Monday, 25 November 2013

Fruiting plants as ground cover

It is very possible and practical with an informed choice to variety, to use delicious fruit plants as a functional weed-suppressing ground cover and this can even be achieved in shaded areas with the right plants. Some of our most delicious fruit plants would grow naturally in this way and make an easy, low maintenance concept for problem areas and larger weedy sites. Here’s a rundown of some of the best, most practical solutions for a fruitful groundcover.
In their natural habitat ‘Brambles’ will simply colonise large areas as the arching canes root at their tips and spread. Although cultivated varieties have been ‘tamed’ somewhat, they still have this basic tendency. If you want a more compact lower ground cover then my recommendation would be to plant ‘Waldo’ which has a semi-upright self supporting habit and is thornfree. Plant Waldo 3-4’ apart for the purpose of groundcover. The older thornfree varieties Merton Thornless or Smoothstem make a more vigorous alternative and are very good growers; plant 4-5’ apart for groundcover. These two varieties will quite quickly grow together and provide very good crops. If you prefer to go all-out and have a thorny, inpenetrable effect then the super-vigorous Himalayan Giant is perfect for just such a use and will quickly suppress all weeds as well as providing a haven for wildlife.
These North American natives are actually low, trailing evergreen shrubs that are ideally suited to this purposes. Only a few inches tall with long, trailing stems clad in copper hued evergreen leaflets, the fruits will ripen in October. Cranberries should be spaced about 36” apart for this purpose and will need an acid to neutral soil to grow well. They will tolerate some shade and are very cold hardy.
Strawberries will happily root along and spread by way of their runners; some of you may already know how easy it is for a previously well kept strawberry bed to get out of control! These plants can spread quite quickly during the summer if the runners aren’t removed so by leaving them to their own devices they will quite quickly form wide spreading colonies. Strawberries will actually grow well in shade too, albeit with reduced cropping. Plant 12-18” apart. Choose vigorous, large leafed freely runnering varieties such as Cambridge Favourite, Tamella, Elsanta, Pegasus, Red Gauntlet. Ideal also for growing beneath shrubs. The old alpine/wild strawberries [Fragaria vesca] are also good for this purpose although difficult to get hold of.
The Tayberry is a vigorously growing hybrid of a RaspberryxBlackberry and grows much the same as the latter and can be used in just the same way [see notes above] Plant 5” apart for the purpose of grouncover, the stems will arch fown and attain a height of 3-4’ without suppport. Somewhat shade tolerant. Other species and varieties of the Rubs family can be utilized in this way, notably the Boysenberry, Rubus illecebrosus [Japanese Strawberry] and Arctic Raspberry [Rubus arcticus]
I hope this article will inspire those with a problem area to plant that you can look beyond the ubiquitous Cotoneasters, Periwinkles and Conifers when comes to practical ground cover. The above fruiting plants are all low-zero maintenance when used in this way and with the benefit of delicious crops of berries for you and the birds.

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