Controlling weeds uses up a lot of time and effort. Weedwhacking, spraying or pulling weeds can seem like a never-ending process. One option to deal with this in some areas is to plant groundcovers, which over time can fill in and cover areas of ground, preventing most weeds from germinating and coming up through the layer.
There are lots of kinds of groundcovers, and like other types of plants, they have varying features. Different ones will do well in part shade or full sun. Some are basically low-growing shrubs with woody stems growing flat along the ground, others can spread rapidly but have fragile leaves and stems that are easily damaged, such as by walking on them. Some will over time form dense growth a couple of feet thick, while others will remain only a couple of inches high while covering a larger and larger area. Some kinds will be easy to control, requiring occasional edging when they grow too far, while others can be invasive and start to smother everything nearby, not just the weeds. I like using many different kinds of groundcovers in areas that aren’t covered by lawn or paving for the simple reason that they are nicer to look at than bare dirt or a patch of weeds, but it takes a dense groundcover that continues rooting as it grows to do a good job of suppressing weeds.
A good option for our area of a groundcover to fill in and prevent weed growth is African daisy (osteospermum fruticosum). This is a fairly common plant that is trouble-free and good looking. Moderately fast-growing, each plant starting from a 4-inch pot or one gallon size pot will create about a four foot diameter spread in a year, although in heavier or rocky soils this will be slower. So by planting out a quantity of these plants spaced at four feet apart in a checkerboard pattern (alternating rows) you can get fairly good coverage of an area in a year. It should be noted that some perennial weeds, such as dandelions, will grow through any groundcover plant and should be eliminated by spraying in advance. These plants can tolerate full sun and will require regular watering the first year or two, but will be drought tolerant after that, and can get by with just winter rains, although they may defoliate somewhat late in the hot season if not irrigated. Nurseries have been hybridizing new flower colors over about the last 15 years - a while ago this groundcover came with just white or purple flower colors, but now you can find orange, pink, yellow and other colors.
In addition, African daisy is pretty versatile in that it can grow over and obscure uneven or sloping areas of ground. I recall planting some a number of years ago in an area that had broken fragments of old pavement in the soil which would have been time consuming to clean out. Instead I just planted in and around the rubble, which disappeared from view once the plants had spread out and filled in.
Like any plant the African daisy can be damaged by burrowing gophers, moles, etc., but it is fairly free of disease or pest problems, with the exception of snails and slugs. Tossing some snail pellets into the area occasionally is helpful. This plant will eventually form a 6 to 8 inch thick mass that blooms most abundantly in spring and intermittently the rest of the year, and while the stems and flowers are fairly herbaceous it can withstand being walked on to a limited extent. This is in part due to the way that the spreading stems will root randomly where they touch the ground. It’s not tough enough to be played on or walked across all the time, but is durable enough to be planted in random areas without worrying about it being damaged easily.
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