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Ground covers for a sunny slope

Q: Can you recommend some tall, fast-growing ground covers that would work well for a sunny slope?

Anatole Burkin, Southbury, CT

Sloping yards are a challenge. For ground covers, choose plants like cut-leaved stephanandra that will spread quicly and prevent erosion. Sloping yards are a challenge. For ground covers, choose plants like cut-leaved stephanandra that will spread quicly and prevent erosion. Photo/Illustration: Allison Starcher

A: Ian Robertson, a garden designer in Charlottesville, Virginia, replies: Sunny banks cry out for plant coverage, but keep in mind that it requires some effort to get the plants established. Compost, mulch, and supplemental watering go a long way to encouraging the following plant recommendations to gain a foothold and thrive.

An excellent ground cover for a sunny slope is ‘Hancock’ Chenault coralberry (Symphoricarpos X chenaultii ‘Hancock’, USDA Hardiness Zones 4–7), which is tolerant of varied conditions. This deciduous woody plant has tiny dark-green leaves and reaches 2 feet tall and about 12 feet wide. ‘Hancock’ bears white flowers in late summer, followed by round deep-pink fruit.

Another spectacular performer is the Asian native ‘Crispa’ cut-leaved stephanandra (Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa’, Zones 5–8). Small, ferny leaves and a mass of interweaving branches makes this 18- to 36-inch-tall selection with a 7-foot spread an ideal erosion deterrent. ‘Crispa’ has insignificant flowers, but it will benefit from a good dose of compost at planting time.

Having become popular in recent years, ‘Gro-low’ aromatic sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-low’, Zones 4–9) also makes a good ground cover. More open in growth than the species, this cultivar reaches about 2 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. ‘Gro-low’ shows off its many small yellow flowers in spring, followed by red fruit and reddish-purple fall leaf color. This plant flourishes in heat, cold, sun, partial shade, and wet or dry soil.

Possibly overused, but for good reason, the rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa, Zones 2–9) will cover your bank while displaying splendid flowers from spring into fall and large showy fruit to boot. The Danish hybrid ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’ (Rosa ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’, Zones 2–9) is a particularly nice selection, with its compact growth (3 feet tall by 4 feet wide), dark-green foliage, large pink flowers, rich-crimson fruit, and clear-yellow fall color.

A couple of evergreen plants can also be considered for a sunny slope. The tip-blight-resistant Sargent juniper (Juniperus sargentii, Zones 3–9) creates a low, dark-green carpet 1 to 2 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Common bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Zones 2–6), a North American native, is also a good evergreen choice. It reaches up to a foot tall and 2 to 4 feet wide and is a plant that, once established, suffers in soggy conditions, so a sunny slope is a perfect location. Common bearberry produces pale-pink flowers in spring and red berries in late summer.

From Fine Gardening 90, pp. 96