Thursday, June 13, 2019

Ground Covers South Florida Style v.4

Hi Ya'll how's everything going with you!?!  So glad you stopped by, cause today I thought we'd discuss some really neat ground covers.  As a landscaper (designer and installer) and as someone who also does the maintenance in many of our completed projects, I get hands on knowledge as to what species grow best in what locations and what type of environments.

South Florida tropical style pool side at one of our favorite clients home.

South Florida is home to many different ecosystems with lots of smaller niche natural habitats.  What!?! you say, no way...isn't it just palms, beaches and traffic?  Just kidding on the traffic, it's not an ecosystem...hmmm or is it???  It may not seem like it because much of our native ecosystems don't exist anymore.  Much of it due to city developers allowing for much of it to be destroyed for another strip mall or apartment complex we absolutely don't need BUT what still exists is the footprint of the natural habitat that was originally there.

Look how beautiful our natural Florida is!

Here's what all this means...if your garden is close to the beach (east of or a bit west of Federal Highway) then your soil is probably pure sugar sand and/or silica sand maybe with coral rocks if you're on the rock ledge east of the beach. Or if you are west of the turnpike then you would have really rich dark organic muck for soil because the everglades swamp was there long before your house was.  I've even heard of trash dumps existing on a plot of land prior to a housing development being built. So it's always a good idea to do a little research as to what your soil consists of and/or get a soil test done.  Plus take a look at what type of ecosystem was there before your house was built.  It could be one or more of the following of these basic regional descriptions: scrub land, beach dune/coastal berm, tidal flooding, variety of hammocks, slough/swamp/marsh or grasslands/dry prairie.  If you would like to get more detailed information, visit The Institute for Regional Conservation's website.  With a little information you will be informed with knowing what plants will grow the best in your area whether they are Florida natives or tropical varieties.

Gorgeous South Florida, au natural!

Today is all about ground covers that grow well South Florida Style...
Any questions?   Hand raise...Yes, what's the question?
Question: what is a ground cover plant?  Ahhhh good question!
Answer: any plant that grows relatively close to the ground and grows over an area of soil to keep the soil and moisture contained in that area.  Ground covers are a great help to control soil erosion and drought, especially on hilly or elevated plant beds.

Here's some of ma'fav's!!!
Started alphabetically...I know, I know...sooooo OCD, lol ;)

The alternanthera family has lots of varieties to choose from.  One of the best part about these plants is they're brightly colored plus they super easy maintenance, take full sun to part shade and not expensive.  They range from 6 - 24 inches high, some will be low mounding while some are more of a small shrub habit. Some popular varieties are: 'little ruby', 'red threads', 'Brazilian red hot', 'yellow threads', 'snowball' and 'red carpet'.
At my Dad's house I used alternanthera 'Brazilian
red hot' with 'yellow threads' and variegated liriope in back.
Alternanthera 'snowball'
Alternanthera 'red carpet'...looks like a rainbow!
Here I used alternanthera 'little ruby' with bougainvillea 'pixie queen'

I have found that as beautiful as ajugas are, they can be picky about their placement, but when they're happy it's an incredibly gorgeous super low maintenance ground cover.  They are about 6-10 inches high with a sprawling carpet like look.  Some popular varieties are: 'bronze beauty', 'mint chocolate chip', 'burgundy glow' and 'golden glow'.
This is ajuga 'mint chocolate chip' with violet flower spikes
Variegated ajuga

This is a secret gem I like to use in shady moist areas, the Australian trailing violet (viola hederacea).  This is a true trail will trail all over the place with its verdant leaves and small white and purple violet looking flower.  It's dainty to the touch but don't let that fool you, it's a hardy grower.  Trailing violet can take some full sun but not drought tolerant.  Grows up to 4-5 inches high.
Talk about those I right!?!

Baby sunrose (aptenia cordifolia) can be also called 'ice plant' though it's alot like a creeping succulent.  It loves muy caliente (very hot) weather, it's like it thrives it the heat.  A little water, full sun and super hot weather and by gosh you've got yourself one heck of a beautiful plant!  I love using this in rocked areas to soften the look.  It's about 3-4 inches high.  There are two colors: magenta flower, sherbet orange flower and a variegated leaf with magenta flower.
Baby sunrose
At this clients home I used lots of baby sunrose as a ground cover to soften
the gigantic amount of rock they have.
Here is another view of the baby sunrose I
used to soften the large areas of rock. 

