The best ground covers for slopes
Question: I have a fairly steep bank in my backyard that is very difficult to mow. It is partly sunny. What would be a good ground cover to plant that would look nice and solve my problem? Thanks so much!
Answer: The slopes of Western Pennsylvania certainly cause issues for homeowners when it comes to landscape management. Mowing, or even weed whacking, can be a challenge on steeper slopes planted with grass. Using a ground cover to dress up a sloped yard is a great option, however it’s not without its own challenges.
While there are many different ground covers suited to sloped areas, you’ll have to work hard to keep the area weeded, especially until the ground cover fills in. I would also recommend using several different ground covers together, if you can. That way if one ends up with a pest or fungal issue, or if it fails to fill in, you have other ground covers there to pick up the slack. The plants will also have to be well-watered for the first year after planting and during times of drought. Many people think ground covers are maintenance free, but that’s definitely not the case.
You’ll also have to make sure you get rid of the existing vegetation fully before planting your ground covers. If you don’t, it will easily come up through the new planting and possibly overpower it.
All that being said, ground covers are a terrific option for your situation. Here are a few varieties to consider.
Lamium maculatum: Also called spotted deadnettle, forms a dense mat over areas, making it an excellent choice for out-competing weeds. It’s fully hardy in our region and produces lots of small flowers in the spring. There are many different varieties of Lamium with different leaf variegations and bloom colors. This plant thrives in part shade to full shade. If it’s in full sun, bare spots and leaf scorch may appear during hot summers. It tops out at about 4 inches in height and grows quickly. It is not evergreen, though, so don’t depend on it for winter interest.
Vinca minor: Known commonly as periwinkle or creeping myrtle, this evergreen ground cover is quite common in yards and gardens around our region. Small periwinkle blue flowers appear in spring. Vinca thrives in full sun to part shade and fills in fairly quickly. I don’t often recommend this plant to anyone who lives in an area where it can spread out into the woods because it can become quite invasive, but for a slope like yours, it’s a great choice. The plants reach just a few inches tall, and their trailing vines creep along the ground and take root, spreading the plant around quickly.
Ajuga reptans: Bugleweed is another common ground cover that’s well suited to covering slopes. It’s very winter hardy, fast spreading and low maintenance. Ajuga tolerates full sun to part shade and produces short, stocky spikes of purple-blue flowers early in the spring. It’s inexpensive to purchase and can be planted very densely. It spreads by creeping stems to form a thick mat of plants. The leaves are dark green to bronze, though there are several different cultivars of this plant with different colored foliage or unique foliage forms. However, the straight species tends to spread the fastest and have the densest growth.
Other good choices include creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), creeping sedum (Sedum species) and lilyturf (Liriope muscari).
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.