by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Mountain landscapes are difficult for plants, especially if you want to keep them low maintenance. In an arid climate where rock lawns are the norm because growing conditions are challenging, ground- hugging plants are the perfect solutions.
Check the ‘net, and you will find a lot of bad advice for mountain gardens. You really must verify the sources and confirm that info with local garden centers. But, hey, that’s why this column has so many loyal readers every week! Thank you:)
This list of the best groundcovers is based on selections of local gardeners who shop here at Watters. This is not an all-encompassing plant list, merely the most popular ones found in many of our area neighborhoods. Botanical name and online links are provided so you can reference more varieties and even buy online for 2020 delivery when necessary.
This is the most challenging growing spot in every local yard. High altitude sun, persistent wind, and extra heat reflected off of retaining walls and rock lawns make sunny spots especially challenging.
- Friesland meadow Sage,
- Gro-Low Fragrant Sumac, Rhus aromatica
- Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle, Lonicera x brownii
- Tom Thumb Creeping Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster adpressus
- Blue Chip Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis
- Emerald Gaiety Wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei
Fragrance Where People Gather
Whether from their foliage or blooms, some plants just give off more pleasing scents than others. Fragrant plants should be used in specific parts of our yards/gardens. They always please guests visiting over a glass of wine on the patio, at a backyard BBQ, and, this time of year, sitting by the fire pit. Here are my favorite locals that smell better than most.
- Corsican mint, Mentha requienii
- Walker’s Low Catmint, Nepeta faassenii
- Red Creeping Thyme, Thymus praecox
- Firewitch Dianthus, Dianthus gratianopolitanus
- Hall’s Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica
- Arp Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
- Star Jasmine: Trachelospermum jasminoides
- Halo Violet Perennial Violet, Viola cornuta
A backyard that is a sheer wall, or a hill covered in granite boulders has its own challenges. Choose plants with strong roots, and they will help hold the soil together and in place, controlling erosion.
- Honeybelle Honeysuckle,
Lonicera x brownii
- Coral Beauty Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster dammeri
- Blueberry Delight Juniper, Juniperus communis
- Eichholz Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster dammeri
- Wine Periwinkle, Vinca minor
- Huntington Carpet Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
- Star Showers Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
- Atomic Red Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans
- Bearberry Kinnikinnick, Arctostaphylos
To Soften Walls
So many raised beds and walls are sterile and in need of softening. These ground covers ease and can even disguise too strong lines of hardscaping elements.
- Blue Uniform Bellflower, Campanula
- Illumination Dwarf Periwinkle,Vinca minor
- Snow Hill Meadow Sage, Salvia sylvestris
- Sunsparkler Dazzleberry Sedum, Sedum Dazzleberry
- Thorndale English Ivy, Hedera helix
- Roman Beauty Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
- Cranberry Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster apiculatus
Where Weeds Grow
The goal in areas with a high concentration of weeds is to use plants that will overtake and squeeze out weeds. Here’s a list of some ground covers that are so hardy they can choke out all weeds, even the most persistent.
- Pink Cat Catmint, Nepeta nervosa
- Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia
- Elfin Thyme, Thymus serpyllum
- Angelina Stonecrop, Sedum rupestre
- Bowles Periwinkle, Vinca minor
- Creeping Oregon Grape, Mahonia repens
Fire Protection: Reduced Fuel Zone
These plants have high moisture contents, so are far less prone to catch fire. Growing a ground cover for the purpose of fuel reduction is often overlooked, but definitely should be worked into the gardens in areas that are prone to wildfires.
- White Flowered Chocolate Vine, Akebia
- Streibs Findling Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster dammeri
- De La Mina Verbena, Verbena lilacina
- Prostrate Rock Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis
- Madison Star Jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides
- Bronze Carpet Stonecrop, Sedum spurium
- Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans
- Red Wall Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
In a High-Traffic Area
Ground covers make excellent replacements for the classic green lawn, but they can’t tolerate the amount of traffic for sports and other activities as turfgrass will. How often do you use that patch of grass for a rousing game of croquet? Do your dogs patrol your yard until a path is worn into their routes? Here are the plants that can withstand a certain amount of traffic and still keep a landscape looking good.
- English Thyme, Thymus vulgaris
- Wilton Blue Rug Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis
- Chocolate Mint, Mentha piperita
- Wine Common Periwinkle, Vinca minor
- Hot & Spicy Oregano, Origanum vulgare
- Green Showers Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata
As we build ever more deeply into the forest and mountain valleys, we encounter wild creatures that see our gardens as their personal buffets! This list is of low-profile plants that mountain-dwelling animals find utterly distasteful. Some even have a repellant effect.
- Woolly Thyme, Thymus pseudolanuginosus
- Compact Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia aquifolium
- Big Ears Lamb’s Ears, Stachys byzantina
- Pineapple Mint, Mentha suaveolens
- Mondo Grass, Ophiopogon japonicus
- Huntington Carpet Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
- Variegated Lemon Thyme, Thymus citriodorus
- Engelman Ivy, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Spots under a tree, or a deck, or eaves need something that ‘pops’ to bring darkened spaces alive. Here are my local favorites that outshine the rest in a shady spot.
- Burgundy Glow Carpet Bugle, Ajuga
- Creeping Bramble, Rubus calycinoides
- Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum
- Duckfoot Ivy, Hedera helix
- Tidal Pool Speedwell, Veronica
- Grace Ward Lithodora, Lithodora diffusa
- Bowles’ Common Periwinkle, Vinca minor
Garden Alert! Tree Breakage – So many gardeners have asked how to handle the trees mangled by the last snowstorm. If you need help, bring a digital photo of your problem, and have Watters’ tree experts direct your recovery efforts. For really big jobs, I use Jonny’s Tree & Landscape Service (928) 830-4977. Let them know Ken sent you:)
2020 Free Garden Classes Announcement for next year is very exciting. January classes and instructors are finalized, and the rest of the Spring schedule is coming together nicely. Next year’s classes are going to be good! Here are the topics for the first classes of 2020.
January 11 @ 9:30 am: Houseplant Designs with Professional Style
January 18 @ 9:30 am: Top Landscape Designs with Flare
January 25 @ 9:30 am: Why January is the Month to Plant Wildflowers
Until next week I’ll be helping local gardeners with gift cards and selecting groundcovers here at Watters Garden Center.