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


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent list. Thanks for the great advice, and for countering the strange idea that our ground covers have to come from somewhere else.

Marc said...

Thank you for the valuable information. I am looking for some Ontario native groundcovers to place in a park in Lindsay Ontario a) at the base of the lilacs we have planted there to use instead of wood chips, and b) in a garden that can be used as a demonstration area for the use of native groundcovers and grasses. Any additional insights you have would be very appreciated. Thanks, Marc

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Anne Z said...

Yaaaay! I have been looking for almost a week on and off for a native plant list for ground covers in Michigan, and just moments ago I plugged in Canada zone 5 groundcovers and here you are. thank you for this list! I am killing my grass this year in order to plant groundcover that I won't have to mow as often. You have given me some wonderful alternatives. Thank you! Please if you have any more plants that come to mind that are low growing let me know. Also one question--I do want to plant low growing Thyme. Will that interfere with our ecosystem?

Elaine said...

Hi Anne!

I'm glad you found the post useful :)

I grew wooly thyme in one of my front beds, and it was very "polite" as my Mum would say. It spread very slowly into a lovely dense mat which shaded out wee seedlings. I never had any babies or runners from it. I don't know of any toxicity concerns for native bugs or animals, but it's definitely one of the better non-native groundcovers available. I've always wondered if it was edible...