Edible groundcovers

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 - 11:01pm

     

teaberry, creeping rosemary, coconut thyme

We have a deep slope in full sun near our grape arbor, and non-productive shady areas under our shrubs, so we decided to look into edible landscaping groundcovers. Most of them tend to be herbs, which surprised me. A lot of them are invasive, which did not surprise me: be careful what you plant.

Understand that I garden in zone 8, so you might want to try other plants than what we chose. Some of the not-for-Zone-8 great ones I list at the end of this post. For our climate, we picked these:

  1. Shade groundcover: Winterberry. Gaultheria procumbens (aka eastern teaberry) is a species native to northeastern North America from Newfoundland west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to Alabama so it ought to handle SC summers. And it likes our slightly acidic soil! What's not to love about this plant? It's evergreen, so it looks good all year. And the fruits are edible, with a nice minty flavor. The leaves and even the branches can be used to make herbal tea. (Note that you need to ferment the leaves 3 days to make the best tea.) Teaberry can also be used as an ice cream flavor. Just be aware that deer and mice love it in the winter. We dont't have deer, and we have four cats to deal with any mice :-) so it's winterberry for us.
  2. Full-sun groundcover: Creeping Rosemary. Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’ will make a beautiful groundcover for a steep hill we cannot mow. The evergreen only gets 3 feet high, max, and spreads out 4-8 feet wide; I understand on a hill it can look like a fragrant waterfall. Rosemarys have beautiful tiny star-shaped blue flowes in the early spring, too. Now that I look for them, I see the neighbors use them. So we're good to go.
  3. We already have: Creeping Thymes. We planted German thyme, but there are lots of varieties. Another evergreen, and fresh thyme is glorious. Pretty white flowers on ours, but flowers range from that to pink and purple.

And now for the nice ones I cannot grow in the hot south:

  1. Alpine strawberries. Low growing with small fruit. They like full sun and well-drained, well-fertilized soil. Recommended varieties to consider are Mignonette, Alexandria or Yellow Wonder - a lighter-colored variety that doesn’t attract birds as easily. Ooh, maybe you can grow these for me.
  2. Cranberries. Commercial cranberry growers flood the bogs to harvest the berries, but homegrown cranberries don't need bogs. You need full sun in mild climates, partial sun in hot climates (...so I'm still tempted...), and mildly acidic soil. Adding peat moss, sulfur, and compost to your soil will get these plants off to a good start. Cranberries have beautiful green leaves and tart, bright red berries bursting with vitamin C that can be dried or frozen or used for jams, jellies, and juice. Also, cranberries are a rememdy for urine tract infections. But they need fertilizer, watering and weeding so be warned that cranberries are not a plant-and-forget sort off groundcover.
  3. Creeping Oregon grapes. I think a foot tall is pretty hight for a ground cover, but since the creeping rosemary is over a foot high I will include this. It has beautiful yellow flowers in spring. Weidly enough, it's an evergreen grape. The creeping Orgon grape's sour fruit (best harvested after a good frost - this improves their flavor) can be used for making jelly, pies, and homemade wine. It's winter-hardy to Zone 5. For many landscaping spots, a plus is that it can tolerate some shade.
  4. Low bush blueberries. This classic, wild blueberry grows on rocky crags and in open wooded areas. It grows eight to twelve inches tall and is hardy to zone 3. They are tough plants and a good addition to partially sunny areas; the key is planting them in well-drained, moist, acidic soil. They only fruit every other year, and will attract deer, but other than that - they tempt me with visions of wild blueberry pancakes. The very oddest thing about them is that you have to mow them down in the fall. Seriously. It's like pruning grapes: you want wild blueberries, you have to cut them back to the ground, like deer had browsed there.
  5. Mint. English mint is the mint for culinary use. It loves rich soil and partial shade. (And a note from when I gardened in NY: this stuff is invasive. Not that its spreading is a bad thing, really.) And last but not least is the shortest edible ground cover I found: Cosrican Mint. This variety grows only half an inch tall, like moss, and makes a great plant to put between pavers or along a garden path.

 

 

14 Comments

maceves's picture
maceves
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mint

You can grow mint in zone 8-----It comes back in the spring.  The roots go out in all directions to start new plants, so its good to keep it contained in pots or with paving tiles.  My rosemary plant is huge--I think it is too big to call a ground cover.  Do like the way it smells.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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creeping rosemary

Yeah, I think it's more of a shrub - 3-ft max tall, but it spreads and is great for hills. We have a slope in front of our front yard fence that might be perfect for creeping rosemary, but for right now a flat spot in the center of that slope needs to be a parking space for my stepdaughter. Until she leaves we have decided to put in a full-sized keifer pear tree on one side (we are taking down some volunteer southern pines that would shade it) and a pindo palm on the other.

What started this discussion for me was a steep space next to our driveway. We ended up deciding on a rock garden with a mix of creeping thyme, prostrate germander (another herb), and bulbs ands succlents like red spike ice plant, coppery mesemb, and stonecrop. But if the muscadine grapes on that hill really take off (they will) we will need a shade garden under them!

