Groundcovers for Sun

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Variety of thymes creating a multicolored groundcover.

Looking for a groundcover for a sunny spot? Maybe because the lawn isn’t holding up well or because it’s on a slope or is otherwise hard to mow… or simply because you really don’t want to mow anymore? Here is a list of plants you might find suitable:

  1. ‘Angelina’ Sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’), zone 3, FTR: none
  2. Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia spp.), zone 4, FTR: poor
  3. Barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum), zone 3, FTR: none
  4. Basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis, syn. Alyssum saxtile), zone 3, FTR: none
  5. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), zone 2, FTR: moderate20170426WEN.jpg
  6. Bearberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri), zone 5b, FTR: none
  7. Bergenia (Bergenia crassifolia, syn. B. cordifolia), zone 2, FTR: none
  8. Bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum), zone 3, FTR: none
  9. Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’), zone 3, FTR: poor
  10. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon plansicapus ‘Nigrescens’), zone 7, FTR: none

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    Bleeding-heart (Dicentra formosa). Photo: J Brew, Flickr

  11. Bleeding-heart (Dicentra formosa and D. eximia), zone 3, FTR: none
  12. Brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’), zone 4, FTR: good
  13. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  14. Cambridge geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense), zone 3, FTR: none
  15. Caucasian Sedum (Sedum spurium), zone 3, FTR: none
  16. Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), zone 2, FTR: poor
  17. Creeping speedwell (Veronica repens), zone 2, FTR: moderate
  18. Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  19. Crested iris (Iris cristata), zone 3, FTR: none
  20. Crownvetch (Coronilla varia), zone 4, FTR: none
  21. Cutleaf stephanandra (Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa’), zone 3b, FTR: none
  22. Dwarf knotweed (Persicaria affinis, syn. Polygonum affine), zone 3, FTR: moderate

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    Faassen’s catnip (Nepeta faassenii). Photo: Wouter Hagens, Wikimedia Commons

  23. Faassen’s catnip (Nepeta x faassenii), zone 3, FTR: none
  24. Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), zone 3, FTR: none
  25. Goldenstar (Chrysogonum virginianum), zone 4, FTR: poor
  26. Green carpet (Herniaria glabra), zone 4, FTR: good
  27. Hairy greenweed (Genista pilosa), zone 5, FTR: poor
  28. Heuchera (Heuchera cvs), zone 3, FTR: none
  29. Hosta (Hosta cvs), zone 3, FTR: none
  30. Houseleek (Sempervivum spp.), zone 3, FTR: none
  31. Iceplant (Delosperma cooperi), zone 5b, FTR: poor
  32. Ivy (Hedera helix and others), zone varies according to species and cultivar: 4-9, FTR: poor

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    Kamchatka sedum (Sedum kamtschaticum ‘Weihenstephaner Gold’). Photo Maja Dumas, Wikimedia Commons

  33. Kamchatka sedum (Sedum kamtschaticum), zone 3, FTR: none
  34. Labrador violet (Viola riviniana ‘Purpurea’, syn. V. labradorica), zone 4, FTR: none
  35. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), zone 3, FTR: none
  36. Lamb’s-ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’), zone 3, FTR: none
  37. Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), zone 3, FTR: none
  38. Liriope (Liriope muscari), zone 6 ou 7, FTR: none

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    Golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’). Photo: European Environment Agency

  39. Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  40. Moss phlox (Phlox subulata), zone 2, FTR: none
  41. New Zealand burr (Acaena microphylla), zone 4b, FTR: poor
  42. Oregano (Origanum vulgare), zone 4, FTR: none
  43. Ornamental strawberry (Fragaria x rosea), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  44. Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), zone 4, FTR: none
  45. Perennial dusty miller (Artemisia stelleriana ‘Boughton Silver’, syn. ‘Silver Brocade’), zone 3, FTR: none
  46. Periwinkle (Vinca minor), zone 2b, FTR: moderate
  47. Rozanne™ geranium (Geranium ‘Gerwat’), zone 4, FTR: none
  48. Scotch moss (Sagina subulata glabrata ‘Aurea’), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  49. Self-heal (Prunella grandiflora), zone 4, FTR: none
  50. Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), zone 3, FTR: none

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    Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata) forms a dense, weed-resistant groundcover. Photo: Crusier, Wikimedia Commons

