Ground covers are a good alternative to grass for hot areas. If the area is dry as well as hot, and if supplemental watering will be difficult, consider using xeriscape plants, which thrive in full sun with low water conditions. Consider the site and what your goals are before selecting plants. Ground covers can add color and height to the area, or be simply a sea of green. When planning your area, consider the way it will look when plantings are mature. Let your local garden center or an experienced gardener guide you as to which plants will work best in your climate zone.
Groundcovers are designed to spread, but not all spread in the same way. Some grow over the top of the soil by sending out runners or by simply expanding the size of the original plant. Others make lots of seed. The hardest to control are those that spread through extensive root systems. Since these plants will spread into grass as well as they do on bare soil, plant them well back of turf areas to avoid future maintenance chores.
Low-growing plants from 4 to 15 inches in height are available in many different colors and blooming seasons. Creeping phlox blooms in early spring in pink, white or blue. Cerastium, also known as 'Snow in Summer', has silvery foliage and white blooms in late spring. Soapwort blooms in late spring with soft pink blooms and spreads easily by seed. Sedum varieties offer pinks, yellows and reds and bloom times from spring to fall. Lavender has fragrant lavender blooms in early summer. Diascia 'Coral Canyon' has salmon pink blooms from June to frost. The veronica family, also known as speedwell, blooms in shades of blue in late spring or early summer and come in many heights. These varieties all have a mature spread of about 12 to 18 inches.
To provide height at the back or to screen unwanted views, use taller, wider plants such as shrub roses, spireas, cotoneasters or evergreens. Shrub roses are available in pink, yellow, red, orange, or white and vary in size. The spirea family has rounded and mounding shrubs with varying bloom colors and times. Cotoneaster shrubs come in varying heights and spreads, have spring blooms, and offer fall color as well. Junipers are evergreens with low water needs and species vary in size. They work well to cover large areas and slopes.
If you need soil erosion control, use plants such as vinca with its vining and rooting habit to hold the soil in place. Vincas are evergreen, and come in green and variegated leaf colors. Another groundcover with a vigorous spreading habit is creeping potentilla which has a yellow flower in late spring.
Prepare your soil before planting to help plants establish a strong root system. Loosen the soil and add amendments if your soil is poor. Add organic materials such as spaghum peat moss or compost to clay or sandy soils. Organic amendments loosen tightly packed clay soils and improve water retention in sandy soils.
Maintenance of ground covers is fairly simple. Water regularly when plants are newly planted. Once the plants are established, supplemental watering during dry spells and regular fertilizing will keep the blooms coming. Mulch applied between the plants will conserve moisture and discourage weeds.