The hot lazy summer months are often disturbed by the buzz of the lawn mower, a chore that drags us away from more sensible pursuits such as cooling off at the beach or taking that well-earned afternoon nap. Lawns are wonderful things for children’s games and other outdoor activities, but if such things are no longer a priority in your life then why not consider getting rid of part or all of the lawn and replacing it with a colourful alternative that will free up a lot more of your weekends.
Geranium ground covers
There are a number of types of geranium (botanically known as Pelargonium) that provide excellent low maintenance ground cover with flowers right through the warmer months of the year, indeed some varieties will flower all year in frost free climates. In particular the ivy leaf types (Pelargonium peltatum) and some of the scented leaf types such as Rose-scented Pelargonium (P. capitatum) will quickly spread to cover many square metres. These plants are particularly well suited to poor, sandy soils in coastal areas where it is difficult to find flowering plants that will thrive with minimal attention. They will also do well in other soils provided there is reasonable drainage and plenty of sunlight and they will also tolerate light but not heavy frost. Another great feature is that they are very easy to propagate from soft tip cuttings, just snap off pieces about 10cm long and put them in an ordinary potting mix in a shady spot and usually they will be ready to go in a month or so.
Plumbago as a ground cover
Perhaps you are looking for a splash of blue in your low maintenance garden. The vigorous plant Plumbago grows into an excellent screening plant or sprawling ground cover. It is perfect for a hard to reach embankment where its suckering habit will choke out weed growth and require minimal attention. It does prefer reasonably good drainage and should be clipped back after flowering (in the autumn) if you want a more formal look, otherwise just leave it to its own devices. It normally comes in light blue but a deeper blue form called ‘Royal Cape’ is also available.
Grevillea ground covers
Prostrate native plants are a great alternative for large areas with poor soils that may be prone to drought and have low natural nutrient levels. Grevilleas such as the varieties ‘Poorinda Royal Mantle’ and ‘Bronze Rambler’ are tried and trusted plants that are well adapted to such conditions. They will thrive in either full sun or light shade will tolerate up to a moderate frost. Both varieties have attractive lobed foliage and masses of pinkish red toothbrush-like flowerheads right through the warmer months of the year. Whilst they will happily grow with minimal attention a handful of slow release native plant fertiliser around the base at planting time as well as some extra water during the first few months of establishment will be well rewarded. After that they can be left to their own devices
Native violet (Viola hederacea) as a ground cover
That difficult damp, shady spot at the bottom of the garden can be transformed into a lovely green feature with the Native Violet (Viola hederacea). This wonderful plant produces delicate purple and white violet flowers virtually all year round and spreads by runners that enable it to eventually form a continuous carpet that is good at suppressing weeds. All this plant asks is reasonable moisture levels and light to heavy shade. It is very easy to propagate by simply digging up the new clumps formed at the ends of the runners and replanting them straight back into the garden. It is a good idea to remove a number of leaves when you do this to reduce the moisture stress on the plant.
Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)as a ground cover
Mondo Grass is a wonderful ground cover for shady spots. In spite of its common name it is not a grass but is actually a member of the lily family. The distinction is important as it means that the lovely dark green leaves do not need to be mown as they simply stop growing when they have reached their maximum height of 15 cm. In spring the foliage is dotted with clusters of small white lily-like flowers. They then stay as neat little clumps and all that is required is the very occasional removal of the odd dead leaf. The clumps will slowly thicken and spread out laterally. In fact you can multiply your stock by digging a thick clump and simply pulling it apart into pieces a few cm across. These pieces can be planted straight back into your garden beds or into pots kept in a shady spot and should have the top half of the leaves cut off to reduce water stress on the plant while they re-establish. There are a couple of recently introduced variations on Mondo Grass that are worth looking out for. Black Mondo Grass has very dark purple foliage that makes for interesting contrasts in the garden, while mini Mondo grass has foliage just a few cm tall for a tidier look. All the forms of Mondo Grass adapt well to a range of soil types, will tolerate moderate frosts but do prefer constant moisture and reasonably good drainage.
Native Succulents for ground covers
For sandy soils close to the sea, some of our native succulents such as Disphyma and Carpobrotus are perfect. They will carpet the ground densely and root at the nodes, providing great soil stabilisation. They withstand windy conditions too, and are great waterwise plants. They have lovely silky flowers in colours from white to pink through to purple. There are some new cultivars to watch out for, Carpobrotus Pink Passion, Carpobrotus White Hot and Disphyma Hot Stuff.
Plecthranthus- a great ground cover for shade
A difficult spot for planting is under trees, which can be dry and shady. A reliable ground cover for this is one of the Plectranthus species, from South Africa and Australia. Thriving on minimal care once established, they form attractive mounds with spikes of flowers that bees love. They come in various colours of white, pink, blue, mauve and purple, and are great easy care plants.
Whilst there is, unfortunately, no such thing as a no maintenance garden we can definitely cut it down to an absolute minimum by selecting the kinds of plants featured here that generally need no extra watering or care to look their best all year round.