Thursday, June 13, 2013

The "Thuganator"

Swamp Buttercup

Be careful; be very careful, when you consider planting GROUNDCOVER.  Some of my worst gardening problems have been in the form groundcovers.  Here’s the deal:

Groundcovers are touted as a cure all for choking out weeds, maintenance free, grows anywhere and enhances your perennials.

We are fortunate for ground freezing winters because they do help keep many groundcovers in check.  Some of our Midwest most beloved plants are horribly invasive in temperate climates.

All it takes is an incredibly wet spring to open the floodgates of invasion for most groundcover.  Here are some Midwest truths about groundcovers:

IF you don’t garden or care about other perennials, groundcover isn’t all that bad.  It can hold soil in areas prone to erosion.

Groundcovers almost never choke out weeds.  It means you have to hand pull weeds out of them, which can be really difficult.

To be a good groundcover, it has to overpower the weaker plants.  Groundcover isn’t discriminate.  Weaker may be your prize perennial, bush or vine.

Groundcover knows no boundaries.  Most will either spread by roots, seeds or any part touching the ground – many by more than one method.  Ladies and gentlemen, Creeping Charlie is a groundcover.  Get the picture?

While some groundcovers give a garden the finished appearance and others coordinate well with the cottage design, they simply refuse to stay where they’re planted.

I had to pull this rather lovely groundcover I acquired when someone gave me some beautiful perennials.  A little bit of root was in the root clump.  At first I loved the beautiful green leaves, tiny white spring flowers and the way it filled in around other flowers in the summer.

And then the downside:  It looks really ratty starting about July.  IF I take the time to shear it down to about 4 inches, it will come back and look good the rest of the year.  This year with the excessive rain, it is under the misunderstanding it’s my favorite flower and has decided to grow huge and thick.  Those beautiful perennial daylilies are now under the canopy of groundcover and suffering from lack of sunshine.  All of a sudden a perennial groundcover became a deadly weed:  the “Thuganator”!  It was either hand pull or watch my favorite lilies die.

Not every groundcover is invasive and impossible to kill in the Midwest, but, if you read a description (and I take this from catalogs): 
  • ·      Creates a carpet that can be mowed.
  • ·      Drought-resistant ground cover.
  • ·      Is a reliable groundcover; tolerates any condition.
  • ·      Can cascade down a wall.
  • ·      Grows even in damp shaded areas where nothing else thrives.
  • ·      Vigorous plants, superb ground cover and easy to grow.
  • ·      Over time it becomes a dense carefree ground cover that excludes weeds.
  • ·      Thorns and suckers.
  • ·      Ideal for hedging and screening.
  • ·      Spreading habit for in front of your perennial border.

Yes, not all groundcovers are invasive, but be careful VERY CAREFUL, because a “Thuganator” can be almost impossible to eliminate.  Even carefully placed weed killers may not kill the tiny seeds waiting patiently to sprout.  Even a seed inhibitor may not find every one.  And even a soil sterilizer may not kill every root hiding across the walk (plus it pretty much ruins that area for years.)  It means the rest of your life at that garden you so love will be spent pulling, digging, and removing and wondering, “What was I thinking?”

When grandma said, “A word to the wise is sufficient!” I’m just sure she was talking about the “Thuganators”.