As summer draws to a close, fall garden chores loom. Mulching the garden ranks high on the list of many gardeners. Mulching garden beds with wood mulch every fall helps protect plants from harsh winter weather. Covering garden beds with a layer of wood mulch 2 to 3 inches deep protects the delicate roots of flowers, trees and shrubs by helping the ground retain moisture. Mulch also provides plant roots with a warm blanket of protection against fall frost and winter’s freezing temperatures.
Often added to garden beds to improve appearance and minimize weed growth, mulch’s benefits are, unfortunately, short lived. As it weathers, wood mulch breaks down. While this is good for your garden because it enriches the soil, it also requires that new mulch be added each year, an expensive and arduous undertaking. A cost-effective natural alternative to wood mulch is to plant garden beds with perennial ground covers. Not only do perennial ground covers provide the same protection as wood mulch, enhancing moisture retention and cold weather protection; but they add beauty and visual interest to your garden.
Perennial ground covers are low-growing leafy plants that spread as they grow, gradually covering the ground. Available in a wide variety of colors from deep purple to bright green, many species are evergreen, adding color and texture to your garden year-round. English Ivy (Hedera) with its trefoil-shaped, deep green leaves is one of the most common ground covers. This hardy, evergreen plant has a robust growing pattern that quickly fills in garden beds. Lithodora (Lithodora) is another popular ground cover choice. Sporting bright blue flowers on dense mats of spreading green foliage, Lithodora is an undemanding plant that requires little care once it has become established. Many other ground covers are available at your local garden center.