Thursday, June 25, 2009

Native Ground Cover for North America

I enjoy receiving the Lee Valley newsletters -- I always learn something new -- but I was disappointed with the recent article "Alternatives to Grass Lawns". With the many hardy, drought-resistant, and beautiful native lawn alternatives, I was surprised that not one North American species was listed. In fact, all 5 plants discussed are considered invasive non-natives. These aliens have escaped cultivation, disturbed our ecosystem and crowded out the native species our wildlife depend on.

It used to be difficult to find native plants, however nursery-propagated stock is now widely available across North America (avoid plants collected from the wild). From zone 1 to 10, east to west, north to south, dense shade to full sun, clay to sand, dry to wet, there's a native plant for every application. Top picks include Kinnikinnick (Bearberry), Running Strawberry Bush (Running Euonymus), Partridgeberry (Squawvine), Wild Ginger (Canada Snakeroot), and False Lily of the Valley (Canada Mayflower). The Common Blue Violet and Wild Strawberry are pretty in spring and both withstand frequent trampling and mowing.
I hope Lee Valley will consider highlighting some of these great native plants in the future.

Here's a short list of common native ground covers (I live in the Northeast, so it's a little biased):

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) Zone 4-8
Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum) Zone 4-10
Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis) Zone 2-9
Pussytoes (Antennaria dioica) Zone 1-7
Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) Zone 2-10
Canada Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) Zone 3-8
Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides) Zone 4-9
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) Zone 3-9
Gold-star (Chrysogonum virginianum) Zone 4-8
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) Zone 2-6
Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) Zone 3-9
Running Strawberry Bush (Euonymus obovata) Zone 4-9
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) Zone 3-7
Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens) Zone 3-5
Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) Zone 4-9
False Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum canadense) Zone 3-6
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) Zone 3-8
Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) Zone 4-7
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) Zone 3-9
Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) Zone 3-8
Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) Zone 3-9
Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) Zone 3-7
Three-toothed Cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) Zone 2-9
Eastern Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) Zone 4-9
Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) Zone 2-6
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) Zone 3-7
Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) Zone 4-7

Remember, it's always best to use plants native to your region. Many east coast natives have become invasive weeds on the west coast, and vice versa.

I have also found these books to be incredibly helpful:

Native Ferns, Moss & Grasses by William Cullina
Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants by C. Colston Burrell
Armitage's Native Plants for North American Gardens by Allan M. Armitage
Native Plants of the Northeast by Donald J. Leopold