This trailing beauty, the beach sunflower (helianthus debilis), is perfect if you need lots of square footage to cover fast and/or if you are beach side with a sand dune that needs planting.  You can watch the flowers follow the sun throughout the day.  Super drought/salt/wind tolerant, a fast grower (will need regular maintenance to keep in check and is known to irritate sensitive skin), needs full sun, will reseed and air layer itself all over the place and that's pretty much it.  Though this is another one that can decline in health if over watered.  Grows about 18-24 inches high.
Beach sunflower or sometimes called dune sunflower

Blue daze (evolvulus glomerata), blue dazzzeeee, on my mindddddd...ok sounds like a song but it's one of the neatest ground covers around.  And when I say neat, I mean really neat.  It doesn't drop leaves, grows in a super tight mound, it never stops flowering but you never see them drop (it's magick). Grows in full sun and can take some shade.  Blue daze will grow to be about 12-18/20 inches high and loves to spread by air layer itself.
Blue daze
Blue daze
Look how pretty blue daze looks with the bright pink purslane/portulaca.

This brilliant plant is bulbine (bulbine frutescens), you just can't go wrong having bulbine in your garden.  It's brightly colored flowers rise above the gorgeous green finger-like projections which never seem to quit blooming.  Thrives on our full sun, hot humid and/or hot dry weather conditions, almost no maintenance required...whhhhhaat!?! Yup!   Bulbine grows in a clumping habit and can over time occupy up to four square feet of space.  This succulent grows about 12-14 inches high while the flowers can reach twice that height.  Some popular cultivars are: 'marmalade'with orange and yellow flowers, 'pure orange' and 'pure bright yellow'.
At this clients home I used 'marmalade' bulbine with agave attenuata
Bulbine 'yellow'

Coral creeper (baleria repends) is a superb choice if you have lots of square footage to cover on a budget.  As it's name implies it will wind it's way through the space eventually creating a nice thick ground cover with pretty flowers.  And as all creepers go, it'll need maintenance to control it's growing habit as it can grow right over other plants and walkways.  Coral creeper grows in full sun to part shade, gets between 12-24 inches high.  There is a coral color flower and a pink flower.
Coral creeper

This species is catching fire in the landscape world, it's the giant leopard plant (farfugium japonicum).  Such a cool specimen to have in your landscape, one that most people won't have....cause your the coolest on the block, yeah!  Layers of deep green glossy round leaves that slightly curve under give the leopard plant such rich texture in the garden.  When it's happy, the leopard plant will raise its bright yellow flower heads saying hello.   Prefers to grow in part shade/part sun and will burn in full sun.  Needs to have consistent watering in well draining soil during our dry season but during the rainy season irrigation usually isn't necessary.   Doesn't do well in constantly wet soil.  Grows to about 24-36 inches high.
Here I used the farfugium as textural break in the palm action...very tropical!
Giant leopard plant...farfugium japonicum
Love how the leopard plant is used here with calatheas and cannas

Oh gosh what to say about ferns that you don't probably already know, geez ferns are such great additions in any garden.  Variety of big, little, full sun growers, shade lovers, you name it and it grows here (even invasive species).  Ferns are a little bigger than the technical definition of a ground cover but I consider them a great ground cover cause they love to explore the space where they're planted. There are so many to choose from here in South Florida like, wart ferns, native sword ferns, autumn fern, holly ferns, maidenhair ferns, bird's nest ferns, cinnamon fern, swamp fern, southern shield fern, leather ferns and fishtail fern.  Just please stay away from invasive ferns that can quickly take over the native habitats. Gosh looks like I need to do a post on ferns!
Ferns with bamboo ginger
Autumn ferns

So this plant is one of my favorite natives that gets little street cred' the golden creeper (ernodea littoralis).  That's right, this plant is a gangster grower here in So. Fla but no one pays any attention...are you trying to give it a complex or what!?!  Another creeper type grower that can take over a space pretty quickly and ramble over other plants and hardscapes so will need maintenance if desired.  But it's gorgeous dragon's eye green color is a brilliant show stopper and can actually be trimmed tight as a small hedge line.  Grows about 12-24 inches high in full sun, salt and drought tolerant (actually doesn't do well with too much water).
I took this picture in Pompano Beach, here the city used
golden creeper as the perfect median plant. How gorgeous!
Golden creeper in a Pompano Beach median

I'm sure you have seen green island ficus (ficus microcarpa) everywhere in South Florida, like everywhere...almost to the point of being overused...nurseries can't keep this slowish grower in stock people use it so much. It's pricier than most ground covers but is an extremely long living evergreen plant.  I have come to tolerate green island ficus since it serves certain purposes in a landscape.  Namely, once it's grown in, green island ficus is excellent as a natural retaining wall to keep soil and mulch in place.  Easy to maintain as a sprawling ground cover or trim it as a small ground cover hedge. Grows in full sun to part shade, tends to drop leaves with too much water and watch out for the milky sap that oozes out of the stems when cut.  It's extremely sticky, could irritate sensitive skin and stains your clothes.  Grown as a ground cover you will want to keep it in the 8-10 inches up to 18 inches high range.
At this Ft. Lauderdale clients home I used the green island ficus around the
carpoxylon palms along with dwarf mondo grass in the center.  Gorgeous!
Green island ficus

