Ground covers attractive option for desert landscaping

Despite years of encouragement to change water-guzzling landscapes to ones that are more appropriate for a desert, there are still local residents who think their only landscape choices in the Mojave are either a turf grass lawn or barren rock mulch. That limits their visual palette so much and unnecessarily eliminates attractive plants that can serve some of the functions of a lawn while adding color and texture.

It is true that ground covers are not lawns on which you can play touch football, but children and pets can play safely on at least some of them. They grow low to the ground, shading and cooling the soil, and they may even conserve water in the same way as mulch does. In fact, there are times when ground covers serve as living mulch.

Wherever rain falls in abundance, ground covers are popular; but even in this part of the desert, where water is rare and precious, we can grow many of these useful and pretty plants. Several are really drought tolerant, for instance those that come under the category of “ice plant.”

Although ice plants are actually members of several different genera, most of them continue to flower through much of the scorching summer and other times as well. Each is very low-growing, rarely getting more than about 6 inches tall, with succulent leaves that enable it to hold water. All the ice plants, whether Lampranthus, Myoporum, Delosperma, Drosanthemum or Malephora, have this attractive habit.

The leaves are usually less than an inch long except for the Hottentot ice plant (properly known as Carpobrotus edulis), which has thick triangular leaves a couple of inches long or more and yellow flowers. A cousin of this is the magenta flowered C. chilensis, aka sea fig. Given the right conditions, either of these can spread into areas where it is undesirable, although experts consider the yellow-flowered plant to be more invasive.

Several additional possibilities would be attractive as a desert garden ground cover. One of these is Achillea tomentosa. This wooly yarrow will grow into a mat that spreads up to one and a half feet wide. Its yellow flowers appear on stems that might be as much as 10 inches tall.

Dymondia margaretae has yellow flowers and long, slender leaves — silvery green on top, with white undersides. It needs protection on the chilliest winter nights. Although it grows very low, no one would ever mistake it for a lawn. Fortunately, this ground cover can take a little traffic.

Artemesia caucasica, “silver spreader,” is a cousin of sagebrush and wormwood, with interesting gray leaves and a unique, pleasant aroma. It rarely grows taller than 6 inches.

The flowers of the tough “cape weed” (Arctotheca calendula) look like a cross between yellow primrose and a dandelion, and it sounds tough as nails. It is not on Nevada’s noxious weed list, although a few states and some countries treat it as an invasive pest.

Many ground covers also work well in rock gardens — as will a few members of the genus Arabis. So can the plant we call filaree. The first time I saw this, it was growing wild outside the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area visitor center. The Southwest Garden Book describes it as a dainty plant. The pink flowers are very simple, five petals, about ½ inch across. The plant itself does not exceed 6 inches in height. Some people think of filaree (Erodium reichardii) as a weed, but several cultivars are available.

We use lantana as a shrub, but some cultivars sprawl, growing low to the ground, making it a useful ground cover.

For areas that tend to be slightly shady, a lovely ground cover is Ajuga reptans. It has several common names, such as bugle and carpetweed. It is a very low-growing plant with scalloped leaves and purple flowers. In some parts of the country, it is considered an invasive species, but in our arid climate, this is highly unlikely. Many varieties are bred for sterility, which limits their invasive potential.

This might sound like a great many choices, but this is just a sampling of possible selections.

If you would like to try a little variety, decide whether your landscape would benefit from the addition of low-growing, flowering plants. Do a little research in gardening websites and nurseries before you buy anything to see whether it can survive our drought conditions and salty soils. Just because one can buy a plant does not mean it is ready for the Mojave.

You might not want to put in acres of ground cover, but in a small area, it can add a beautiful green, and many of them flower — better than turf grass, which, when you think about it, could be considered a ground cover. Ground covers also do not need regular mowing, only enough to deadhead any spent blossoms.

Angela O’Callaghan is the Social Horticulture Specialist for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Contact or 702-257-5581.

An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Roy Choi on cooking for Park MGM employees
As he prepares to open his new restaurant Best Friend later this month at Park MGM, celebrity chef Roy Choi took the time to cook for the resort’s employees Tuesday. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Great Santa Run
People participated in the 14th annual Las Vegas Great Santa Run which raises cubs for Opportunity Village.
World Holidays Exhibit At The Natural History Museum
Migratory Bird Day teaches adults and kids to celebrate birds
Different organizations offered activities for kids and adults to learn about birds and celebrate their migration journey at Sunset Park. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Interfaith Amigos speak in Las Vegas
Celebrity photographer dedicates dance book to Las Vegas shooting victims
Behind the scenes with local celebrity photographer Jerry Metellus as he talks about his Dance For Vegas coffee book dedicated to the 58 victims of the October 1 shooting. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Dreamsickle Kids Foundation founder Gina Glass talks awareness
Gina Glass, 35, founded Dreamsickle Kids Foundation to raise awareness for sickle cell disease in Nevada. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like