Ask EcoBeneficial!

Helpful answers to readers' questions. Go ahead – just ask EcoBeneficial

Can You Suggest “Living Mulch” for a Garden in Illinois?

Question:
I have a couple beds of Ninebarks and Viburnums and they’ve been there about two or three years. So I’m thinking it’s time to create a living mulch around them. Can you recommend a few plants for ground cover that have ecological benefits, and will fill in around these shrubs? 
I live in south central Illinois.

Answer:
You are a step ahead of many gardeners by contemplating living mulch ground covers instead of an endless expanse of shredded bark or wood chips.  Wood-based mulches are tremendously overused and seem to have become more prominent in plant beds than the plants they are surrounding!  Wood mulches are best used as place holders that help retain moisture and suppress weeds while other plants fill in.  Eventually wood-based mulches will break down and contribute some organic matter into the soil.  Better yet – boost the ecology of your garden by using live mulch as ground covers, attracting bees, butterflies and natural enemies!

Contrary to traditional thinking, ground covers don’t have to be really short, nor do they have to have a strictly spreading habit.  A robust reseeding plant can be just as effective as a spreading plant as live mulch.

Based on the plants you already have planted, I suspect that the conditions are pretty sunny.  Depending on your soil type, soil pH and moisture level, here are some Illinois native ground covers to consider:

Antennaria neglecta
Antennaria plantaginifolia
Blephilia ciliata
Coreopsis lanceolata
Fragaria virginiana
Oenothera macrocarpa
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
Ruellia humilis
Teucrium canadense

Happy planting! From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Ruellis humilis (Wild Petunia)
Photo credit: Flickr_Leonora Enking