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No More Mowing! Plant Ground Covers

There's no limit to how far homeowners will go to pamper their lawns--fertilizing, watering, mowing, and treating them with chemicals--to achieve that status symbol of a thick carpet of turfgrass. Although most of us seem to be stuck on grass, more gardeners are discovering groundcovers as a low-maintenance alternative to lawncare, says Lindsay Bond Totten of the Scripps Howard News Service.

There are plenty of species, evergreen and deciduous, to choose from in addition to the traditional ivy, myrtle and pachysandra. Woody and herbaceous plants both work well. Many groundcovers have already stood the test of time in Nature's garden as successful native plants. They are hardy and drought resistant. Groundcover also is a good choice where drainage is a problem--it helps to hold the soil and thrives in those hard-to-plant areas.

Some of the low, creeping plants native to temperate eastern climes are ideal as domestically grown groundcovers. Some tend to be hardier than ivy, myrtle or pachysandra. Here's a sample of just a few:

Canby's Mountain Lover (Paxistima canbyi) is a southwestern Pennsylvania native and attractive evergreen that can thrive under the worst conditions, from thin, rocky soils to prolonged drought. It's disease and pest-resistant, too. Canby's is not a favorite of deer, so marauding herds will either pass you by or choose something else from the menu. And don't pass up it's rugged good looks which surpass the beauty of Juniper. Canby's Mountain Lover does grow slowly but that can be a virtue.

Alleghany Spurge is a native form of Pachysandra with large, dark evergreen leaves (permanently green but not needles) and winsome flowers. Many ornamental gardeners prefer it to the more common Japanese variety. Just remember that Alleghany Spurge is less adaptable than Pachysandra--it needs rich, humus soil and shady conditions. Green-and-Gold (Chrysognodum virginicum) is a semi-green alternative that turns brown only in the coldest winter months.

For good soil nutrition, let the leaves decay on the ground. Spring is prime time for planting but potted plants can be put in the ground just about any time. Check with your local nursery for the best species for your particular climate, soil, growing conditions and landscaping needs.