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Groundcovers That Give Lift to Your Landscape

By: Marie Hofer
If you crave a bit of dimension, perspective, height and extra color in your groundcovers, consider wide-spreading shrubs.
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Rosy Hedges

Why not take advantage of azaleas' spread and cover a shady slope with them? While some of us have – at least on paper – crossed out the big old-timey shrubs in favor of their new diminutive forms, we may have also forgotten how valuable some of these bulky plants can be. Here, Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) produces its bright-yellow flower clusters in mid-spring. Most of the species grow three to six feet high and a little wider. Will tolerate any soil as long as it's well-drained.

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Broadening a Juniper's Reach

Junipers – here Juniperus chinensis – come in a wide range of heights, including the ground-hugging forms that are ubiquitous throughout residential and commercial landscapes. Junipers are adaptive to a range of soils and do best in full sun, but they also do tolerably well with only a half-day of sun.

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Golden-Yellow Tufts

If you need to cover ground, there's a wealth of plant choices at your fingertips. Juniper, vinca, creeping phlox, plumbago, carpet bugle and pachysandra all do their part to discourage weeds and reduce the amount of turfgrass that needs to be mowed and maintained. But as great as ground-huggers are, they're low-growing, and flat can be boring if no vertical elements are present. Wide-spreading shrubs, even if they're tall, can function just as well as groundcovers. So if you crave a bit of dimension, perspective, height and extra color in your landscape scheme, consider going up while you're going out. Although we don't tend to think of them in that way, azaleas are good covers of ground, usually spreading wider than they are tall as they mature. Gardeners find it easy to underestimate the eventual girth of a little one-gallon plant bought on sale and sometimes wind up wanting to whack them back. This magnificent mound, measuring at least 30 feet wide, isn't one azalea, though — several individual plants contributed to this formation.

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Spring Tassels

In spring the arching branches of drooping leucothoe offer creamy panicles above its evergreen foliage. Great for covering a shady bank, Leucothoe fontanesiana averages three to six feet tall and wide. Look for 'Girard's Rainbow', a cultivar whose new growth is mottled copper, pink, white and green. Leucothoe needs moist, acid, well-drained soil; it doesn't tolerate drought. USDA Zone (4) 5 to 8. Coastal leucothoe (L. axillaris) grows two to four feet high and three to six feet wide. USDA Zones (5)6 to 9.

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