The summer has passed and you've done all the late season harvesting you can to squeeze the most out of your fall and winter veggie garden. So what do you next, enjoy homegrown edibles and herbs in a nice cold weather soup? There's one crucial late fall chore that among all the other things to do in your garden this December. Choose a good ground cover plant, any ground flora that will quickly root and spread out in a way that keeps soil in place to avoid erosion through the winter.
The best groundcovers will be cold hardy and fast growing, and ideal plants will have dense root systems that make sure topsoil stays tightly packed even when a nasty cold snap arrives. While many climates are unlikely to have any ground cover plants survive and thrive through the harsh winter, there are some edible ground cover plants that will survive or grow through large parts of a temperate winter. Consider these options when you need ground cover but want to be able to still reap a bit of a harvest
If you're still on the fence about growing a protective shrub layer of ground cover or don't want aggressive plants taking over too much of your yard, keep in mind that if you have anything you don't want to keep, just mulch it. Chances are autumn soils will be at least somewhat depleted of nutrients, especially following a bountiful harvest. Repurposing winter ground covers through mulching in the spring will fertilize and refresh soil.
Oregano & Marjoram
Oregano is the herb that gives pizza its signature pungent flavor while marjoram, a close relative from the same mint family of plants, looks very similar and can grow in some of the same areas. In terms of how oregano compares to marjoram, their taste differs with oregano having a striking aroma of spicy and bitter flavors. Marjoram has a sweeter taste and is more herbal, meaning it's often paired with lighter dishes like chicken instead of the oregano herbs that are at home in a robust marinara sauce. If you are in the market for a ground cover plant, consider one or both of these options to add a kick to your cooking while also preventing soil erosion this winter.
Setting aside its strength as a ground cover, mint has numerous varieties that are specifically suited to growing in mild weather and cold climates. It smells great, and it can be added to tea or foods or a great mint julep. It also spreads quickly, is quite pretty, and will do all the needed duties of a ground cover plant during your dormant periods in the garden. You can harvest leaves without cutting all the stems and see the plants send out new leaves. This way, you don’t disturb the growing root system but still can make all manner of items from your mint like homemade cleaning products and even lotions or mint chocolate brownies.
Not only is rosemary a delicious flavoring for breads, drinks, and meats, it's an unusually hardy option for a ground cover plant and as it is evergreen, you'll fix the common problem of ugly, brown spindly twigs after the hard frosts kick in. This plant will work best in your highest sun areas, and can actually perform poorly in shady spots.
Rosemary comes in many varieties, but if you make sure you get the creeping rosemary if you want it to spread throughout the space available.
Thyme is an easy to grow herb that's versatile for its use in many cuisines. The creeping variety makes pretty durable herbaceous layer and is a good choice of plant for a walking path since it's tough enough to handle foot traffic. It has great potential among the groundcovers because it creeps through runners. This means that the species also known as Breckland thyme or elfin thyme won't grow high and instead will spread widely through its surrounding area. This makes it good for areas you'd like to be fully overrun with dense ground cover, but be careful - it may end up farther afield than you expected!
Edible “Old Gold” Juniper
While most people don’t eat a lot of juniper, it does have some uses in herbal remedies, as a condiment, and in gin based cocktails. It also has a lovely, spicy scent like pine, and the berries make a rich, delicious addition to meats. Growing juniper can be tricky, but when successful, it makes a beautiful, low shrubbery with pretty blue berries.
If you aren't interested in herbs, you can also consider an alpine variety of strawberries. They produce fruits in the spring, but winter over in many temperate zones, coming back strong and green after the cold. Planting alpine strawberries in intermittent 6 inch mounds will yield a well distributed variety of leaves, flowers, and fruits. In between harvests, you get cute delicate flowers and thick green leaves.
As appealing as all of these edible plants are, don't rush in headlong this winter just to get your gardening fix. If you want to venture beyond these recommendations and grown some unconventional garden edibles, be sure to check your temperature zone. Some plants, even vines and climbers that naturally spread out, were just never rated for cold winters. Pre-frost can be a great time window to triple task and harvest bits of these edible herbs while holding your soil in place and adding nutrition for next year’s planting. Many evergreen ground cover options will continue to look good throughout the winter months while also yielding an edible product, be it leaf, berry, or root.
Even if you don’t eat every bit of them, you might consider drying and storing some of these items to be used in future recipes or as garnishes for particularly unique cocktails. Herbal additions to food and drink can be quite trendy, and you get it all just from doing a great thing for your soil!