This is another sure fire ground cover the ground orchid (spathoglottis).  This beauty is similar to the bulbine, it has a clumping "grass" like base with a beautiful deep green color while the flowers rise above and sway in the wind.  The ground orchid blooms all throughout the year. They can grow in full sun but do better with part sun/part shade conditions.  I have found they can be fairly drought tolerant in shadier areas but do need some consistent irrigation in full sun.  Depending on the cultivar they grow between 12-26 inches high with the flower spikes usually double that height.  Some popular varieties are: plicata, 'sprinkles', 'mellow yellow', 'tropical punch', 'grapette', 'yellow', 'berry banana', 'white angel', 'cabaret' and 'plum passion'.
Ground orchid - spathoglottis 'mellow yellow'
Ground orchid - spathoglottis 'grapette'
This is one of our clients landscapes we did where I used the
'mellow yellow' ground orchid.

Of course you cannot go wrong with adding edibles in your landscape...try using herbs like mint and thyme along a walkway between stepping stones or in a hard to grow area like where the drip spout from your A/C unit with thrive there!  I've even used herbs like parsley and chives as a border edging in cool is that!?!  Depending on where you live depends on which ones will grow the best for your area, for just a few bucks a piece try them all: parsley, oregano, rosemary, basil, bee balm, chives, catnip, cilantro, culantro, lemon balm, sage, sweet marjoram, lemon verbena, nasturtium and tarragon to name a few.
I incorporated a vegetable & herb garden along with an
orchard into this Boca Raton clients home. 

The ice plant or pigface (carpobrotus) is a coastal succulent extremely adapted to hot, dry, salty, windy climates.  It's a relatively unknown plant here in Florida but is gaining attention of landscapers in The Keys.  This plant has been known to do well in certain test areas here in South Florida but genetically the species likes a cooler California climate.  The hybrids seem to handle the Florida climate much better.  Ice plant is a perfect creeping plant for rock gardens, beach dunes, hanging baskets and xeriscaping.  Grows up to 4-6 inches high depending on the cultivar; the one most common to find for sale in South Florida has magenta flowers with conical spear like leaves.
Ice plant
Ice plant

Many of you know my dislike for jasmine minima as a ground cover.  In case you didn't...I think it's ridiculous to have an aggressive growing twirly vine as a ground cover, plus my lower back would agree!  But there are those that like to use it so I'll put it in as a ground cover, leaving my bias out of it, lol ;)  It's alot of work to keep it contained, it will take over everything if not.  Be advised that it has milky sap that's extremely sticky and drips out when cut, it'll stain your clothes and if even if you don't have sensitive skin it's a good idea to wear long sleeves when trimming or else your skin will be covered in sticky sap that's really hard to get off once dry.  It does have a lovely white flower that smells delicious but because it's being constantly trimmed to keep it a ground cover it might not ever bloom.

Last up is an all time Florida favorite, lantana, a sprawling blooming beauty with unique scent to boot.  There are lots of hybrid varieties but only one with a golden flower that is native (lantana depressa) so please make sure to buy lantana from a reputable seller.  Though no one will be mad at ya' if you fall succumb to the gorgeous varieties available...disappointed but not mad ;)  It grows about 18-24 inches high.  Grows in full sun and drought tolerant.
Lantana depressa

As porky pig say's "that's all folks!"  We will leave it here for today don't want ya gettin' bored on me now.  The next post will be another round of ground covers with much more info for your minds to consume.  Sending you lots of good wishes and hope to see you soon!

Thanks so much and Happy Gardening Ya'll!
Sheri B.


  1. Great informative post! I have the coral creeper, and it definitely creeps and shoots seeds everywhere. ;-) I also have the ground orchids in pots, have not thought of having them in the ground, but now you've got me wanting to plant them in my gardens. I think I have the 'mellow yellow', and lovely purple one.

    Have a great weekend ~ FlowerLady

    1. Hi Lorraine! So nice to hear from you and thank you for the compliment. Sounds like you have lots of beauties in your garden! Funny you say that about the ground orchids, I haven't thought about using them in container planting but that's a great idea, thank you :) Hope you are doing well, many best wishes and hope you enjoy your weekend! SB :)

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  3. All the contents you mentioned in post is too good and can be very useful. I will keep it in mind, thanks for sharing the information keep updating, looking forward for more posts.Thanks gardening experience