The term “groundcover” has been used in the landscaping and construction industries for generations, but has focused primarily on vegetation (think sedum and Creeping Jenny).  Living groundcover, and its closely related term “cover crop”, is used in areas where landscape maintenance may be difficult, such as on a hill or among many trees.  They are low maintenance plants, chosen for aesthetic reasons and their ability to spread.

Over the past six months, I have fielded a number of questions regarding something manmade being used as groundcover.  Here, choices are more limited.

The first thing that comes to mind is mulch; as such, manmade groundcover can be broken down into two general categories, organic and inorganic.

Inorganic groundcover would include synthetic weed bloc fabric, and the various types of decorative rock.  In a challenging environment, such as a hill, the weed fabric can be anchored down so it doesn’t move, but most people don’t like its looks left uncovered.  Decorative rock looks great, and can be used on the hill, but would be labor-intensive to apply, expensive, and eventually gravity and precipitation could bring some rock down to the hill’s bottom.

Organic manmade groundcover includes all the organic wood mulches, jute and coir netting, excelsior blankets, and hemp mulch mats.  Excelsior blankets typically have netting integrated into them to hold the fibers together.  This netting may be photodegradable, but the majorities are not; there may be some debate whether this is considered organic.  I feel it’s a hybrid between the two categories.

Wood/bark mulches are aesthetically pleasing and inexpensive.  They may be challenging to install on our example hill, but not as tough as rock.  In precipitation or heavy irrigation, though, they tend to float downhill.  Shredded mulch that can be tamped down can help mitigate this.  Both the jute and coir netting, and excelsior blankets, may need to be covered for aesthetic reasons, and may not provide weed suppression in certain applications.  Although they cover the ground, they are used mainly for temporary erosion control applications.

Hemp and coir mulch mats are lighter, and therefore easier to install on our hill example.  They both provide light erosion control, and look pretty good depending on the application.  Without anchoring them down, though, they can also lift and gravity and precipitation can move them downhill.

When evaluating options for manmade groundcover, first prioritize what’s most important to you, then decide among the various organic and inorganic options.  For hillside applications, mats and blankets will provide the best combination of performance, ease of installation, and aesthetics.  For flatter ground, think of the options you would have for mulch.