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Beginner Gardening: groundcovers

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Forum: Beginner GardeningReplies: 6, Views: 109
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Peru, NY
(Zone 4b)

February 4, 2013
4:45 AM

Post #9407717

my impression of " groundcovers" are plantings that are very low ( within 6 inches etc ) yet several items - such as the grass that appeared as todays item, was a foot high... That to me, is a little more than " groundcover ".. Am I wrong about my thoughts ?? I would like to include more groundcover in my outdoor garden railroad . Thanks ... CTK

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Contra Costa County, CA
(Zone 9b)

February 4, 2013
7:09 PM

Post #9408758

I consider more than just the height to call it a ground cover. Very basically: If it grows twice as wide as it grows tall, it is worth looking at. Depending on use, up to about 3' might be 'Ground Cover'. I give a few examples that I use in my business, zone 9a and 9b mostly. (None of my clients wanted anything as specialized as your miniature railroad)

1) On a large hill or other non-traffic area a 'Ground Cover' might be a shrub up to 3' high, but grows more horizontally rather than vertically. Examples are certain varieties of Ceanothus, Arctostaphyllos, Correa, Cotoneaster, Rosemary 'Huntington Carpet', and Cistus.

2) Around stepping stones, where the goal is to ensure a safe walkway I would limit 'Ground Cover' to 3" high, (maybe 6") and nothing with strong, stringy parts that could trip the person walking on the path. Pratia (Isotoma) Creeping Mint, Baby Tears, several varieties of Thyme, the smallest Ajuga, Irish and Scotch Moss. Ornamental Strawberry tolerates some foot traffic, but the stringy stems are not so good. Duchesnia is a good one, weaker stems.

3) Among shrubs I look for a 'Ground Cover' that does not climb up into the shrubs any faster than the gardeners can keep it under control, but roughly a foot high is a good average. Vinca minor, Ornamental Strawberry, the larger Ajuga, Duchesnia.

4) 'Ground Cover' as erosion control needs stems that root often as they run, and strong roots, and getting by with less water is a plus, since hills that need erosion control usually are better with less irrigation. Hedera, Hypericum, Vinca major and V. minor, Several low shrubs that might also be listed in the first group. Many vines will grow low, rooting and running as long as there is nothing to climb.

In your use, the incredibly flattest plants are probably the best, but I am not sure if these grow in your area:
Irish Moss
Scotch Moss
Creeping Mint (Mentha requinii)
Pratia (used to be called Isotoma- Blue Star Creeper)
Elfin Thyme

For a grassy look, I would go with the very finest bladed grasses, and 'mow' them with scissors:
Some of the fine fescue or rye grasses, maybe. They would give the effect that the largest ornamental grasses have in a full size garden.
For a miniature lawn, Irish Moss.

Another suggestion for larger plants, trees that are in scale with the miniature railroad: Bonsai plants.


central, NJ
(Zone 6b)

February 4, 2013
7:26 PM

Post #9408775

Lots of on line garden centers have advanced search where you can put in the height of the plants you want, so you can search under groundcovers but put height in of less than 6" (or whatever max height you want)

Stepables is a great groundcover site

I LOVE your outdoor railroad!!! My dad would have loved it too
Peru, NY
(Zone 4b)

February 6, 2013
10:37 AM

Post #9410254

This is what I love about gardening ... getting ideas and information from others thus really making this a learning tool as well as a sharing item. I appreciate all the replies received and the suggestions for uses... Having a garden with the garden railroad makes for a very interesting combination. I am certainly glad that people had positive thoughts about my little domain. In a recent display for the holidays, the seniors just exuded with the nostalgia of younger days for them... Carl Kokes PS- my garden is always open to visitors ...


Fabens, TX
(Zone 8a)

February 6, 2013
7:00 PM

Post #9410721

I enjoyed seeing the picture of your train layout, very nice.
Ayrshire Scotland
United Kingdom

February 14, 2013
7:10 AM

Post #9418741

How wonderful the garden is with the little train set-up. It brings back such wonderful memories when I was a kid, were were always take out of the city to the countryside and our favourite stop off was a little village where one resident laid out their garden to represent a small village with mill, garden, church fishing pond and lots of tiny figures like postman, little houses, children playing in school playground, Honestly, this and the fully running railway kept us quiet for ages,the elderly Gent (cap on head and collar and tie, let us all see his garden hut where he took the figures, animals etc inside to repaint and freshen up, he made all the little properties out of concrete /stone and roof tiles almost the image of the real village, little bridges too, what was so special looking back was just how much work was put into this, how intricate the whole layout to scale was. OH thank you CTK, you have made an elderly gardener very happy, many more happy years doing something that was / is a dying art.
Very best wishes.

OH forgot to answer the question, Diana_K has given almost every aspect of ground cover and I do agree with her, I would add that in your situation look at ground cover rockery plants, these come in all shapes, grow to various sizes depending on choice, colours are as wide for these small plants as for the larger garden plants and last years in right place, just make sure you try to keep planting it out as natural as pos, remember there are Bonsai trees that like outdoors better than inside growing conditions and these little trees get trimmed to size / shape every year as the roots are trimmed, the small branches are wired while still soft and pliable, so in your situation you could train the branches to drape over a rocky embankment or tunnel. I've seen pine trees, Cherry, Azalea to name a few all made into Bonsai so selection is there too. Anyway, maybe you will have had enough info to give you many ideas. WeeNel.


Arroyo Grande, CA
(Zone 9a)

February 24, 2013
10:16 PM

Post #9430548

I love your railroad. Is that main "grassy" area thyme? I use a lot of miniature succulents (sedums) in my mini gardens. Unfortunately they won't survive a zone 4 winter. You could plant them in little pots and bury the pots for removal before it freezes. They are hardy down to freezing. I have several that stay under 1" and expand outwards. Perfect for little bushes and they bloom too. I'd send you a few if you'd like.

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