provide some recommendations.
While low maintenance is a long-term benefit of most ground covers, expect to spend the first 2 or 3 years helping the new plantings fight off competition from weeds, until they fill in. You'll have to weed by hand, as commercial herbicides would generally harm the ground cover as well as the weeds. Mulching around individual groundcover plants can also help keep weed competition down for the first 2 or 3 years, while giving your plants an opportunity to spread through root and shoot development.
Give ground covers a try this year. Down the road, you'll be rewarded by rich, healthy greens, sprinkled with blue (periwinkle), white (pachysandra, cotoneaster, lily-of-the-valley), pink (creeping phlox, stonecrop) and other colourful flowers in the spring. Summer will bring cool, shade-dappled sweeps of varying greens. Some, like cotoneaster get red or white berries later in the season... and many are evergreen, providing year-round enjoyment.
Whatever kind of ground cover you choose... the result is worth waiting for. Your extra effort in the early years will be rewarded with a long-lasting, low maintenance landscape that might be the envy of the neighbourhood.