Uses for Ground Cover Plants
Ground cover plants are an absolutely vital component of a healthy garden ecosystem. In nature, aside from deserts and sites that are well-trodden or freshly-disturbed, there are few places where the soil remains bare: soil is healthier when covered, and what most gardeners call “weeds” are just opportunistic plants that are the first and best at covering open patches of earth.
Therefore the most obvious benefit of using ground cover plants for gardeners is—as you could probably guess—the suppression of weed growth. Covered soil provides fewer sites with good exposure for weed seeds to germinate and flourish, as ground cover plants use light, water, and soil resources and often out-compete weed seedlings.
There are other benefits of effective use of ground cover plants that may be less obvious. These are: the preservation of water, the shading and cooling of soil, the addition of habitat for beneficial garden critters, and the continued production of biomass for soil carbon stores.
The first two points are related to each other; ground cover plants shade the soil from exposure to the sun, and also trap humidity at the soil level. Cooler soil is less prone to losing water through evaporation, and water that does evaporate is often trapped under the leaves of ground cover plants and drips back onto the soil whence it came.
Beneficial insects like beetles, and ground-dwelling solitary bees, as well as decomposers like worms, woodlice, and centipedes usually prefer to live in sheltered, undisturbed sites under groundcover plants, and these provides a wealth of ecosystem services to a garden.
Lastly, groundcover plants grown new biomass each year, and shed it in autumn: the dead plant tissue becomes soil nutrition and carbon that builds up year after year, benefitting now only the ground cover plant clump, but surrounding plants.
These are just a few benefits of the effective use of ground cover plants, and doesn’t even touch on how beautiful they can be in the landscape. Whether flowering, creeping, succulent, or fragrant, ground cover plants are an essential component of a healthy landscape.