The Southwest is a naturally different and dryer land than the prairies of the Midwest or the forests of the East. Lawns are not a normal part of this arid landscape, and thus require extensive work to maintain. The seven principles of xeriscape state that lawn is fine in an area where you will use it – but what about the rest of the yard? Groundcovers are a great solution!
Groundcovers are low to the ground – thus they don’t block our view like shrubs – offering aesthetic appeal. In addition, groundcovers soften the landscape composition, attract pollinators, and add color and movement. Since they cover the soil, they reduce overall soil temperature, help soil moisture retention, and reduce weed growth. The right species of groundcover can help hold soil on banks and prevent erosion.
Groundcovers come in four basic forms: trailing, clumping, mounding, or spreading. Trailing groundcovers hug the ground, but also cascade down a bank or over the edge of a planter. Clumping groundcovers form a clump, pointing upright. A mound is a kind of clump, but it has a smoother feel to it, more of a rounded effect. Lastly, a spreading groundcover is one that hugs the ground but does not trail over edges.
Rocky Point ice plant (Malephora crocea), a spreading groundcover that reaches 1 X 6 feet. Cheerful yellow flowers cover the plant every day of the year, even in winter. The glossy green spiked leaves store water, and are sometimes pecked by thirsty birds. Although they flower year round, they are relatively dormant in summer and can rot if over watered in summer. Rocky Point ice plant withstands freezes of 16 degrees, and never needs any pruning, trimming or special care.
Golden yellow, daisy-like flowers grace damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) virtually all summer long. Quail adore its seeds. This Sonoran desert native is a mounding clumping sort of groundcover, that reaches 18 inches tall by (eventually) 5 feet across. Damianita looks well even in winter, with glossy lime green leaves. This plant looks well skirting the edges of agaves or around cacti. Since it needs little care, let it fill in where it will.
Trailing bush morning glory (Convovulis cneorum var. prostratum) is a trailing groundcover with leaves that are a silvery pale blue green. This native of Europe has smallish white to pale blue morning glory like flowers. It does need well drained soil, and reaches 18 inches tall and can spread around 10 feet. It can grow in part shade.
Blue euphorbia (Euphorbia rigida) forms a clump and looks well in masses. It has lime-green leaves and chartreuse-yellow flowers. Clumps spread to 2 by 5 feet, and need only rejuvenation pruning every year or two. For some reason this is also sold as “gopher plant,” but gophers, and rabbits too, hate it. Like all members of the Euphorbia family (which includes poinsettia) it contains a latex with toxins in it.
Chihuahuan (sometimes called Saltillo) primrose (Oenotheria stubbei) forms clumps. The matte green leaves look nice, but plant it for its large and showy lemony yellow flowers. It flowers all winter, and long into the summer. The plants reach around 1 by 2 feet and even flower well in filtered shade.
Wedelia, also called yellow dot, and Devil River daisy (Sphagneticola trilobata, formerly Wedelia trilobata), is a beautiful trailing groundcover with coarse dark green leaves. Golden-orange daisy-like flowers cover the plant in the hot season, from April through October. Less than a foot high, it can trail to 6 feet wide. Due to its trailing nature, this is excellent for raised planters as well as beds.
There are many other gorgeous groundcovers available. I focused on these primarily for their long flower season, and especially for winter color. Most of these are also rabbit and deer resistant.
Want to learn more about fun with plants in a dry climate? Please come to one of my free lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site.