When A Ground Cover Becomes A Hedge

Iceplant (foreground) and Cape Honeysuckle as a  groundcover:

A rant today.  There are two main types of ground cover plants:  the kind you can walk on and the kind you can't walk on.

The kind you can walk on includes the kind you can walk on a little (Dymondia margaretae, Thymes) or a lot (that begins and ends with turfgrass, pretty much).  

Then there are the ground covers you can carefully maneuver over a few times a year for weeding purposes, but which are unable to stand up to constant foot traffic (Vinca, Myoporum).  And there are ground covers you can't really walk on at all, either because your steps will crush them into goo (Senecio mandraliscae, Sedums, Iceplants) or because they get too tall (Baccharis, Bougainvillea).  A few of this type are flat, low plants, while the rest can get several  feet tall (or more).  

Baccharis pulularis, nearly 5' tall:

It's important to know which is which.

I meditate today upon two subsets of the not-walk-on kind of ground cover:  plants that get too tall without intelligent care, and plants that should not be used as ground covers in the first place.  Both of these become, with help from poor maintenance, hedges with sharp square edges and weirdly undulating tops, or rectangular hedges with a green top and a dead brown layer underneath, like an avocado on rye sandwich, planted in spots that need ground covers, not hedges. 

Someday someone will pull out this juniper and rediscover those rocks:

Ever try opening the passenger-side door of a car parked next to a three-foot tall solid block of juniper?  That juniper used to be a ground cover.  Then it became a hedge, and now your passenger is whining at you because he can't get the car door open.

Becomes this...

Ground covers that get too tall may turn into bird habitat, which is good, or rat, rabbit, and cigarette butt habitat, which is bad.  These plants need intelligent care, so they remain ground covers.  This may involve looking bad  for a while if they need to be periodically cut back hard  (Lantana!).  What they most often get is just-make-it-look-tidy care and so a groundcover becomes a hedge. 

An unfortunate Lantana:

Here's a  future hedge:  a Carissa of some sort under planting an Olive tree. 

Carissa is a beautiful plant with deep green, glossy leaves and star-like pure white flowers:

Also tough as nails.  But destined to be a hedge.  It grows, and then grows on top of itself, getting ever taller.  The maintenance guy neatens it up with his hedge clippers.  More growth follows.  A dead layer forms underneath.   The maintenance guy continues to neaten it up.  More growth follows.  And voila:  a hedge.  There are Carissa cultivars that stay low.  Others are hacked into lowness for a while, until suddenly you can't open the car door. 

Here's---a  mess.  A bougainvillea that never blooms because it is constantly trimmed to keep it as a ground cover.  There are a couple of bougainvillea cultivars that stay low  and can be a ground cover.  This variety is not one of  them.  It's a big shrub someone is trying to force into being a ground cover. 


It didn't look any better before the hacking:

The moral of the story being:  work with the plant's natural habits, not against them.  It will be not only easier, it will also be prettier.  If you think to yourself:  "I'll just keep it cut back and it will be fine,"  think again!

Juniperus procumbens 'nana', naturally low-growing.  It may be  this low for many, many years:

Just had to let myself rant.  Went somewhere, parked, and couldn't get the damn car door open. 

'Bishop's Castle' as an apology: 
Rosa 'Bishops Castle'


  1. Horror! Someone please rescue that agave trapped in the juniper!


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