If you're seeking an alternative to mulching your garden beds while simultaneously growing herbs for fragrance or cooking, then look no further than planting herb ground cover. Ground cover works much the same way as mulch: It is a low-maintenance way to cut down on weed growth and help the soil retain water, and to insulate plants from temperature extremes. And, not only does ground cover also prevent erosion, it boosts the visual appeal of your garden beds.
Why Grow Ground Cover?
The most common type of ground cover is turf grass. However, there are many types of low-growing plants that can be classified as ground cover. Herb ground cover adds visual flair and can be beneficial to garden beds or anywhere else it is needed in your landscape. Below are the main benefits of growing ground cover.
Get Better Watering Results
Like mulch, ground cover helps conserve water that seeps into the soil either from rain or from the nozzle of a garden hose. Ground cover slows evaporation to help hold moisture in the soil for all the plant life — both the ground cover plants and garden plants. The ground cover also blocks sunlight from drying out the soil underneath. Most herb ground covers need a deep watering once a week.
For best watering results, match water requirements for your herb ground cover plants with your garden plants. Ask an expert at your local True Value hardware store for watering advice.
Choose ground cover herbs that you know will do well in your particular climate.
Your herb ground cover’s foliage and root systems protect your garden from erosion, whether it’s from excess rain and runoff, wind, or hot and dryer-than-usual conditions. Ground cover leaves and roots help absorb excess water and hold it in the soil and make the soil healthier by promoting a good habitat for beneficial soil organisms. The foliage also shields soil from too much sun.
Get Rid of Weeds
Weeds can take over a garden plot and steal the sustenance your garden plants need to thrive. Ground cover combats weeds by consuming the nutrients and water that the weeds would need to prosper, without causing harm to your garden plants. Ground cover also blocks out the sunlight that weeds require for growth.
Keep in mind that some herb species can completely take over your garden beds in the same way as weeds. Know what you’re planting and how it will affect the surrounding plant life before you put seeds to soil. If you’re not sure, ask an expert at your local True Value hardware store.
Ground Cover Provides Insulation
Ground cover not only helps soil retain water during the hot months, it insulates the soil during the cold ones. The herbs’ roots grow together and shield plant roots and bulbs from winter temperatures. Above ground, foliage provides an insulating barrier from the cold in much the same way as mulch.
Create Visual Interest
Herb ground cover adds extra color, texture and definition to your garden and landscape. They accentuate flower gardens and create a natural transition between your lawn and your plantings. They can also be used as barriers or as guides along pathways or as a means to soften hardscape appearances.
Plant Herb Ground Cover
Before you begin, check your seed packets for any specific directions for planting. Prepare the soil for herb seeds or seedlings using the same method you would with flowers or grass. Break up the top soil with a tiller or trowel and remove any weeds or other unwanted vegetation from the area. Add a thin layer of potting or garden soil and compost. Spread the recommended amount of fertilizer evenly over your garden with a rototiller or spade. Mix or till the fertilizer 4" to 6" into the soil.
Buy gardening gloves and kneepads to keep your hands clean and make it easier on your knees if you’re going to be working on the ground.
Drop your seeds where you want the herbs to grow or in intervals recommended on the seed packet. Cover the seeds with soil, using a garden rake, and then lightly tamp the soil down with the back of the rake so that it makes contact with the seeds to insulate them and help them absorb nutrients better. Use a garden hose to apply a light mist of water onto the soil.
Maintain Ground Cover
Once your herb ground cover has grown in and you have started reaping the benefits, you need to take care of them to keep them healthy and thriving. Here’s how:
Keep herb ground cover fed by using a general purpose fertilizer or a fertilizer appropriate for the herbs you chose to plant. Some fertilizers are packaged for certain uses and types of plants. This makes it easy to distribute the right nutrients to the right plants in your garden. Read labels for application times, amounts and conditions. Apply only as directed on the package. Ask an expert at your local True Value hardware store if you need guidance on fertilizers. The most common types of fertilizers are dry granular fertilizer and liquid fertilizer. Granular fertilizer, the most common, is slow releasing. Liquid fertilizers are quickly absorbed into the soil and easy to use with a garden hose.
Try to plant your ground cover plants in groupings according to their fertilizer needs, if necessary.
To ensure you are using the correct type of fertilizer, purchase a soil testing kit.
Instructions on the packaging will inform you of how many pounds per square feet need to be applied. For reference, 10 lbs. per 1,000 sq. feet is a common application.
Any fertilizer spilled on roads or sidewalks should be cleaned up promptly. Improper use of fertilizers may contribute to pollution of lakes and groundwater, so use a broom to sweep up spills immediately.
After fertilizing, immediately water the area thoroughly. For routine watering, use a sprinkler or a garden hose in the same way you would your lawn. Water deeply once a week, in the morning if possible, for the most efficient use of water. Don’t water daily. This can cause ground cover roots to start to grow on the surface of the soil which can lead to plant failure.
Keep Pests Away
While ground cover helps combat weeds, occasionally a few hearty plant pests can find a way to grow. Simply remove them and their root systems using your gloved hands or a weed puller. There will be few so a manual approach is better than using post- or pre-emergence herbicides to control weeds. These chemicals may kill off the ground cover too.
There are a variety of insecticides that can be used to keep insect pests from your ground cover and the rest of the plants in your beds. Insecticidal soaps are nontoxic and leave no residue in the soil. Spray it onto plants with a spray bottle. Yellow sticky traps are great for effective flying-insect control. Malathion spray can be used once a week to ward off aphids, Japanese beetles, leaf miners, spider mites and leafhoppers. You can also look for caterpillar and mosquito killer with BT (bacillius thuringiensis) to control these pest populations. Diatomaceous earth or diatomite, is a nontoxic, organic way to rid your garden of grubs, slugs, beetles and other bugs.
Liquid insecticides are usually applied with a sprayer and often come in both concentrated and premixed forms. Apply granular insecticides with a spreader. Use a hose-end sprayer or a portable spray tank to apply concentrates. Before applying an insecticide to any plant, test it on individual plants. Just apply a small amount to a few leaves and wait two to three days for signs of damage before treating the entire plant.
Be very cautious when using insecticides. Cover exposed skin and don’t apply in windy weather. When applying liquid insecticides, walk away from (and never through) the treated area. Always keep insecticides out of reach of children and pets.
Congratulations! You’re done! Now prepare to enjoy all the benefits of your new herb ground cover.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.