Issue: May 21, 2005

Groundcover plants for high elevation

Question:

I want to plant a groundcover plant around my motel in Ruidoso and want something that produces a lot of flowers. The elevation here is 6800 and 7000 feet.

Answer:

There are many plants that will fulfill your requirements.

Ajuga (or bugleweed or carpet bugle) is a creeping groundcover plant that should grow well for you. It will need irrigation, but for localized areas where irrigation is appropriate, you may find this plant (with its numerous blue, white, or purplish flowers) is useful.

Teucrium (germander) is another plant genus that includes creeping groundcover plants to consider. These plants produce numerous small reddish purple to white flowers. Remember to select the low growing forms. They should use less water than the ajuga but may still need some irrigation.

Cerastium tomentosum (snow-in-summer) flowers for a brief period of time but has very attractive silver-gray foliage when not in bloom. When it is in bloom in the early summer, its snow-white flowers are very attractive. Snow-in-summer should be planted in a well-drained soil to avoid root rot problems.

Vinca major and Vinca minor (periwinkle) are also good choices. These evergreen vines will spread over a large area and produce numerous sky blue flowers. At your elevation, they should do well in full sunlight as well as in areas with some shade.

Phlox subulata or (moss pink) is a very attractive groundcover with pink flowers in the spring. After flowering, its fine textured, evergreen, needle-like leaves create a green, mossy appearance in the garden.

Potentilla Tabernaemontani is a creeping cinquefoil plant that has dark green leaves and yellow flowers. It will need more irrigation than the more common shrubby cinquefoil (potentilla) grown in many locations in New Mexico.

Thymus species (creeping thymes) are fragrant groundcover plants that need little water and should grow well in your environment. If you have flagstone walks through the area planted with thyme, any plants that grow on the stones and are crushed by foot traffic will release a pleasant thyme fragrance. The creeping thymes have very small leaves and form very low mats on the ground. Some thymes have attractive flowers.

Sedum species may also be considered. Some sedum plants are low growing, spreading plants that make excellent groundcover plants. Most produce flowers and some have interesting fall colors.

I hope this list of plants gives you some ideas. There are many other possibilities, but these are some that should serve the purpose you desire.

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Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or at https://www.facebook.com/DesertBloomsNM/. Please include your county Extension Agent (aces.nmsu.edu/county) and your county of residence with your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at desertblooms.nmsu.edu.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.