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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 7/30/2008

Ground covers: color underfoot

You've seen portulaca if you wander through most rock gardens in full sun. The low ground cover is also called moss rose. But don't look for soft, fuzzy green foliage on this annual. It has small, needle-like leaves that sprout off of short stems that like to spread out flat, rather than reach for the sky. It gets its "rose" name for the tiny rose-like blossoms that bloom all summer.

This is a great choice for that spot between the sidewalk and the curb in your yard. You know, that strip of grass that gets neglected and you hate to mow? Dig it up next year and plant portulaca and let it fill in.

This colorful ground cover also works like a charm in a rock garden or wall with small crevices to fill. It doesn't need much attention - just good drainage and lots of sun.

You can create a blanket of color in a large patch by packing it with petunias. Wave petunias are the latest hot-shots on the garden scene that will dead-head themselves and keep on blooming all summer. The colorful horns of flowers come in many vibrant colors, such as hot pink, red, lavender, and many other colors.

You can find these annuals with tiny flowers like milliflora that will fill a container and spill over the sides. Grandiflora have the largest bloom, up to four inches in diameter. They work great in large areas that are hard to reach because they will creep around the bed and keep growing. But they do need some attention. Petunias like to be pinched. Break their long stems halfway back at this time in the growing season so they stay low and bushy, rather than long and scraggly.

If you love black-eyed Susans, you'll love a flowering carpet of mini-Suzi's. The annuals are really called creeping zinnia or Sanvitalia. They have another fun name called lazy daisies because they are a trailing plant that likes to lay around and fill in. They will grow under a foot tall and have those familiar yellow flowers with dark brown centers that are about as big as a penny.

Just like their bigger relatives, zinnias, they grow quickly from seed in the spring and look great in a spot that needs to be filled in and gets lots of sun. They don't like a whole lot of water, so you won't need to hit them with the sprinkler on a weekly basis. If they get too wet, they just might develop a bad case of fungus.

Their name almost sounds like you sneezed. Try it. "Ah-CHEW-ga!" See what I mean? This colorful perennial, also known as bugleweed, is dark green and deep purple and really likes to fill in. It is a favorite around the Heidbreder garden since I have so much shade. It has a tiny lavender or white flower and shows off its deep foliage all season long. It spreads easily so it makes a great underplanting that will take some work out of weeding once it gets established. But just like all good things, it can work its way into your grass if you don't give it a defined edge.

Now, if you want to get rid of the grass and let the ajuga take over, then you are in luck! But if you are like me, the minute you give it the go-ahead to take over the yard, it stops cold. Time for another sneeze! "Ah-CHEW-ga!"

I used to think lamb's ears were just one of the fun plants my grandma used to grow for pure amusement. It can also make a really fun ground cover. Its low-growing, soft silver leaves can fill in a sunny space very nicely and don't even need good soil. Matter of fact, this perennial doesn't even like a whole lot of fertilizer. It will sprout spikes of purple flowers that need to be pinched off when they are done. And they also make a nice silver line down the side of a walking path to "light" your way.



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