There are greener options than grass when it comes creating a beautiful landscape. Groundcover and other earth friendly textiles are gaining popularity as home owners and landscape designers seek to reduce their carbon footprint while still enjoying variety in their outdoor space.
Bryon Angerman, the nursery manager and a landscape designer at Alsip Nursery (10255 Wicker Ave. in St. John, Ind., 219.365.0882, alsipnursery.com) says groundcover has come a long way in the past 15 to 20 years and has grown in popularity as more varieties become available.
A few decades ago, there were only about 20 types to choose from, but today there are thousands, giving homeowners plenty of options for solving common landscaping issues.
Groundcover tackles problem areas such as slopes that are eroding, heavily shaded areas, or heavily trafficked paths. The right low growing, foot friendly groundcover can tolerate traffic well and add an element of color and softness.
Most are also low maintenance and better for the environment because they do not require mowing, weeding or chemical fertilizers.
In many cases, they also provide more color and interest in the landscape, Angerman says. Their small plants and short root systems also make them a good fit for container and fairy gardens, both of which are quite popular, Angerman says.
“Going to lower maintenance groundcover has really changed the homeowner and commercial use as far as taking out some turf grass areas and going to native or non native species,” Angerman says. Alsip Nursery staff can help customers choose the correct groundcover to suit their needs and can even special order groundcovers if they are not carried on site.
Dean Savarino, owner of Dean’s Lawn and Landscaping (238 Kennedy Ave. in Schererville, 219.864.9078, deanslandscaping.com) says the first step he uses to determine the correct groundcover is assessing the site. Conditions that will affect the selection include how flat or high the location is, how much shade and sun it receives and what height the plants need to cover. Groundcover can range from flat to two feet high.
If a homeowner needs to add appeal to the side of a house or hillside, for example, climbing hydrangeas can provide color and a branch structure of vines. English ivy, which reaches a height of 4 to 6 inches, can be used to take over an area and cover a lot of ground, he says. His favorite groundcover is ajuga, particularly the chocolate chip variety, which produces a small flower and has a nice burgundy color. It is also foot traffic tolerant.
“We do try to implement perennials or shrubs where we’re getting our color from the foliage,” he says.
His landscapers can use a 3-D rendering of the home and lot to project how groundcover will grow.
“We can show you grade elevation, what it will look like in 5 years, 7 years. If you’re phasing in landscaping, you can see what it will potentially look like.”
The move toward using groundcover has been an industry trend, says Roger Boike, principal designer at Groundworkes, Inc. (15486 Red Arrow Highway, Lakeside, Mich., 269.586.2133, groundworkes.com) He has begun to use more groundcovers like dune grass in sandy neighborhoods and vinka in shady, forested areas.
Dune grass, which comes from a Michigan supplier, comes in plugs with a few shoots of grass and a small root that will travel underground. It grows in sand and counts on water draining away from the roots quickly. “If we’re planting it on a property where there’s topsoil, we have to add at least 6 inches of sand,” Boike says.
“We like to use it in areas where it seems natural, if it’s close to the beach, if it’s on a bluff coming off the beach,” he says. Combining it with evergreens like white pines can create a beautiful look.
Clients feel good about having the dune grass because it is indigenous to the area, making it a “green choice.”
For his clients with forested and heavily shaded areas, Boike has the most success with vinka, also called periwinkle, which blooms “a beautiful little flower in the spring.” It also does not interest deer, which is a big plus for his clients.
“It grows well in shade. It’s indigenous. It becomes a beautiful cover that eliminates the need for the cost of mulch or the time consuming work of weeding.” A variegated version, which has white edges on the leaf, is also available.
Boike says all grass must be removed before planting groundcover and suggests planting in May through September to give the roots time to get established.
“You have to be patient with groundcovers and all perennials,” he says. A common industry saying is, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap.”
As a landscape design and installation company, he is interested in the concept for the total property.
“A lot of our clients work in phases over time but always good to have a design for total property so that it will all work together.”
Another environmentally friendly way to cover ground is with recycled granite.
Julie Rizzo, owner of Recycled Granite (866 Kennedy Ave. in Schererville, 219.313.1388, recycledgranite.com) and founder of the recycled granite network, says recycled granite pavers can bring beauty, sustainability and strength to a landscaping project.
Each stone is more than 50 million years old and the designs have been naturally built into the stone. They are three to five times stronger than concrete pavers and guaranteed not to fade.
While the pavers have been around worldwide for thousands of years, the new concept of creating them out of remnant countertop material has been done for about six years.
“Buyers want something beautiful and one-of-a-kind. With our recycled granite products we can manufacture entire outdoor patios with 100 percent recycled stone that is jaw-dropping. The quartz and mica in our stones actually sparkles. They are truly amazing.”
The pavers and stone veneers appeal to all buyers because they are affordably priced, yet still a high-end material.
“Since there is so much granite waste in the marketplace we like to keep our prices low.”
The products work for small patios and walkways as well as larger commercial projects.
Rizzo employs individuals with disabilities to perform 100 percent of the manufacturing, which is done in Valparaiso and Gary.
“When buyers purchase our products for their landscaping project they are making a huge difference in the lives of people in their local community. Every single dollar counts in more ways than one. We are a triple bottom line company. We care about people, profit and our planet.”
The landscapers revealed some of their favorite groundcovers.
English ivy: Takes over an area and covers a lot of ground to a height of 4 to 6 inches
Dazzleberry sedum: Beautiful burgundy foliage
Irish moss: Chartreuse green with a small bloom, looks nice in between flag stones on walkways; stays low and spreads beautifully.
Veronica: Good for areas where dogs run back and forth
Nepeta: Loves the sun, will flower all summer and attracts bees
Trifolium: Aggressive groundcover that looks like a clover with a burgundy tint, foot traffic friendly
Pachysandra: Can grow in deep shaded areas
Ajuga: Beautiful coloration and little flowers, foot traffic friendly
Low fragrant sumac: Has a light fragrance when it blooms and grows to about 18 inches high, providing dimension when planted behind lower ground covers, good for covering large amounts of ground