  51. Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata), zone 3, FTR: none
  52. Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), zone 2, FTR: poor
  53. Spotted dead-nettle (Lamium maculatum), zone 2, FTR: none
  54. St. John’s wort (Hypericum calycinum), zone 6, FTR: none
  55. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), zone 3, FTR: none
  56. Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), zone 2, FTR: none
  57. White clover (Trifolium repens), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  58. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), zone 5b, FTR: moderate

    20170426H Ghislain118 (AD), www.fleurs-des-montagnes.net

    Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) Ghislain118 (AD), http://www.fleurs-des-montagnes.net

  59. Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  60. Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon), zone 2, FTR: none

Keeping Them Under Control

Most groundcover plants are a bit to very invasive… and that’s normal, considering that we choose groundcovers specifically for their ability to cover ground. It does, however, mean that you should always plan on how you eventually intend to slow them down when they’ve filled up their allotted space and start looking for new territory. You could, for example, contain them with a walkway, paving stones, a short wall, logs, lawn edging or deep shade.

Groundcovers for Shade

If you are looking for suggestions of shade-tolerant groundcovers, see the article Groundcovers for Shade.20170426A

The Mystery of the Shamrock

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20170317AToday, March 17, is St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated wherever in the world the Irish have settled… that is to say just about everywhere. Like many North Americans, I have Irish ancestors… and I’m far from alone. About 10% of Americans and 15% of Canadians are of Irish origin.

That shamrock is the symbol of the Irish people is very well known and it’s also the official emblem of Ireland, but do you know where this tradition comes from?

Saint Patrick Plucked a Clover Leaf…

Saint Patrick during Boston’s traditional Saint-Patrick Day’s parade. Photo: Laura Siegert, Wikimedia Commons

Saint Patrick is an almost mythical historical figure. Although he probably really did exist, there are so many stories and legends about him that historians have had difficulty determining what really happened. Some even suggest there were two Patricks and that their stories have become intertwined!

Here’s a quick sketch of what might have been Saint Patrick’s life.

Born in Roman Britain around 385 AD, he was reportedly abducted by Irish pirates at the age of 16, then lived as a slave in Ireland for 6 years. It was during this period that he became a devout Christian.

Escaping from his captors, he returned to his family, studied and became a priest. In 432, Pope Celestine, learning he spoke Irish, sent him to Ireland to evangelize the hitherto-pagan Irish people, without much success at first. However, during an impromptu sermon at Cashel Rock, he bent over and plucked a leaf with three leaflets, explaining that it represented the Holy Trinity. That he should so readily find the Holy Trinity in a common weed impressed the pagan Irish and they began to convert to Christianity.

Patrick became the first bishop of Ireland and died on March 17, 461 (maybe!), and the trifoliate plant, which the Irish call shamrock (seamróg), became the very symbol of Ireland.

But Which Plant?

One of the potential shamrocks: lesser trefoil (Trifolium dubium). Photo: Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons

Therein lies the mystery. What leaf did Saint Patrick pick?

The word shamrock can mean any plant with 3 leaflets. Over the years, experts have suggested that the true Irish shamrock could be lesser trefoil (Trifolium dubium), white clover (T. repens), red clover (T. pratense) or alfalfa (Medicago lupulina), all of which are in the Fabaceae family, or even wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), from an entirely different family. All five are common in Ireland and it fact, throughout much of the northern hemisphere.

As for the Irish themselves, a survey conducted in 1988 showed that about 45% consider lesser trefoil (T. dubium) to be the true shamrock while one third prefer white clover (T. trifolium)… and all the others have their share of votes as well. So, no consensus there either.

Your Own Shamrock

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White clover (Trifolium repens). Photo: Ranko, Wikimedia Commons

If you find clover plants with small green leaves on sale around St. Patrick’s Day, a tradition in many countries, the plant sold is inevitably white clover (T. repens), the same clover that grows in so many lawns. It’s easy enough to grow from seed in a florist’s greenhouse, but this cold-climate plant is usually short-lived when grown in a pot and is best planted outdoors if you want to see it thrive.

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False shamrock (Oxalis triangularis)

There is also the false shamrock or purple shamrock (Oxalis triangularis, formerly O. regnellii), True enough, there is nothing truly Irish about this South American plant, but if you want to grow it and claim it as a shamrock, go for it. At least it does makes a good, long-lived houseplant.


It is said that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. So wear the green… and show off your shamrock plant, whatever it is!20170317A