My soil, other than in the raised beds, is all dry, dry sand with hard clay underneath. I'm sure that's why the mint I've tried has not lived. I am not about to put mint in a raised bed - it would take over.

maceves's picture
maceves
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mint

What about putting it in a plastic pot over some boards or gravel to control the spread?  I had some in one of those coconut fiber hanging things and it did well one season until it worked its way through the fiber over the winter.  This spring it was large enough to divide and move into several plastic pots.  I was using improved soil, but what I have here is clay.  Mint doesn't have deep roots, so it wouldn't take a lot of compost to keep it happy.  Our weather is just a tad warmer than yours---we have missed most of those winter storms that turned north before hitting us this year.  I am thinking about planting some mint in gaps between some patio tiles--if I double dig it  down a few inches and add in some compost I should have a permanent place for it.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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I've been thinking about ground cover

We have a bare-dirt area at the back of our house that could use a root matrix!  It's slight slope and mostly shady.  Eventually I might put a chicken coop back there, but not right now.  I'm in zone 5, so need hardy plants.

I'm thinking of just relocating the violets from the other parts of the yard/garden where they insist on taking over.  They are happy in mostly-shade, I believe, and they're edible.  The flowers are pretty and good in salads.  I think of violets as invasive because they like to show up all over the yard, but they are relatively shallow-rooted and not hard to dig out if you don't want them after all.

If I could get the dandelions to all grow in that one area of the yard, that would be fine with me!  (Wishful thinking).

I've had crazy invasive issues with mint in the past (in other situations), but I might try it again. 

The shadiness of the area is a bit problematic.

Because it's going behind the house, they don't need to be pretty.  Just eventually edible by hens...

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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edible by hens?

Try white clover, which is great for your zone. It builds up the soil and atracts poliators and makes a nie thick carpet. If it's too shady for clover the mint and/or the violets are a nice idea. They all work well together, so try a mix.

Bare areas can be made to grow if you add a very small amount of soap to the watering can. As a sufacant, soap makes the water cling to things longer and helps seeds germinate.

For really problem area you might want to try the Christmas fern. They are non-toxic andwill build up the soil due to their cool habit of holding down previous year's laves until the leaves decompose.

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
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Great tips, Wendy!

Thanks for the surfactant tip, and the reminder about Christmas ferns. Wonder if they'll grow in that bare patch where a few spruce branches have died out and been trimmed away.

Hens also love henbit, a "weed" groundcover that will take over if you let it. Its considered a banned invasive in some areas, proceed with caution.

serenityfarmKimi's picture
serenityfarmKimi
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Ground Cover for 3 Acres with Goats & Chickens Zone 8

We moved to Southern New Mexico about 8 months ago. We took on a very(x5) run down 4.5 acre farmstead. We have about 5 million projects before we'll have this place suitable for our needs but....I think I need to start with doing something with the 3 acres of completely bare, extremely dry & ALWAYS in full sun!

The land is relatively flat with next to no vegetation of any kind. I want to plant the entire 3 acres. Preferably with soil building ground cover. It also needs to be something my Goats (12) and my free range chickens & guineas can browse on. 

I plan on ordering about 25 trees to plant around the property but they'll take time to grow.

I'd like to plant the 3 acres within the next couple of weeks.

We are new to 'homesteading' so any advice on what to do with this land is greatly appreciated!!!

Magnum03's picture
Magnum03
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Start with water

I would start by making some earthworks to harvest water. Then I would see which pioneer plants show up.

I saw a video once (think it was Hemenway?) with a desert farm they bought somewhere in the southern US. They startet out by harvesting water and observing what plants came up. Then they moved on to the other tasks.

Magnum03's picture
Magnum03
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Oregano

Will oregano survive the winter in your zone?

I'm in zone 10 and love using it - it holds moisture in the ground like nothing else and grows like a weed.

serenityfarmKimi's picture
serenityfarmKimi
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Oregano & Just watering....

Most of the winter ( just under 3 months) is 50s during the day but high teens to high 20s. Not sure how oregano would do.... 3 acres of Oregano would smell great! cheeky

We have an Artesian well that comes out naturally as well as an electric (soon to be solar) well. One of the first things we did was to dig a 8 foot deep by 4 foot wide trench to help the rain & grey water sink back down into the aquifer. Since we do not use anything except natural cleaners & soaps....

Do you think rerouting the grey water may help to see what "pops up" I would love to go with Native plants/grasses but haven't had much luck with the buff grass we planted around the house....

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
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Posts: 2367
Wendy

You rock.
Thanks for all the great info/ideas.
Cheers,
Aaron

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1982
serenityfarmKimi, try this

http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.html

In this talk, Allan Savory suggests that browsing animals, via their dung, can reclaim barren land.

Another practical suggestion is prickly pear cacti. Not only are the catus pears edible by humands (carefully peel or torch tehm first!)  but the pads can be eaten by certain browsing animals, most notably beef cattle. Rabbits will eat them, too. 

Magnum03's picture
Magnum03
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Posts: 30
Good idea Wendy

Managed grasing is a great idea to restore desertified land. If think if you go for a combo you will get the best result. Swales, managed grasing and some prickly pears. They taste good, but you need special glove to harvest and peal them. They are considered invasive in some areas, so you might want to check that.

If your land is very flat, you can put in a lot of small swales, like 30-50 cm with room to grase animales inbetween. Then you can put prickly pears on the sun side for shade. You can use goats, since they will survive best in dry areas. You can get a small electric fence and move them every day. I think you could try a small patch of oregano, it will be fine down to 5C (40F) temperaturea below that will stop its growth. If it can grow it will flavor the meat of the animals nicely :)

serenityfarmKimi's picture
serenityfarmKimi
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Joined: May 18 2013
Posts: 3
Great Video

Wendy you really angled me in the right direction!!! I'll be reading my butt off over the next couple of days! Thank you!!

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