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

Giants defenceman Bowen Byram named WHL On the Run Player of the Week

Registered three goals and three assists in a pair of victories for Langley-based team

British wheels have a certain appeal

Langley Area Mostly British Motoring Club celebrates English auto design

LETTER: Langley resident says a cancer plague is building

A Langley City man believes a poor diet and unhealed emotions are part of his cancer journey.

‘Diamond’ for Aldergrove rock fans

Fraser Valley Rock and Gem Club marks 60 years in Aldergrove

UK lawmakers reject Brexit deal in 432-202 vote

House of Commons votes against the deal struck between Britain’s government and the EU

Letters on way to all homeowners in B.C. speculation tax communities

Property owners have to register to avoid vacant-home tax

New orca calf in Salish Sea ‘healthy and active’

Birth cause for celebration but things still dire genetically, expert says

Good Samaritan rescues cat found in heaps of garbage at B.C. landfill

The cat was abandoned and left to die at the Foothills Boulevard Regional Landfill, the BC SPCA says

Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna home to Canada’s most expensive rentals: report

According to PadMapper, units in larger B.C. cities cost $1,300 to more than $3,000

Former MP Svend Robinson wants to return to politics

Robinson is expected to be acclaimed as the NDP candidate in the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour

B.C. home sales drop 25% in 2018

The B.C. Real Estate Association points to the federal government’s mortage stress test

Canada asks China for clemency for B.C. man sentenced to death, Freeland says

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was sentenced to 15 years, but after new trial, was sentenced to die

Body found near Lions Bay believed to be missing woman

Lorraine Prebushewski, in her 60s, had been reported missing Sunday afternoon

Most Read