In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
February, 2005
Regional Report

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After ajuga blooms, cut it back to keep the plants in check.

Cleaning the "Carpets"

Ground cover care is an important winter chore in our region for two reasons. First, the plants often need rejuvenating, and it's best to do that before the new growth starts. Second, and perhaps more important to the gardener, since the plants in question grow literally beneath our feet, we're likely to walk right by them once spring gets underway.

Clumps Are One Thing
Clumping ground covers, like liriope and mondo grass, can get ragged leaf edges, and clipping them off is all it takes to maintain a young, healthy clump. But older, overcrowded borders can fail to bloom, so cut them back as needed, avoiding the new green leaves coming up from the clump.

Mats Are Another Matter
Spreading ground covers are another kind of plant, and need different care to keep their mats thick and their leaves a healthy green. Asiatic jasmine and star jasmine soon grow to be a foot deep if left untrimmed for several years. When your stand grows to cover the ground, there's no place to go but up. To keep the new growth coming with its bright green leaves, shear it off to 6 to 12 inches high. Use hedge shears, electric trimmers, or a string trimmer if you're good with that tool. Avoid cutting too close to the ground or to the center growing point of the clump. The mat may look rather bare after you're done, but it will grow back.

Another advantage to shearing the mats of ajuga, jasmine, and ivy (English, Algerian, or any other) is their contribution to the overall neatness of the landscape. An underestimated quality, a well-groomed landscape allows each plant its own space, both physically and visually. Underplanting matted ground covers with daffodils or growing them right up to trees and shrubs are common design touches, meant to make more of the space with color and texture while lowering its maintenance and preventing weeds. If you skip the basic maintenance of the ground covers, you crowd the other plants. Bulbs can be choked out altogether, and trees look like they're floating if the ground cover below is too thick or allowed to grow too tall. Think of this chore as cleaning the carpets of the garden, and do it this month.


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