Ground-covers nurtured to cut workload

Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to


A few weeks ago a harassed gardener asked me if there are any maintenance-free plants. Apparently “weeds” was not the answer she was seeking.



Anyone who wants a non-weed garden will be faced with some maintenance at some stage, but some plants are certainly less needy than others – and choosing those can easily reduce maintenance.

For instance, gardeners who focus on native plants as habitat and a food supply for wildlife can enjoy a much more relaxed type of garden.

Many native plants, such as salmon berries, thimbleberries, Indian plum, and salal have beautiful flowers and nutritious berries, but they’re only maintenance-free for a while. Later, because they’re so well adapted to our soil and climate they cover more and more space as roots expand and seeds find good spots to sprout. At some point, the gardener must pick up a spade and establish firm boundaries for paths, driveway, and other valued areas. And it can become a yearly task.

Native ferns are much closer to being truly maintenance-free. One of the easiest is the native sword fern.

It’s an evergreen which does best in a moist, shady situation, and the old fronds form a thick, mulching carpet that surrounds the plant and suppresses weeds.

Ground-covers are generally thought to be maintenance-free also, but in the early stages, diligent weeding is essential. It’s not difficult to end up with weeds that a groundcover will actually hide until they’re difficult to uproot. And all ground-covers are invasive to some degree. The more invasive they are, the more successfully they cover ground. Groundcovers such as Vinca minor and Vinca major, Ajuga species, Cerastium tomento-sum (Summer Snow), or Lamium galeobdolon (Yellow Archangel) can turn into unstoppable monsters in mild climates. Many are on invasive plant lists.

With these and others, sooner or later, gardeners must resort to stopping a ground-cover’s headlong rush for more living room.

And a few ground-covers, such as Kenilworth Ivy and some lamiums, can also climb.

Some sprawling shrubby groundcovers, such as Cotoneaster dammeri and junipers, can grow into a dense cover in which weeds won’t germinate, but there is still the initial weeding as one gets them established.

In our West Coast climate, rhododendrons demand less attention than most other plants, but no matter how small a rhododendron seems in the garden centre, many are destined to become big shrubs, and some become trees.

A crucial point is planting them where they have room to expand. A spot under windows or close to doors will lead to major pruning as the rhododendron matures.

The smaller rhododendrons fit best into city-lot size gardens, including purplish-pink-flowered PJM rhododendrons and the pink or white-flowered rhodo yakusimanum and its

hybrids. There are also some ornamental trees that get by with little or no pruning or care, once they’re safely planted. One is Sorbus aucuparia (mountain ash), which has beautiful red or orange (rarely yellow) berries that are a feast for birds in the fall.

Crataegus species can

also be left to grow in their own way. These various kinds of hawthorn produce flowers that are usually white or pink (sometimes double). Fruits may be red, orange, yellow, or black, depending on the species.

Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to

Just Posted

UPDATE: Stars offer four tickets to tonight’s Langley concert to $500 donors

From country music celebrities to NHL alumni, many famous faces hit the links at Redwoods today.

Langley animals feeling effects of smoky skies

Animal shelters are trying to keep their critters healthy through the smoggy days.

Medevac called to South Surrey business

‘Serious workplace incident’ reported to WorkSafeBC

Langley City in need of some Terry Fox Run helpers

People can help out on run day or be involved in preparations before then.

VIDEO: Mustang Roundup in Langley attracts car lovers from all over

A car show dedicated entirely to one model of Ford drew admirers and collectors to George Preston Recreation Centre.

Vehicle fire on the Coquihalla

Heavy congestion in north bound lanes

Prime minister greeted by B.C. premier as cabinet retreat begins

PM Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan meet in advance of federal cabinet meetings in Nanaimo

Are your kids anxious about going back to school?

BC Children’s Hospital offers tips to help your children be mindful and reduce stress

New trial ordered for James Oler in B.C. child bride case

Meanwhile, appeal court dismisses Emily Blackmore’s appeal of guilty verdict

This trash heap in Vancouver could be yours for $3.9 million

Sitting atop 6,000 square feet, the home was built in 1912, later destroyed by fire

Date rapist left victims with ‘long-lasting, emotional scars,’ judge says

Klifford Kenyon of Abbotsford sentenced to additional two years in prison

Fire in barn that housed therapy horses has been confirmed an arson

Abbotsford Police Department is now investigating and seeks witnesses

Team Canada’s next game postponed at Little League World Series

They’re back in action on Wednesday against Peurto Rico

Most Read